Nov. 14, 2002
The University of Tennessee women's cross country team will go after its first national championship appearance since 1998, when it joins the UT men's squad in hosting the NCAA South Regionals at Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville on Saturday morning. Start time for the women's 6000-meter race is 10 a.m., while the men run 10,000 meters at 11 a.m.
Approximately 25 schools from the South region, which includes teams from the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, will be on hand to compete. There are no South teams ranked in this week's national poll, but Tennessee (8) and Auburn (6) are receiving votes.
The Lady Volunteers, who haven't qualified for the NCAA Championships as a team since 1998, will be aiming for the sixth national appearance in school history. To make that happen, UT will have to finish among the top two teams to receive an automatic berth, or finish third and hope for an at-large bid as they received four seasons ago. First-year Tennessee Head Coach J.J. Clark knows it won't be easy but believes his squad is capable of earning a ticket to the NCAA Championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 25.
"We believe we are one of the top teams in the region, but we know we have to execute our race plan and turn in our best race of the season to make an NCAA berth possible," Clark said. "We definitely know this course better, because we have been on it more than anyone else. It will also be more exciting for us to run at home. The bottom line, though, is that the good teams will win wherever they run, so we just need to stay focused on the task at hand and execute our plan on Saturday morning."
The NCAA allows a maximum of seven competitors from each school and one alternate. Clark has chosen to send senior Sharon Dickie (Grand Blanc, Mich.), juniors Erin Anderson (Kent, Ohio) and Jessica Southers (Ashland, Ky.), sophomores Elizabeth McCalley (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Brooke Novak (Kaukauna, Wis.) and freshmen Megan Cauble (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) into action and has selected junior Christy Baird (Knoxville, Tenn.) as his alternate.
Dickie, who placed fifth at the SEC Championships and became the first Lady Vol ever to earn four all-conference citations, is making her fourth regional appearance. The team leader placed 12th, 1st and 6th, respectively, in the 1998, 2000 and 2001 South Regionals and will be aiming for another UT first -- four-time all-region status. More importantly, however, she will be attempting to also qualify for her fourth NCAA Championship race. The Michigan native qualified individually in 2000 and 2001, earning All-America distinction in 2000, and earned a bid in 1998 as Tennessee made a team appearance.
Forming one of the region's top trios along with Dickie are Novak and Guliford. Novak is a two-time All-SEC selection on the course, including an eighth-place league finish in 2002. Guliford, meanwhile, has built a reputation as one of the nation's top rookies by running in Tennessee's No. 2 and 3 slots all season long. The ability of UT's top three will go a long way in determining the squad's outcome on Saturday morning.
Also key will be the four and five positions, which have been filled all year long by some combination of Anderson, Cauble, McCalley and Southers. The troika minus Cauble scored in the three, four and five positions last season as UT ran to a sixth-place outcome at the 2001 South Regional. Cauble, in her rookie campaign, has been an impact performer, most notably with her No. 3 team scoring effort and 20th-place result at the SEC meet.
Clark knows it will take a collaborative undertaking to allow his troops to accomplish their goals against several capable teams. Last year's top three, Georgia Tech, South Florida and Florida State, should once again be in the mix.
"South Florida has been consistent all year, but Auburn and Florida State beat them early in the year," said Clark. "Georgia Tech and Tennessee-Chattanooga also have nice teams. Then there is always the surprise team.
"We don't know what those teams are going to do on Saturday, so our focus needs to be on what we have to do, which is pack together well and run fast."