NCAA South Regional Notes (PDF)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Coming off its best race of the season at the SEC Championships, the University of Tennessee women’s cross country team will try to take that momentum to Gainesville, Fla., where the Lady Vols will compete on Saturday morning in the NCAA South Regional at the University of Florida Golf Course. Race time is 11 a.m. Eastern.
At stake for the Big Orange will be a sixth consecutive trip the NCAA Championships and the program’s 14th overall appearance in a national postseason competition. This year’s NCAA meet is slated to take place at 1:15 p.m. ET on Nov. 10 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind.
Head coach J.J. Clark’s squad began to show signs that it just might be worthy of postseason action on Oct. 27, when the then-unranked orange-clads toppled three higher ranked teams to finish second (behind No. 10 Arkansas) at the SEC meet in Lexington, Ky. Bolstered by that performance, Tennessee will enter the NCAA South meet ranked a season-best 25th in this week’s USTFCCCA National Poll and rated second in the region behind third-ranked Florida State. No. 29 Georgia and Florida (receiving votes nationally) are right on UT’s heels in the South poll after the Big Orange finished ahead of them at the league meet.
“We did run our best at SECs, and we’ll need a little more this weekend to make the NCAA Championship meet,” Clark said. “There are going to be more teams and other conferences incorporated into this meet, so we’ll need a better performance.
“They only take two teams (with NCAA automatic bids), and we’ll have to be one of those two in order to make the NCAA meet. There is an at-large process, but I am not really looking to go that route.”
In the previous five NCAA South Regional meets Clark has piloted the Lady Vols, Tennessee won four of them. After a four-year spree of victories and automatic bids to the NCAA Championships from 2002 to 2005, the Big Orange had to settle for an at-large invitation a year ago when they finished third on their home course at Lambert Acres Golf Club behind Georgia and Florida and just ahead of Florida State.
The 2007 meet looks to again feature those four teams (out of around 25 in the region) battling it out for NCAA berths, with Florida State wearing the role of favorite with its top-five national ranking. The Seminoles return 2006 regional individual champion Susan Kuijken, who covered the 6,000-meter distance at hilly Lambert Acres last season in a speedy 20 minutes, 54.1 seconds.
Spear-heading Tennessee’s efforts to earn a trip to Terre Haute are three juniors, including Sarah Bowman (Warrenton, Va.), Heidi Magill-Dahl (Orem, Utah) and Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.). Those Lady Vols garnered All-SEC acclaim two weekends ago by placing fourth, seventh and ninth, respectively, at the league championship meet. For Magill-Dahl, it was an especially impressive feat, as it came in her Lady Vol debut and in her first cross country race since 2005.
In this meet a year ago, Bowman was UT’s fourth finisher, eliciting All-South Region acclaim with her 23rd-place finish. For the initial time in her career, Van Horn was the Big Orange’s pacesetter, crossing the line eighth out of 155 runners to also make the 2006 All-South squad. At this time last season, Magill-Dahl was taking a redshirt year at BYU, but she had produced All-Mountain Region honors for the Cougars in both the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Sophomore Jackie Areson (Delray Beach, Fla.) was Tennessee’s second scorer and placed 10th overall at the 2006 NCAA South Regional, making her the third active returning All-South Region runner for the Orange and White this season. She had been one of UT’s top three consistently this season until sliding to fifth on the team and placing 38th overall in Lexington.
Rounding out the expected travel squad are freshman Brittany Sheffey (Bellport, N.Y.), junior Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) and sophomore Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.). Sheffey, who had a 6K PR of 21:46.03, and Bell ran in the fourth and sixth positions for Tennessee at the SEC meet two weekends ago, finishing 28th and 54th, respectively. Wright wound up 60th. At least two of these three must step forward in a major way for Tennessee to contend for an NCAA spot.
“I am excited to get there (to Gainesville) and see what happens,” Clark said. “Every year, we’ve been in the mix, and usually it’s been Florida State and Georgia, so hopefully we can pull together and come out on top. We are as good, I believe, as anyone. We just have to put it together.”