Sept. 3, 2009
"You can count on the University of Tennessee putting student-athletes out on the competition field who will give their best," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said prior to the 2008 season. "You can bank on these young ladies giving a great effort in the classroom and graduating. You can count on Tennessee competing for conference and regional titles and chasing national berths."
The chips didn't fall quite right for Tennessee to win championships last season. The Lady Vols, though, held up their end of the bargain on all counts as if to say, "Count On Us," even when the chips are down. ¬ The Big Orange's student-athletes did give their all for Tennessee, enabling the program to finish in the top three at the SEC Championships for the eighth-straight season and post a top-four regional outcome for the seventh consecutive year. Indeed, UT was in the mix for hardware despite losing senior leader Katie Van Horn for the season due to injury.
The Lady Vols also fared well academically, with senior Sarah Bowman and junior Phoebe Wright earning ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America First-Team honors and Bowman being named a USTFCCCA and SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the second straight season. Seven members of the team were named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll, while four others earned distinction on the SEC Freshman Honor Roll.
While the squad expected the troika of Bowman, Van Horn and junior Jackie Areson to lead the way in 2008, it was highly-touted rookie Chanelle Price who burst onto the scene in impressive fashion at the Belmont-VU Opener in Nashville on Sept. 5. The freshman, known more for her prowess on the oval in the 800 meters, debuted in orange by leading UT to the finish line with an eighth-place clocking of 14 minutes, 52.67 seconds on the 4,000-meter Vaughn's Creek course.
With Bowman and Van Horn sitting this one out, Clark also received scoring assistance from a junior, senior, sophomore and freshman en route to a second-place team total of 83 points that left UT in second behind co-host Vanderbilt's 44. Wright posted a career-best readout of 15:10.78 to place 12th, followed by senior Rolanda Bell in 14th at 15:14.94, sophomore Brittany Sheffey in 15th at 15:15.18 and rookie Elizabeth Altizer in 34th with a personal record of 15:41.76.
Other Lady Vol participants included freshman Ally Colvin in 42nd at 15:54.08, senior Leah Soro in 52nd at 16:06.08, freshman Elizabeth Tiller in 81st at 17:51.22 and rookie Charity Honeycutt in 93rd at 20:02.91.
Two weeks later, Bowman joined the mix at the Tennessee Invitational on Sept. 19, and it was clear her senior season was going to be her finest. She ran away with the individual crown and led UT past Chattanooga and Georgia Tech to a team victory, covering her home Lambert Acres 5K course in a career-best 17:21. That mark was the second fastest on the layout by a Lady Vol and ranked seventh of anyone who's ever run there.
For the second week in a row, Wright was the Big Orange's No. 2 runner, finishing third in 18:33, followed by fellow scorers Areson in fourth (18:40), Bell in fifth (18:53) and Sheffey in sixth (18:56). Running but not scoring at the Tennessee Invitational were Price (7th, 19:04), Colvin (13th, 19:32), Altizer (15th, 19:45), Soro (16th, 19:49) and Tiller (21st, 21:32).
After acquiring the No. 29 spot in the first USTFCCCA Rankings of the season, Tennessee put that status on the line at the Brooks Paul Short Run in Bethlehem, Pa., on Oct. 3. The effects of Van Horn's absence became evident, as the Lady Vols wound up sixth of 43 schools with 198 points.
Once again, it was Bowman leading the charge for Team Orange, finishing 11th on the challenging 6K course in 20:28. Joining her in the scoring five were Areson (27th, 21:07), Sheffey (33rd, 21:17), Wright (59th, 21:43) and Bell (68th, 21:49). Non-scorers in the varsity race were Price (94th, 22:04) and Altizer (232nd, 23:36), while Colvin (32nd, 22:38) and Tiller (218th, 25:11) competed in the junior varsity race.
Clark's club, which fell out of the rankings, traveled to Happy Valley two weekends later to take part in the 6K Penn State National on Oct. 17. Spurred by Bowman, Tennessee charted its third top-five team result of the campaign. Tallying 162 points, UT finished behind four ranked schools, including No. 7 West Virginia, No. 20 Penn State, No. 25 Wake Forest and No. 28 Duke.
Bowman rolled to a season-best 6K readout of 20:24 to snare fifth-place honors. Aiding her in the scoring tally were Areson in 31st at 21:22, Sheffey in 37th in 21:27, Bell in 46th at 21:45 and Wright in 47th at 21:46. Non-scoring competitors included Colvin (111th, 22:48), Altizer (136th, 23:06), Soro (197th, 23:54) and Tiller (271st, 25:17).
With four preparation meets under their belts, the Lady Vols headed to Starkville, Miss., on Nov. 3 to toe the line for the SEC Championships. While unranked and missing Van Horn from the lineup, Clark hoped his troops could amass enough firepower to square away a top-three finish and that Bowman could contend for the individual crown.
As it turned out, UT did post its eighth straight top-three outcome at the conference meet by finishing third, and Bowman was clearly in the running for a title before also settling into the No. 3 slot in the individual race behind Catherine White of Arkansas (20:07.26) and Hollie Knight of Auburn (20:18.52).
Running 20:27.26 on Mississippi State's rolling 6K course, Bowman snared the fourth All-SEC nod of her career in helping the Lady Vols score 107 points to finish behind No. 13 Arkansas (46) and No. 14 Florida (53). She joined Sharon Dickie as the only women in UT history to earn that many all-league awards in cross country.
"The fact that she was All-SEC for the fourth time in her career shows her consistency in cross country," Clark said of Bowman. "Every year, she's gotten stronger and stronger, which indicates she's maturing in that area."
Also garnering all-conference recognition for the first time in her career was Sheffey, who covered the distance in a 6K career-best 21:02.25 to wind up 12th. She and Bowman were joined in the scoring five by Wright (23rd, 21:39.26), Areson (29th, 21:51.29) and Bell (40th, 22:09.75). Competing but not contributing to the team total were Altizer (56th, 22:58.02), Colvin (78th, 23:39.38) and Tiller (93rd, 25:20.72).
"It was a mixed review," Clark said of his team's SEC performance. "We had some good, and we had some who could have done better. Obviously, as a team, we would like to win this meet, but it is good to see our program showing consistency in keeping our finishes confined to the top three of the SEC."
For the sixth time in seven years, Tennessee also carded a third-place showing at the NCAA South Regional. On Nov. 15, at a chilly and damp Lambert Acres, the Lady Vols accumulated 116 points to come in behind No. 3 Florida State (41) and No. 15 Florida (64).
Leading the way for the Big Orange, with the No. 2 all-time readout on the course, was Bowman. In her final race on the home turf, the now three-time All-South Region honoree turned in a runner-up effort behind Auburn's Knight in 20:50.29. The Tiger runner rewrote the course record with her 20:29.67 clocking.
Areson and Sheffey joined Bowman on the All-South Region squad, placing 11th and 23rd, respectively, in 21:15.52 and 21:42.91. Rounding out the scorers for UT were Bell in 38th at 22:19.39 and Wright in 42nd at 22:25.16. Colvin and Altizer finished 59th and 109th, respectively, in 22:58.45 and 24:02.91.
For being among the top four individuals not on teams qualifying for the NCAA meet, Bowman and Areson earned automatic individual berths to the NCAA Championships.
"They were both very solid," Clark said of Bowman and Areson. "Sarah had no one to run with the entire course, except the young lady who was ahead the whole way. She showed a great deal of poise. "Jackie ran a really solid race. I am not surprised by that, because she is very capable. I am glad she showed signs of the Jackie I am used to seeing."
Clark hoped his squad would receive an at-large bid to the national championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 24, but it was not to be. So, it was Bowman and Areson who carried the UT flag into battle, and they both gave good accounts of themselves.
Bowman became UT's first All-American since Sharon Dickie in 2000, coming away with a 36th-place time of 20:39.5 to close out her collegiate cross country career. Areson, meanwhile, posted her best NCAA outcome, running across the line 104th of 252 runners in 21:14.7.
"Our goal was for Sarah to become an All-American at this meet, and it was nice to see her accomplish that," Clark said. "We know we've had our difficulties in the past with achieving our goals at this meet, so it was good to see her stay focused and run tough today. Cross country has not always been her forté, but she showed great character out there."
As for Areson, Clark said, "it was good to see Jackie run a competitive race. She had a really good finish, passing 20 or so people down the stretch, but she definitely has more there. Our goal for her was to place in the top 100. She came up a little short, but she beat a lot of people out there who had beaten her in the past, so that was a good showing."
All in all, it was a good showing for the Lady Vols in 2009 as well. The team's 101-14 won-lost record marked the fifth time in as many seasons that Tennessee had posted 100 or more victories. That feat had never been accomplished before Clark's arrival, and with his seven-year track record, it is clear you can "Count On Us" at UT to compete for championships.