Aug. 19, 2003


Coming off a season in which it claimed the program's initial regional title and earned an NCAA Championships berth for the first time since 1998, the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer cross country team embraces the 2003 campaign with even greater optimism. Second-year Head Coach J.J. Clark and his squad will begin defense of that crown and launch the pursuit of even greater accomplishments when they open the season at home on Sept. 12 with the Tennessee adidas Cross Country Invitational.

For the UT harriers, home means Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville, where the Big Orange women successfully opened their slate in 2002 and claimed the NCAA South Region trophy two months later. This time, a more challenging field will join Clark's troops, as perennial NCAA distance powers North Carolina State and Wisconsin are expected to be among the gathering for the women's 5000-meter race at 5:45 p.m.

"Our first meet is quickly approaching, and we look forward to running against some quality teams in our only appearance at Lambert Acres this year," Clark said. "Our objective is to stay healthy, see how we stack up and find out what our strengths and weaknesses are so we can develop this team so it peaks during the championship portion of the season." vAfter testing the waters with that difficult opener at Lambert Acres, Clark and company will pull back just a bit and compete in a couple of meets that will be challenging without having the added pressure of facing national powerhouses. The first one is in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where UT will compete in the Crimson Classic Invitational on Sept. 19. The Lady Vols will join host Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and others in a 5K race at 5 p.m. CT at Harry Pritchett Golf Course.

Next up, Tennessee will make the first of back-to-back trips to Pennsylvania during the 2003 season. The first venture will be to Bethlehem, where the Lady Vols will run against a bevy of Northeastern schools in the 6K Paul Short Invitational on Oct. 4. Race time is 10:15 a.m. Eastern at the Lehigh Cross Country Course on the Goodman campus.

The final regular-season tuneup, and UT's second journey to the Keystone State, will come on Oct. 18, as the squad makes a return trip to University Park, Pa., for the Penn State National Invitational. Placing sixth in 2002 on a rain-soaked course, UT will attempt to improve its standing this time around on the 6000-meter layout at the PSU Blue/White Golf Course. The women's race begins at 10 a.m. ET

After two more weeks of training, the Lady Vols will begin the most important stretch of the year as they travel to Athens, Ga., for the Southeastern Conference Championships on Nov. 3. Coach Clark's club wound up third at the meet in Gainesville, Fla., in 2002, and is taking aim at the program's third-consecutive top-three finish. Junior Brooke Novak, a two-time All-SEC recipient, will lead the Big Orange into battle at the 6K trail on the UGA Golf Course. Race time has not been announced.

Two weeks later, UT will head to Auburn, Ala., to try and defend its NCAA South Region title. Novak and sophomores Felicia Guliford and Megan Cauble, who all earned All-South Region accolades a year ago, should be among the tone-setters at Indian Pines Golf Club for the 9:45 a.m. CT meet on Nov. 15. Also at stake during the 6K competition is a second-straight bid to the NCAA Championship meet.

Should Tennessee meet the challenge and qualify for the program's seventh NCAA bid, the Lady Volunteers would travel to Waterloo, Iowa, for the Nov. 24 race for all the marbles. This year's event, the first in Iowa since Ames hosted the 1998 meet during arctic conditions, is slated to get underway at 12:15 p.m. CT at the Irv Warren Golf Course. Finishing 28th in 2002, UT returns four of its top five scorers from the national competition, including Cauble, Guliford, Novak and senior Jessica Southers.

"Even though our schedule is a challenging one, we will have to rotate people in and out of the lineup during the year until everyone is at the same conditioning level," Clark said. "Despite the fact we will be holding individuals out of meets along the way with our eye on the bigger picture, our objective is to always put a group on the course that is capable of competing for a team victory."





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