Megan Cabule and the Lady Vols head to the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Nov. 21, 2003
Armed with the goal of improving upon last year's 28th-place showing and contending for a spot among the nation's top 20, the 26th-ranked University of Tennessee women head to Waterloo, Iowa, to compete in the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Monday at Irv Warren Golf Course. The appearance is the second-straight for Head Coach J.J. Clark's squad and the seventh NCAA trip ever for the Lady Volunteers, who have posted a 92-8 won-lost record during the current campaign.
The 31-team women's race, which will be 6,000 meters in length, is slated to start at 12:15 p.m. Central time. It will be preceded by the 10,000-meter men's competition at 11 a.m. CT. The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls is serving as host of the event for the first time.
Tennessee, which is making its 10th all-time national championship meet appearance (including three AIAW meets), qualified for the competition via an automatic berth obtained by winning the NCAA South Region on Nov. 15 in Auburn, Ala. The Lady Vols' victory gave the team back-to-back triumphs at the South meet, marking the first time in school history that UT had repeated as region champs.
The Big Orange women, who forged a top-30 outcome at the 2002 meet in Terre Haute, Ind., are making back-to-back national appearances for only the fourth occasion in the three-decade history of the sport at Rocky Top. Clark is hopeful his team will shrug off forecasts for cold temperatures, high winds and snow and continue the upward mobility he began when he took over the program a year and a half ago.
"We look to move up from our 28th-place finish last year and are aiming for a top 20 result," the back-to-back USTCA South Region Coach of the Year said. "A realistic goal for our program is to try to move up six to eight places each season until we put ourselves into position to compete for one of the top spots in the country. As I have said several times over the past year and a half, you have to take things by steps and keep moving up the ladder. We certainly don't want to be 28th again."
Clark's plan for ascent is paced by junior Brooke Novak, a two-time all-region and three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection from Kaukauna, Wis. One of only seven Lady Vols to earn all-league acclaim three times in a career, Novak has set the tone by finishing as the Big Orange's lead runner in four meets this season, including the past three. She was third at the SEC meet and fifth at regionals, charting a season-best time of 20:54.80 at the latter. She will be eyeing improvement over a 21:19.8, 103rd-place effort as UT's number-two NCAA scorer a year ago.
Challenging Novak to get better all season long has been sophomore Megan Cauble. Twice UT's first individual finisher in 2003, Cauble is coming off a career-best clocking of 20:59.21 and a seventh-place regional outcome en route to All-South kudos for the second-straight year. The Knoxville, Tenn., native also proved herself worthy of All-SEC status, charting a 22:09.20 count to place sixth on a difficult course at the conference race in Athens, Ga., on Nov. 3.
Coming into the NCAA race with momentum are senior Lindsay Hyatt (Auburn, Calif.) and junior Elizabeth McCalley (Knoxville, Tenn.). Hyatt, a transfer from Stanford, delivered a clutch, ninth-place performance of 21:02.73 to post a career best and earn All-South distinction. McCalley, meanwhile, put together her best regional race in three tries, collecting an All-South certificate after placing 24th in 21:44.16.
Redshirt freshman Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) was UT's fifth scorer at regionals, just missing All-South recognition by one spot with her 26th-place and career-topping result of 21:45.21. Also in contention to provide the Lady Vols with a scoring punch is sophomore Mindy Sullivan. The Lubbock, Texas, product was sensational in an 11th-place, All-SEC run two weeks ago but was unable to recapture that form at the South meet last Saturday morning.
Also on the trip and vying for the final competitive spot will be senior Jessica Southers (Ashland, Ky.) and junior Nicole Cook (Petersburg, Va.). Clark must declare an active lineup of seven before the race, so one of these two will most likely be relegated to a support role. Southers scored in fifth position twice this season for the Orange and White but was not in the lineup at the South Regional after failing to score at the previous two meets. Cook, meanwhile, is a national-caliber 800-meter runner who has appeared in two meets in 2003. She was sixth on the team at the 5K Crimson Classic (13th, 18:54.43) and 10th on the squad at the 6K Penn State National Meet (95th/10th 23:12.48). Both times were career bests.
The fact that Cauble, McCalley, Novak and Southers ran in this meet year ago is a huge benefit to them and the team, but Clark says the greatest advantage is one of a physical nature.
"Experience (from 2002) is good, but more than that, everyone is healthy this year," Clark said. "We had to count some scores in the mid 200s last year because people weren't completely healthy. I don't believe we'll have a repeat of that. We're healthy and going in with momentum."