Sept. 29, 2004
After hitting the road for the first two meets of the 2004 season, the University of Tennessee women's cross country team is glad to be staying home this weekend. With a freshly-bestowed ranking of 10th in the nation, the Lady Vols will run in their only local meet of the campaign, as they join the UT men in hosting the sixth-annual Tennessee Invitational at Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville on Friday evening.
The Big Orange women, who ascended from 19th to 10th in the latest FinishLynx/NCAA Division I Women's Cross Country Poll, are coming off a huge win at last weekend's 6,000-meter Paul Short Run in Bethlehem, Pa. Tennessee defeated four ranked schools and 30 other programs at that meet, improving its season record to 46-0 and picking up steam as it heads into the third race of the year.
Head Coach J.J. Clark's squad will welcome a smaller field of teams and competitors and a shorter race distance on Friday, as Alabama A&M, Chattanooga and Kentucky State travel to the Blount County course for a 5,000-meter race that gets underway at 5:45 p.m. Eastern time. The men's 8K race follows at 6:15 p.m. Admission is free.
"We're excited to be home and have a chance to perform well on our home course," Clark said. "After running a 6K last weekend, this 5K will probably feel more like speed work to our team. I am looking for consistency and continued progress as we move toward the championship portion of our season.
"We'll probably rest a couple of people on Friday night as part of our normal rotation we've been doing all season," Clark said. "We mix it up the best we can so everyone will be as fresh mentally and physically as they can be before the big part of our schedule rolls around."
Team Orange is fueled by a dynamic trio of runners that resembles the "Triple Threat" attack of 1989's All-America UT troika of Jasmin Jones, Patty Wiegand and Valerie Bertrand -- senior Brooke Novak (Kaukauna, Wis.), junior Megan Cauble (Knoxville, Tenn.) and sophomore Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.). Novak and Cauble were All-SEC and NCAA All-South Region performers a year ago and appear to have a kindred talent in Guliford, who has logged career-bests at 5K and 6K in her two races this season after redshirting in 2003 and looks to be in line for all-star accolades come post-season. As for this weekend, Novak and Cauble are ticketed for duty while Guliford is slated to take her first weekend off from competitive running.
Providing a push from close behind are four athletes who compete on a weekly basis to fill the the fourth and fifth scoring slots. Senior Elizabeth McCalley (Knoxville, Tenn.), juniors Carly Matthews (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas) and sophomore Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) have demonstrated the talent to keep the Lady Vol pack tight from one to five. Last weekend's outing at the Paul Short Run was a perfect example, as UT's scoring five finished within the top 16 out of 241 runners and all crossed the line within 44 seconds of one another.
From that group, Matthews, Sullivan and Flaute are expected to run on Friday. Clark sees that collection of runners, along with McCalley, as capable of moving higher up the team's scoring ladder as the season progresses.
"Brooke, Megan and Felicia probably rate as our top three right now, but at any given point, there are a couple of other people who could move into those top three spots," Clark explained. "The goal has been to get everyone closer to the top three, and we've seen good progress in that area from our athletes. The Paul Short Run was an example of that.
"I'm anxious to see how it all pans out at the end of the season. Each member of our team welcomes everyone else getting better. That kind of competition pushes the top part of the lineup and makes the rest of our squad stronger."
Also expected to join the field for the Tennessee Invitational are seniors Nicole Cook (Petersburg, Va.) and Antoinette Gorham (Glenarden, Md.), junior Rachel Zamata (Jackson, Tenn.) and redshirt freshman Leslie Treherne (Chesapeake, Va.). Track & field heptathletes Edra Finley (Mobile, Ala.) and Caitlin Ward (Gibsonia, Pa.) and middle distance newcomer Robin Mortel (Brooklyn, N.Y.) have been training with the cross country squad and also are expected to be in uniform on Friday. Out of that group, Cook is the best scoring threat, having made the NCAA Championship meet travel team a year ago.
In the five previous Tennessee Invitationals, the Lady Vols managed to claim team titles in 1998, 1999 and 2002. UT was second in 2000 and third a year ago, when No. 14 North Carolina State and No. 23 Wisconsin were able to keep a then-unranked Big Orange unit in check on its home course. The 2001 meet was cancelled due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
Individually, UT will be seeking to boast an individual champion for the fourth time. Former Lady Vol Maureen Ferris raced to victory in 1998, and ex-Tennessee Sharon Dickie took top honors in 2000 and 2002. Current team member Novak was second a year ago in a Lady Vol 5K course-record time of 17:39.20, while N.C. State's Kristin Price charted a meet record with a victorious clocking of 17:15.68.