Lady Vols finish third in regional

MARYVILLE, Tenn. - After earning automatic trips to the NCAA Championships the past four seasons with victories at the NCAA South Regional, the University of Tennessee women's cross country team will need some help getting to the national meet this season.

The Lady Vols' third-place finish Saturday at Lambert Acres Golf Club means UT will have to wait and see whether it earns one of 13 at-large bids extended by the NCAA Selection Committee on Sunday night.

Sixteenth-ranked Georgia, which placed four runners in the top 10 and all five scorers in the top 15, tallied 35 points to capture the 2006 South Region title, followed by No. 25 Florida in second with 70 points. No. 18 Tennessee accumulated 80 points to wind up third, just four ahead of fourth-place and 21st-ranked Florida State (84), whose freshman, Susan Kuijken, claimed the individual women's title in a course-record time of 20:54.1.

Former FSU standout Vicky Gill's 2002 NCAA South Regional mark of 21:03.87 was the venue's previous best for 6,000 meters.

"I thought we could win," fifth-year UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said of his four-time defending champions. "I felt that we had a chance when we got out there, but Georgia ran very well. I thought we were capable of doing that."

Even though Tennessee saw its four-year run of titles come to a close, the South has four ranked teams in the nation's top 25. That, the Lady Vols' performance at the ISU Pre-Nationals Invite earlier this season and its finish ahead of region runner-up Florida at the SEC meet may be enough to earn an at-large nod and send the Big Orange back to the national meet for the fifth straight season.

That decision, however, will be in the committee's hands.

"We're not used to waiting for anything," Clark said, referring to UT's usual method of controlling its own destiny by winning the regional meet. "We performed OK at the pre-nationals meet and beat six ranked teams. I don't know how that will work.

"The top two here go, and we were third, so I don't know what's going to happen. I want to say that we'll have a good chance of going (to nationals)."

Sophomore Katie Van Horn, who transferred to Tennessee last season after nearly earning All-Southeast Region honors as a rookie at the University of Richmond, collected All-South Region acclaim on Saturday, leading all UT runners with an eighth-place result of 21:33.0.

It marked the first time in six races this season that the Glendora, N.J., native was the first Lady Vol to the finish line. More importantly, Van Horn, as one of the top four individual finishers not on a qualifying team, put herself into position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA meet at what has become an annual site, the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind.

"This season, I've usually been running third or fourth for our team, but I ran well today," Van Horn said. "I just got really up for this race. I saw Florida and Florida State runners, and I just kept trying to pick them off.

"I knew those were teams to beat, along with Georgia, and every person counts. I just kept getting after them."

Freshman Jackie Areson was the second of four Lady Vols to earn all-region accolades. The product of Delray Beach, Fla., covered the 6,000-meter course in 21:35.4 and finished among Tennessee's scoring five for the sixth time in as many races in her rookie season.

UT senior Katie Flaute, running on her home course for the final time of her career, churned out a 13th-place time of 21:42.7 to register an All-South Region effort for the third straight season. The product of Dayton, Ohio, became only the fifth Lady Vol in program history to make the all-region team three times.

Tennessee's fourth finisher also earned All-South kudos, but it did not come the way she had hoped. Sophomore Sarah Bowman ran as one of the leaders through the two-mile mark, but she was unable to keep up the pace over the final mile and half. The Warrenton, Va., native wound up 23rd in 22:06.4, garnering her first all-region award after placing 35th at this meet a year ago.

Senior Felicia Guliford of Gallup, N.M., moved back into the Big Orange scoring five after three meets outside it. Her final run on her home course produced a 26th-place readout of 22:10.1, which left her one spot short from capturing All-South distinction for the fourth time.

Also running but not scoring for Tennessee, whose won-lost record stands at 111-13 after six meets, were freshman Rose-Anne Galligan (County Kildare, Ireland), who was right behind Guliford in 27th place at 22:12.6, and sophomore Leah Soro (Knoxville, Tenn.), who finished 43rd in a time of 22:38.6.

"Sarah Bowman did not have the race that we expected, and Felicia Guliford did not have the season that we expected," Clark said. "It's hard to beat people when you don't have that caliber of athletes putting you in a position to win.

"We did have some bright spots with Katie Van Horn and Jackie Areson, who's a freshman, getting eighth and 10th, respectively. That's very exciting."

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