UT to host cross country regional

The four-time defending champion University of Tennessee women will attempt to run their regional winning streak to five straight Saturday morning, as they join the UT men in hosting the NCAA South Regional Cross Country Championships at Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville.

The 18th-ranked Lady Volunteers will put their successful skein on the line at 10 a.m. Eastern Time Saturday, as they run 6,000 meters on the same course where they began their spree of South titles back in 2002. Expected to be among their chief competitors in the 23-team field are No. 16 Georgia, No. 21 Florida State and No. 25 Florida.

The 26-team men's 10,000-meter race will follow at 11 a.m.

UT Head Coach J.J. Clark came on board at Rocky Top prior to the 2002 season, and his Lady Vols have not lost a region meet since. His focus, though, is not on how many consecutive wins Tennessee has had at this meet. His interest is confined to the present and what UT needs to do on Saturday to earn one of two automatic bids to the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 20.

"We're just looking forward to going out there and trying to qualify for the NCAA meet," Clark said. "That's our primary goal. I believe this team is winding up and really getting into a good rhythm.

"It's not going to be easy, but we have to go out there and face the challenges. We are a tough team, too, and should be right in the thick of things. We look forward to trying to pull this one out."

For the first time since 2001, Tennessee will not enter the meet as the favorite. Georgia, which finished second to UT's third by two points at the recent SEC Championships, ranks first in the region. UT is second, followed by Florida State and fourth-place SEC finisher Florida.

"Since the inception of this region (in 1997), it's been pretty much the same teams slugging it out. Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State and Florida, when I was coaching there, have been part of the show. We just have to go execute our plan and not worry about anything else.

"I believe our team has come along nicely, and I just look for them to have a good performance."

Clark has had a knack for producing the kinds of showings he desires at the regional meet. The five-time South Region Coach of the Year need look no further than his senior class for a major reason for that run of success.

Returning all-region performers Katie Flaute and Felicia Guliford were here to celebrate the first South triumph on their home course back in 2002, and Saturday they will run at Lambert Acres for the final time in their collegiate careers.

Guliford participated in that initial regional victory, running third for UT and placing 14th overall as a true freshman. She earned All-South status that season and went on to collect honors again in 2004 (14th) and 2005 (5th) and earn All-SEC status in 2004 and 2005 as well. Flaute, after redshirting in 2002, collected All-SEC honors from 2004 to 2006 and All-South accolades in 2004 (21st) and 2005 (12th).

They have helped UT accumulate a 495-133-1 record during that time, win four regional titles and three conference trophies and make four NCAA Championship appearances.

This season, Flaute has been the team's most consistent performer, leading the Big Orange on three occasions and running second on the squad in two other meets. She is coming off a 12th-place finish at the SEC Championships, where Tennessee finished third behind Arkansas and South Region foe Georgia.

Guliford, meanwhile, has struggled with aches and pains and a sprained ankle suffered at the Paul Short Run. She is hopeful of returning to the squad's scoring five after being unable to count toward the team score the past three meets.

"Felicia has contributed a great deal to our program over the past several years, and Katie, as I recently told her, has been a staple for our cross country team this year. She's held this thing together for us and has been someone we've been able to rely on. Those two have really helped us and will be missed when they are gone."

Sophomore Sarah Bowman is coming off a fantastic effort at the SEC Championships. She collected All-SEC kudos for the second straight campaign, leading UT to the finish line and placing seventh overall in 20:23.09. Bowman was UT's fifth scorer at the regional meet a year ago, but she is expected to finish much higher than her 35th-position result of 2005.

Running first on the team at SECs and second at the ISU Pre-Nationals Invitational in her last two starts, it appears Bowman is on target to do just that.

Freshman Jackie Areson has demonstrated, especially over the past three meets, that she is someone who is likely to one day step into the shoes vacated by Flaute and Guilford. She has run in the squad's top three the past three meets, including a 15th-place and personal-record clocking of 20:42.65 at the SEC meet that left her one spot shy of earning all-league acclaim as a rookie.

Sophomore Katie Van Horn, a transfer from Richmond, was UT's fourth scorer at the conference meet, finishing just behind Areson in 16th place in a career-best 20:43.71. Running for the Spiders a year ago, Van Horn placed 28th at the NCAA Southeast Regional.

Also vying to break into the scoring five will be sophomore Leah Soro, who ran fifth for UT and 21st overall at the 2006 SEC meet in only her second appearance of the season. Soro finished ninth at the region meet a year ago and garnered All-South acclaim after running only one full season of high school cross country.

Others hoping to run their way into Tennessee's scoring quartet include freshmen Rose-Anne Galligan and Kelly Parrish, who have been in and out of the top five this season, and sophomore Rolanda Bell, who has never contributed to the scoring line but has moved closer to breaking through in 2006. Galligan was 26th (6th UT), Bell 36th (8th) and Parrish 46th (9th) at the SEC meet.

Which of these nine athletes run on Saturday, however, won't be determined until Friday night. At the NCAA coaches' meeting, Clark must trim his entry list to seven competitors. It will be those seven who earn the right to wear the Orange and try to extend Tennessee's string of NCAA Championship meet appearances to five years in a row.

On the men's side, 26 schools will have teams pursuing NCAA qualifying spots, including the following ranked squads: No. 10 Florida, No. 13 Alabama and No. 17 Florida State.

The Tennessee men joined their female counterparts by winning on their home course in 2002, but since then, Georgia (2003), Florida State (2004) and Alabama (2005) have emerged victorious from this competition.

The top two men's finishers from a year ago return. They include 2005 victor Tonny Okello of South Alabama (29:31.70) and runner-up Andrew Lemoncello of Florida State (29:42.22). Other top-10 finishers from a year ago who are entered in the meet include Alabama's Augustus (4th, 30:01.11), South Alabama's Vincent Rono (5th, 30:07.98), UA's Abraham Kutingala (6th, 30:18.90), FSU's Tom Lancashire (7th, 30:24.06) and Georgia's Ian Burrell (8th, 30:31.12).

Competing men's teams include Alabama, Auburn, Austin Peay, Belmont, Birmingham-Southern, Central Florida, Chattanooga, East Tennessee, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Jacksonville State, Lipscomb, Miami (Fla.), Mississippi, Mississippi State, Samford, South Alabama, South Florida, Tennessee, Tennessee Tech and Vanderbilt. Middle Tennessee did not enter a full squad but will have one individual competing.

Links to final results on Saturday may be found at www.utladyvols.com and www.utsports.com.

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