Sept. 18, 2003
Last Friday evening, a home-opener against two ranked, NCAA-tested teams. A week later, a road meet against 14 unranked squads. On the surface, it appears Friday evening's Crimson Classic in Tuscaloosa, Ala., offers a less strenuous test for the University of Tennessee women's cross country team. Sometimes appearances can be deceiving.
Among the field are three Southeastern Conference foes, including host Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, the latter of which was ranked just below the Lady Volunteers in the SEC Preseason Coaches Poll at No. 5. Also slated to run in the 5 p.m. CT/6 p.m. ET 5K race at Harry Pritchett Golf Course are Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Arkansas State, Birmingham-Southern, Clayton College, Jacksonville State, North Alabama, Samford, Southern Miss, UAB and West Alabama.
To the casual observer, it may appear as if the defending NCAA South Region champ Big Orange harriers should come away with an easy victory. The MSU Bulldogs are off to one of the better starts in school history, however, and they will be gunning for their conference rivals. Also coming into play will be Clark's philosophy of rotating his lineup this season to allow individuals to continue their training cycles and take breaks from competition along the way.
Clark's long-term plan, which focuses on keeping the troops healthy and preparing them to peak at championship time, leaves the Lady Vols without the services Friday of junior Brooke Novak (Kaukauna, Wis.), sophomore Carly Matthews (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and junior Elizabeth McCalley (Knoxville, Tenn.). Those three reported in as the squad's first, second and fourth runners at last weekend's Tennessee/adidas Invitational. While they sit this one out, however, seniors Christy Baird (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Lindsay Hyatt (Auburn, Calif.), junior Nicole Cook (Petersburg, Va.), sophomore Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) and redshirt freshman Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) will make their 2003 debuts.
Guliford was an NCAA All-South selection as a rookie and is the likely candidate to set the pace for Team Orange. Baird, a 20th-place finisher as the 2001 SEC meet; Hyatt, a transfer from Stanford; Flaute, a promising youngster; and Cook, an All-American 800m runner on the track; will be vying for positions in the scoring five.
Joining the newcomers in the lineup for the meet are senior Jessica Southers (Ashland, Ky.) and sophomores Megan Cauble (Knoxville, Tenn.), Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas) and Rachel Zamata (Henderson, Tenn.). Cauble was Tennessee's No. 3 finisher a week ago, while Southers ran fifth.
"I am looking forward to this meet and seeing how we respond," second-year Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "With Brooke, Carly and Elizabeth at home, people are going to have to step up to the plate. After sitting out last weekend, Felicia, Katie and the others are chomping at the bit to get going. Alabama has a good course, and this shapes up to be a good meet.
"We had a tough challenge in our first competition with N.C. State and Wisconsin. I believe we will be in for another test this time with Mississippi State, Alabama, Mississippi and some of the other schools. I am anxious to measure our progress and see where we stand."
After competing at the Crimson Classic, Clark and company will have two weeks to resume training before competing again at the 5K Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa., on Oct. 4.