Nov. 13, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The University of Tennessee will serve as the host school, as the 2008 NCAA South Regional Cross Country Championships are contested at Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville on Saturday morning. The Lady Vols, ranked third in the USTFCCCA South Region Poll, will take aim at their fifth NCAA region title and 11th NCAA Championship appearance as they toe the starting line for a 6,000-meter race at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. The men's 10,000-meter affair will follow at 10:45. Admission is free.
Saturday's meet will mark the third time the NCAA South Regional has been held at Lambert Acres. The Tennessee women began a string of four straight region victories there in 2002, while Georgia took home the title on that course in 2006 with UT coming in third.
A total of 29 different universities will be represented in the women's race, with 25 of those institutions fielding complete teams and vying for a berth in the national championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 24. The top two finishing squads from each of the nine region meets receive automatic bids, with 13 additional at-large invitations being extended on Sunday night. The top four individual finishers not on qualifying teams also receive automatic bids.
Tennessee, which won NCAA South Region titles from 2002-05 and has earned five NCAA Cross Country Championship bids during coach J.J. Clark's previous six years at the helm, will try to get back into the national field in 2008 after missing out a year ago with a fourth-place regional outcome in Gainesville, Fla. To do so, the Lady Vols must tussle with defending region champ and number-three-ranked Florida State and No. 15 Florida, who sit ahead of UT in the South Region poll. Also expected to contend for national trips are Georgia, Auburn, UAB, Alabama and Vanderbilt, who stand just below the Big Orange regionally.
The women from Rocky Top are coming off a third-place finish on Nov. 3 at the SEC Championships in Starkville, Miss., where they finished behind non-region foe Arkansas and South squad Florida. The Lady Vols have posted an 81-12 overall won-lost record in 2008, including a mark of 18-2 against teams they will face on Saturday. Besides finishing behind UF at the SEC meet, the only other South school to top UT this season was Vanderbilt, as the Commodores relegated a short-handed orange-clad unit to second place at the Belmont Opener. Tennessee will be seeing Florida State for the first time during the 2008 campaign.
"Our team went to SECs and ran solidly," Clark said. "Obviously, we would like to keep improving and moving up. We will need the kinds of efforts that we had at the SEC meet to have a shot at earning an NCAA bid.
"We're going into this meet with a very positive attitude, being familiar with the course. We are going to put our best foot forward and try to extend our season one more meet."
If there can be an advantage when running head to head at this time of the season, the Lady Vols will be competing on their home course. The picturesque, rolling-hill layout was the site of a UT victory earlier this season, as the home team held off region foes Chattanooga and Georgia Tech to win the Tennessee Invitational. That triumph was the eighth by the Big Orange there through 12 meets and 11 years of running at the Blount County course.
"We run the course; we know it, but I think the better teams usually win," Clark said of running at home. We just have to be the better team on that day. That's my take on it."
The last four meets have revealed that Tennessee has a consistent top five, as senior Sarah Bowman (Warrenton, Va.), sophomore Brittany Sheffey (Bellport, N.Y.), junior Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.), junior Jackie Areson (Delray Beach, Fla.) and senior Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) have contributed to the scoring cause in all those outings. In fact, their order was exactly in that fashion at the SEC meet two weeks ago, with Bowman and Sheffey finishing third and 12th overall, respectively, to snag All-SEC honors. Wright crossed the line in 23rd, followed by Areson (29th) and Bell (40th).
Others expected to be in the lineup for UT are freshman Elizabeth Altizer (Bartlett, Tenn.), who was the team's sixth runner and placed 56th overall at SECs, as well as classmates Ally Colvin (Maryville, Tenn.) and Chanelle Price (Easton, Pa.). Colvin was 78th at the league meet, while Price did not run.
A year ago, Tennessee wound up fourth at the region meet behind No. 3 Florida State, No. 29 Georgia and Florida and did not receive an NCAA nod for the first time during Clark's tenure in Knoxville. Bowman is UT's top returning finisher from that meet, having collected her second All-South Region accolade with a placement of 14th. Sheffey came in 33rd, while Wright was 87th and Bell was disqualified for making contact with another runner while entering the finish chute.
"Obviously, a team wants to be successful, so it (not making the NCAA field last year) does serve as some motivation," Clark said. "They train hard to win and they are very, very motivated to make it, but they've had to overcome some obstacles this season.
"Katie Van Horn hasn't run at all this year. Jackie, earlier in the season, had some issues. They've overcome those obstacles, and they are still focused on the task at hand, which is to get to the NCAA meet. I believe we have a shot at doing that, but I believe it is going to take nothing but our best to get there."
Bowman and Auburn's Hollie Knight, the SEC runner-up, are expected to be among the contenders for the individual title, with two-time defending region champion and Lambert Acres course record-holder (20:54.1) Susan Kuijken of Florida State entering as the clear favorite.
DIRECTIONS TO LAMBERT ACRES:
From Knoxville, take Alcoa Highway/129 South. Follow 129 South for 11 miles to TN 35, which is approximately one mile past McGhee-Tyson Airport. Merge left onto TN 35 and travel approximately five miles through Alcoa and Maryville before bearing left toward Walland and Townsend on 321 North. Stay on 321 North for five miles until you come to Tuckaleechee Pike. Looking for landmarks, you will see a gas station on the left and a Lambert Acres Golf Club sign on the right just as you approach Tuckaleechee. There also will be NCAA South Regional signs. Make the right-hand turn onto Tuckaleechee Pike. Next, turn left onto Lee Lambert Road and proceed until you see the grass parking area on the right. Sherriff's deputies will be located at the entrance to that lot.