Lady Vol runners finish 28th

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - The University of Tennessee women's cross country team closed out a frustrating 2006 season Monday afternoon with a 28th-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.

The Lady Volunteers, who were making their fifth straight and 10th overall appearance at the meet, accumulated 565 points to finish 28th out of 31 teams for the second straight season and for the third time in the past five years. It was not the kind of outcome or season that Head Coach J.J. Clark envisioned when his squad began his fifth campaign in Knoxville.

"I am just happy to put this season behind us," Clark said. "It has been one of the toughest season's I've ever had, with a lot of injuries that were unavoidable - things that you can't control as a coach.

"We had another turned ankle today during competition. I've never had one before during my years of coaching cross country, and now I have had two in one season. It's just been one thing after another, but, all in all, we've come through and we'll be healthy for indoor track season."

Stanford, which went wire to wire as the number-one team in the USTFCCCA poll, captured the NCAA trophy by tallying 195 points to easily hold off runner-up Colorado (223. Michigan took third with 233 points, while Wisconsin was fourth at 262 and Arkansas claimed fifth with 286. Texas Tech, bolstered by individual winner Sally Kipyego (20:11.1), was sixth with 300, while other SEC schools included Georgia in 15th at 401 and Florida in 26th at 536.

UT was paced on the sunny, 39-degree day by sophomore Sarah Bowman. The Warrenton, Va., product led the Big Orange to the finish line for the second time this season with a 97th-place finish out of 255 runners, covering the extremely soggy 6,000-meter course in 22 minutes, 08.1 seconds. The venue was in as good a shape as could be expected after taking on five inches of rain in the past six days.

Sophomore Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.), who set the pace for the Lady Vols at the NCAA South Regional last weekend, was the second orange-clad to hit the finish chute. Her 22:14.6 reading was good for 113th place in her first NCAA Championships appearance.

Senior Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio), making her fourth NCAA appearance, was the third UT scorer, finishing 158th in 22:34.1, followed by freshman Jackie Areson (Delray Beach, Fla.) at 161st in 22:35.6. Senior Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.), also running in her fourth national championship race, filled the No. 5 role on the squad, crossing the line 188th in 22:53.1.

Sophomore Leah Soro (Knoxville, Tenn.) was the sixth and final UT runner to cross the line, doing so 238th in 24:00.9. Freshman Rose-Anne Galligan (County Kildare, Ireland), meanwhile, turned her right ankle about 4,000 meters into the race and was unable to continue. It marked the second time this season a Lady Vol was unable to compete a race, as Guliford suffered a similar fate in the final 800 meters of the Paul Short Run back on Sept. 29.

With the effort, Tennessee's season record winds up at 114-40, which ranks as the third best in school history. That total boosts the Lady Vols' mark during Flaute and Guliford's five-year stints at Tennessee to 518-162-1, with the squad making five NCAA appearances and winning four NCAA South Regional titles and three Southeastern Conference trophies during that time.

"I know both of them wanted to finish their cross country careers with a little nicer ending, but there is still track season for each of them," Clark said. "Obviously, they have helped our cross country program a lot and made a tremendous impact.

"I really don't want to talk about endings yet, since they still have a season of track ahead of them, but they've meant a lot to Tennessee. Hopefully, they can bounce back and have better indoor and outdoor seasons."

As for the rest of his roster, Clark will return six of the eight student-athletes who made the trip to Terre Haute, including sophomore alternate Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) and freshmen Kelly Parrish (Ocala, Fla.) and Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.), who did not travel. He believes the struggles of 2006 may somehow benefit these youngsters in the future.

"It's been a hard road, but we made it through," Clark said. "Hopefully this will make everyone stronger and more motivated for the next couple of seasons."

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