Sept. 4, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- For the fourth straight season, the University of Tennessee women's cross country team will kick off its campaign at the Belmont Opener in Nashville. The Lady Vols, who return eight letterwinners from a runner-up Southeastern Conference squad, will be part of a field of eight teams competing Friday in the 4,000-meter race at 5:30 p.m. Central Time on the Vaughn's Creek Course at Percy Warner Park.
UT Head Coach J.J. Clark's squad, which won the 2007 Belmont Opener title by five points over Vanderbilt, heads to Music City with a roster of nine runners. Included in the travel party are four veterans in seniors Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) and Leah Soro (Knoxville, Tenn.), junior Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) and sophomore Brittany Sheffey (Bellport, N.Y.). Joining them will be five freshmen in Elizabeth Altizer (Bartlett, Tenn.), Ally Colvin (Maryville, Tenn.), Charity Honeycutt (Burnsville, N.C.), Chanelle Price (Easton, Pa.) and Elizabeth Tiller (Tuscaloosa, Ala.).
Tennessee will have to defend its title without its top three runners, including 2005 and 2007 Belmont Opener champion Sarah Bowman (Warrenton, Va.). The senior, classmate Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.) and junior Jackie Areson (Delray Beach, Fla.) will continue training, and the All-South Region runners will debut at a later date, according to their coach.
"I am not as concerned about the course and the placing of our team this weekend as I am with us just starting our season, getting our conditioning in and coming out of the meet healthy," Clark said. "We're not going with a full team, obviously, with us leaving three key players home. Van Horn had a little knick-knack that we ironed out, and I am saving Jackie and Sarah for later weeks.
"This gives us a chance for our younger folks to step up, be players and have fun in the meet. We'll go there and do well if everyone is performing. I'm excited to see this group get out there and mix it up, and we'll be at full strength in the next couple of weeks."
With Bowman, Van Horn and Areson sitting this one out, Sheffey enters the competition as the top returnee. She scored in all six meets as a rookie in 2007, including finishing third in UT's scoring five twice and running fourth on four occasions. Bell and Wright were three-time scorers a year ago, filling the four and five slots. Soro, meanwhile, will be seeing her first action since 2006 and trying to recapture her freshman year success that she enjoyed in 2005 before injuries began to limit her ability to train as necessary.
Clark has mentioned Altizer and Colvin as having the best chances for immediate impact this season among the newcomers, while supremely-talented 800m ace Price will see if her world-class middle distance abilities and competitive drive translate to the trails. It should be noted that the Pennsylvania native was a three-time state meet medalist in high school.
Among the schools slated to be on hand for the meet are SEC foes Alabama and Vanderbilt, host Belmont, as well as UAB, Middle Tennessee, Tennessee-Martin, Bethel and Lipscomb. UAB and Belmont tied for third a year ago with 75 points.