The Lady Vol long and short of it

The 18th-ranked University of Tennessee women's cross country team will take its first stab at the championship distance of 6,000 meters on Friday, when the Lady Vols compete in the Paul Short Run in Bethlehem, Pa., for the fourth straight season.

The Big Orange women, who are 20-1 after two meets this season, finished first in 2004 and third in both 2003 and 2005 at the meet that is hosted by Lehigh University on the school's Goodman Campus course.

This year's affair, which includes No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 13 Princeton and No. 18 Tennessee among the 36 teams entered in the Women's College Invitational Championship 6K Race, is slated to begin at 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time.

With only seven runners per team allowed to compete in the invitational race, the Lady Vols will also have at least two athletes running individually in the Women's College Open division at 4 p.m. Both races allow Head Coach J.J. Clark's troops the opportunity to continue their improvement and get their feet wet at a distance that will test the squad later this season at the SEC Championships, NCAA South Regional and, hopefully, the NCAA Championships.

"We just want to get sharper and shaper, run with enthusiasm against some top ranked teams and see how we fare," Clark said. "The team has been getting better and better each week. Even in the past few days, I can see a change in their fitness and sharpness. I think we'll see some good things over the weeks to come."

Tennessee's appearance at the meet is the squad's fourth in as many seasons, and it marks the sixth time a UT unit has made the trek to Bethlehem for a cross country meet. The Lady Vols also competed at Lehigh in 1993 and were fourth at the NCAA Championship meet held there in 1983.

It's just a good, solid course," said Clark, who ran on the venue during his college days at Villanova University. "They held the NCAA meet there back in the eighties. It has some challenging hills, some fair downhill stretches and some nice flats, and it is very viewer friendly.

"All aspects of the course are good. We're going to go there and try to put a better race together and stay as tightly packed as possible."

To improve UT's spacing at the Sept. 15 Tennessee Invitational will take some doing. At that meet, which the Lady Vols easily won, only 36 seconds separated UT's first and fifth finishers. Even more impressive, there were only 39 seconds between runners one and seven.

Setting the pace for Team Orange this season have been seniors Katie Flaute and Felicia Guliford. Flaute was UT's first finisher at the Belmont Opener on Sept. 1, while Guliford led the way at the Tennessee Invitational on Sept. 15. Flaute finished one spot behind her teammate at the Tennessee Invite.

Freshmen Jackie Areson and Rose-Anne Galligan have contributed to the scoring cause in each of the first two meets. Areson held down the fourth and fifth spots in the first two meets, while Galligan ran second and fourth in her two outings.

Sophomore Sarah Bowman ran third for UT at the Tennessee Invitational, while freshman Kelly Parrish contributed to the scoring total at Belmont in the three slot. Sophomore Katie Van Horn ran fifth for the orange-clads at the season opener and just missed scoring as UT's sixth runner at the home meet.

Others who are expected to travel to the Paul Short Run are sophomore Rolanda Bell and freshman Phoebe Wright. Clark was considering opening up sophomore Leah Soro this weekend, but he has instead opted to do so at the ISU Pre-Nationals Invitational in two weeks.

Clark has assembled a competitive squad that should compete for championships.

Already making an impact on the cross country team are freshman distance runners Jackie Areson Rose-Anne Galligan and Kelly Parrish. They are joined by first-year distance performers Alyssa Bryant and Phoebe Wright.

Areson and Parrish, who signed last fall, are high school All-Americans who have made a splash not only in their home state of Florida , but also at national competitions as well. Areson won the mile run at the 2006 Nike Indoor National Championship and was a four-time high school state champion in Florida in the 800m, mile and 4x800m relay. Parrish, meanwhile, was a seven-time state champ, finished fourth in 1600m at the Nike Indoor meet and was third in the two-mile run at the Nike Outdoor meet.

Galligan, meanwhile, was a spring signee who possesses Irish junior national records in the 1500m and 3000m indoors and was a top-50 finisher at the 2005 IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships. She was a three-time naitonal champion in the 1500m from 2003 to 2005 and won a national 800m title in 2005 to boot.

The sprints/hurdles/jumps corps received an equally strong transfusion of talent via a pair of highly-regarded transfers and the prep ranks as well.

Joining the program after transferring from the University of Southern California and the University of Miami, respectively, are jumper Brittany Daniels and hurdler Pavi'Elle "Tiki" James. Both were high school All-Americans and were recruited by Tennessee during their prep days after five-time state champ Daniels set an American junior record in the triple jump and was the 2005 Gatorade Female Track & Field Athlete of the Year, while James was a two-time 4A state champ in Florida and the 2005 Nike Outdoor national champion in the 100m hurdles.

The rookie class includes a pair of blue chip recruits in hurdler/sprinter Nia Ali and sprinter Lynne Layne. Ali is a national prep champion in the 60m hurdles who hails from Philadelphia, Pa., and attended Pleasantville, N.J., HIgh School. Layne, meanwhile, is a product of New Rochelle N.Y., who won indoor national titles in the 60 and 200 meters during her high school days.

Joining them on the roster are freshman hurdler/jumper Leighanne Burton, freshman sprinter Phileisha Campbell and pole vaulters sophomore Rebecca Cole, freshman Katie Edwards, freshman Jennifer Lewellen (Kernersville and freshman Katie O'Connell.

"As a coach, this is the strongest recruiting class I've ever had," Clark said. "Our sprint/distance combination will allow us to have many great and exciting moments here at UT. We look forward to coming together when it is time. That should be a lot of fun.

"We're really happy to have some freshmen and transfers add to the stability and growth of our program. We're a good team on paper and should have the potential to do well in our conference and nationally."

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