''It was a good day for the Lady Vols,'' UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. ''Dee Dee Trotter stunned a lot of people today with her time in the 400. I believe she's arrived.
''Nicole gave her best effort tonight, but she wasn't as sharp as we wanted her to be. She still had a great season, charting PRs in the 400, 800 and 1500 meters and earning All-America honors again.
''And Sharon Dickie, to not make the meet ever before and come in here and score and make All-America. It's a special way to end her career after all of the different things she's had to overcome during her career. We can all hold our heads high as we leave this meet.''
LSU seized yet another team title, accumulating 64 points to best Texas (50) and Southeastern Conference foes South Carolina (47) and Florida (36). Other scoring SEC teams included Georgia in 11th (22), Auburn in 14th (18), Arkansas in 19th (13.50), Mississippi State in 27th (10), Alabama and Vanderbilt in 43rd (5), and Kentucky in 55th (3).
Trotter, a sophomore from Decatur, Ga., introduced herself to the nation on collegiate track & field's grandest stage. After making the turn toward the home stretch in what appeared to be fourth or fifth place, the UT record-holder stormed down the final straightaway and nearly caught Texas phenom Sanya Richards at the wire, lowering her Lady Vol standard yet again to an impressive 50.66. Richards, the highly-touted Longhorn freshman, was just able to hold off Trotter as she improved her American junior record of 50.58 to triumph by 8/100ths of a second. LSU's Nadia Davy was not able to fend off Trotter, finishing third by a hair's breadth.
Trotter, whose time ranks second to Richards among all U.S. 400 meter runners in 2003, collected the third All-America citation of her career. She had previously picked up awards for the Big Orange's 4x400m indoor and outdoor relays as a freshman. Trotter's second-place result in the 400 ties Ilrey Oliver's 1986 NCAA runner-up effort for the best finish by a Lady Vol at that distance. It was also the first top-three finish in an individual running event by a UT woman at NCAA Outdoors since Kelli White took third in the 200m dash in 1999.
''I can't be anything but happy about my performance,'' Trotter said. ''I was the question mark coming in here, because I just started focusing on the 400 at the SEC meet and no one really knew what to expect of me. I executed my race pattern better than I was supposed to tonight -- I just came up a little short at the end.''
The fact that Trotter was even in the picture at the end was a testament to her shear will and determination.
''Coming off the 300 turn, I didn't know if I would catch up. I was thinking third place probably looked to be the best I could hope for. But I can always count on the fact that I'm strong and keep getting faster at the end when the others are slowing down. I just kept coming and gave it everything I had left.''
Cook added to the scoring ledger with a sixth-place effort in the 800 meters. The sophomore from Petersburg, Va., recorded a time of 2:04.02 and will come home with the sixth All-America citation of her career. Cook was eighth a year ago at the NCAA outdoor meet and posted finishes of ninth in 2002 and second in 2003 at the national indoor gatherings. She also picked up two certificates with UT's 4x400m relay a season ago.
On this night, it appeared Cook could be en route to a top-three finish to duplicate her earlier indoor runner-up outcome. She got off to a quick start, surging to the lead before the runners broke from their lanes, and she continued to lead throughout the first lap.
At the beginning of the second trip around the oval, however, Cook was overtaken by Alice Schmidt of North Carolina and Becky Lyne of Butler. Unfortunately, she couldn't match their pace and all she could do was give chase. Schmidt would go on to win in 2:01.16, LSU's Neisha Bernard-Thomas would kick hard to finish second in 2:01.75, and Lyne grabbed third in 2:01.76.
Finally, it was Dickie's turn in the night's longest event. The senior was aiming to become the first Lady Vol in program history to earn All-America status indoors and out in the 5000 meters. The Grand Blanc, Mich., got the job done and chipped in a point to UT's team total with an eighth-place time of 16:23.15. For posting the second fastest time of her career, she picked up a bookend All-America plaque to go with the indoor hardware she earned for also finishing eighth in 2001.
It was a positive career capper for an athlete who has endured more than her share of injury and coaching staff turnover during her days in Knoxville.
''This is the icing on the cake,'' Dickie said. ''I am really happy that I was able to score for the team tonight. When I was younger, I was concerned about being an All-American and about myself. This time, it was about putting points on the board for Tennessee. After seeing Dee Dee and Nicole do what they did, I just wanted to contribute, and I¡¦m glad I was able to.''