Four Lady Vols earn NCAA track bids

Four Lady Vols earn NCAA track bids Lady Vol sophomore Dee Dee Trotter claimed the 400-meter dash title and classmate Nicole Cook finished third in the 800-meter run Saturday evening at the NCAA Mideast Regional meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. For their efforts in very chilly and windy conditions, the Lady Vol standouts earned berths in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., June 11-14.

Later in the evening, Trotter and Cook also played key roles as the Big Orange 4x400m relay unit placed second in 3:37.80 to also earn an automatic bid to the national meet in two weeks. That finish brought UT's total to 36 points and gave Head Coach J.J. Clark's squad a final finish of seventh and a roster of six NCAA qualifiers.

LSU took team scoring honors with 95, followed by Michigan (62), Indiana (60), Arkansas and Auburn (45.5), and Ohio State (40.5).

Trotter, who came into the finals with the fastest qualifying time at 52.75, backed up her title and school-record performance (51.65) at the SEC Championships two weekends ago by again holding off LSU junior Hazel-Ann Regis for the title, 51.95 to 52.04. That winning mark ranks as the third-best time in UT history and is a Jesse Owens Stadium record. It broke the previous standard of 52.74 set by former Clemson standout Michelle Burgher in 2001.

In contrast to her wire-to-wire win at the conference meet, Trotter's regional victory seemed to be won as she made the final turn and out-raced Regis and LSU teammate Nadia Davy (53.26) down the home stretch. However, the Decatur, Ga., product's ability to fight through a stiff wind on the back stretch and make up the stagger before that point was critical in getting her into position to use her phenomenal talents.

Trotter has now finished first in her last four races at 400 meters, winning qualifying heats here and at SECs and capturing championships at the past two meets. She heads to California as Tennessee's first NCAA qualifier in the quarter since Saidah Jones in 1997 and will, of course, go down as the Lady Vols' first-ever NCAA Mideast Regional champion.

''Dee Dee is really coming into her own,'' Clark said. ''She has put herself in a position to be a national contender. She's still young and learning every time out. The wind was a factor for everyone today, but I thought she handled it well and did an excellent job in those conditions.''

As for Cook, the Petersburg, Va., native duplicated her third-place effort in the prelims with a bronze-medal performance in the final. Her reading of 2:03.77 put her just behind the 2:02.89 of Butler's Becky Lyne and the 2:02.97 of Mississippi State's Tiffany McWilliams, mirroring the order of Friday night's preliminary race. With a strong start, Cook bolted to the head of the pack and set the pace until McWilliams surged to the front after the first 300 meters. Cook stayed on McWilliams's hip for the remainder of the first lap and most of the second with Lyne right on her heels. With about 180 meters to go, Lyne moved to the outside and went around Cook and McWilliams, neither of whom could match her finishing kick on this night.

Still, Cook did what she set out to do -- advance to the NCAA Championships. The runner-up at the 2003 indoor meet, Cook has now qualified for nationals in the 800 in each of the four opportunities she's had in her two seasons as a Lady Vol. After picking up four All-America certificates as a freshman and one indoors as a sophomore, the second-year standout will aim for number six in Sacramento.

After their individual chores were finished, Trotter and Cook ran legs two and three of the 4x400m relay, joining forces with sophomore Antoinette Gorham (Glenarden, Md.) and freshman Caitlin Ward (Gibsonia, Pa.) for a runner-up outcome.

Cook, Trotter, Gorham and Ward join seniors Sharon Dickie (Grand Blanc, Mich.) and Christie Elwin (Adelaide, Australia), who qualified for the national meet Friday night in the 5000 meters and pole vault, respectively. Dickie placed second in the 5000 meters with a time of 16:32.22. Elwin placed fifth in the vault with a best of 13 feet, 2 1/4 inches. Junior Janine Tessarzik (Altamont, N.Y.) just missed the finals of the discus throw, placing 10th with a throw of 151-2 on Saturday.

''It was a good weekend,'' Clark said. ''We qualified about everyone we thought would qualify, and the competitive spirit of the team was outstanding. Even though the conditions weren't very favorable, we stepped up and competed at a high level. It's time to go back home, regroup, and reload for the national championship meet.''

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