Carly Matthews and the Lady Vols will take on the rest of the SEC in the conference championships.
Oct. 31, 2003
The 26th-ranked University of Tennessee women's cross country team will join the rest of the league in trying to de-throne defending champ Arkansas, as the Lady Vols compete in the 21st Southeastern Conference Championship meet at 10 a.m. ET on Monday in Athens, Ga.
UT, under the direction of second-year Head Coach J.J. Clark, will enter the 6000-meter race with a 57-8 record and the distinction of being the only SEC school ranked in this week's FinishLynx NCAA Division I Women's Cross Country Poll. Clark, who has yet to decide on his lineup, says the rankings and records can all be thrown out when it comes to races like this one.
"We really can't concern ourselves with the polls and where our team or anyone else's team is ranked," Clark said. "Whether Arkansas is ranked or not, they are the defending champs and have won 10 of the last 12 Southeastern Conference trophies. I have never seen a champion just lay down and die. If we want to win this meet, we'll have to go out and take it."
Tennessee, which finished third a year ago, lost four-time All-SEC performer Sharon Dickie due to graduation but returns three of its five scorers from that squad. The league's coaches picked UT to finish fourth in their 2003 preseason poll, falling in line behind Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky, yet Clark sees his current club as being improved over his first Lady Vol team.
"As always, the idea is to run and do our best and have the mind-set that we are running to win," Clark said. "We ran with that attitude last year, but our team is better this season, even without Sharon. When you suffer a loss like that and still find ways to get better, it builds momentum in your program. We are carrying that momentum and the good performances from everyone this season into this meet."
Expected to set the pace for the Big Orange on the University of Georgia Golf Course on Monday is junior Brooke Novak (Kaukauna, Wis.). The two-time All-SEC performer, who finished eighth a year ago and 10th as a freshman, should be pushed by sophomore Megan Cauble (Knoxville, Tenn.), who finished 20th at the 2002 meet in Gainesville, Fla. Cauble and Novak have paced the Tennessee pack on two occasions apiece and landed SEC Cross Country Athlete of the Week accolades once each.
The three spot has rotated this season between senior Lindsay Hyatt (Auburn, Calif.), sophomore Carly Matthews (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and sophomore Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.). Joining the team as transfers from Stanford and Georgia Tech, respectively, Hyatt and Matthews have provided an infusion of talent and experience to the squad, while Guliford was sixth for UT and placed 30th overall at the SEC meet as a rookie last season.
Battling to keep the fourth and fifth scoring positions close to the first three UT finishers have been a variety of orange-clad runners. Among them are junior Elizabeth McCalley (Knoxville, Tenn.), who has been Tennessee's No. 4 runner in each of her three races in 2003, as well as sophomore Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas), who was fourth at the Crimson Classic in McCalley's absence. The most common number-five finishers this season have included redshirt freshman Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) and senior Jessica Southers (Ashland, Ky.), who was an All-SEC choice in 2001 with her 13th-place finish.
When the group toes the line on Monday morning, Tennessee will be trying to accomplish something that has been done only once before in UT history. A third-consecutive top-three finish would equal the string put together by squads in 1983 (1st), 1984 (third) and 1985 (third). The Lady Vols are coming off second- and third-place efforts the past two seasons, and Clark is anxious to see what the 2003 edition has in store.
"All the work is in, the team looks good, and we are ready to go," Clark said. "Everyone is focused and enthusiastic, and we can't wait for Monday to get here."