Lady Vols track & field season starts

Armed with 16 returning letterwinners, including five All-Americans, the University of Tennessee women's track & field program is anxious to begin the 2007 campaign this weekend. The Lady Vols, who also have Track & Field News' No. 6 class of newcomers onboard, will kick off the indoor season on Friday and Saturday at the Kentucky Invitational in Lexington.

The non-scored meet is being held at the University of Kentucky's Nutter Fieldhouse, site of the 2007 Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships next month.

Action begins at 5 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, with women's teams from Alabama, Arkansas State, Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee State, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Middle Tennessee State, Marshall, Ohio State, Western Kentucky and Wright State slated to be on hand.

Fifth-year Big Orange Head Coach J.J. Clark is taking a squad of 21 athletes, including seven first-year UT performers to the UK meet.

"Our athletes are excited, I am excited and our staff is excited to begin a new season," Clark said. "We look forward to beginning our quest to achieve qualifying marks for the NCAA Indoor Championships and prepare for the SEC Championship meet we will compete in at this same venue later in the season.

"It's (indoor campaign) a short season, only eight weeks and it's all over, so we are ready to start our march forward."

Tennessee's returning headliners include Cleo Tyson (Huntsville, Texas), already an 11-time All-American and the school record-holder in the 60m (7.20) and 100m (11.10) dashes entering her junior season. Tyson, one of the team's tri-captains along with seniors Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) and Leslie Treherne (Chesapeake, Va.), leads one of the nation's deepest sprint/hurdle/jumps corps.

Tyson is slated to double in the 60 and 200 meters this weekend, as are classmates Courtney Champion (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and LaTonya Loche (Bastrop, La.), who return with eight and seven All-America citations, respectively, to their credit. Champion stands as the school's indoor standard-bearer in the 200 meters (22.98).

Freshman Lynne Layne (New Rochelle, N.Y.), a national high school champion in the sprints, is also penciled in for a 60m/200m double this weekend. Additionally, she will be among the contenders to fill the relay loss of departed senior Patricia Hall.

Treherne and sophomore Sarah Bowman return after strong seasons in 2006 and are scheduled to run the 800 meters and 800m/mile, respectively, this weekend.

Treherne, who logged a 2:06.94 clocking indoors and a 2:03.38 mark outdoors in the 800 meters last year, blossomed during the outdoor season, taking second by only 26/100ths of a second at the SEC Championships and earning All-America acclaim for an eighth-place effort at the NCAA Championships.

Bowman, meanwhile, was a third-place finisher at SEC Indoors in the mile and seized the league title outdoors in the 1500 meters. She is back after posting season bests of 4:46.17 indoors and 4:19.19 outdoors a year ago. She was an NCAA qualifier in the DMR indoors and the 1500m outdoors as a rookie but did not score at either of the national meets.

The hurdles corps, which returns sophomore Celriece Law (Denver, Colo.), who scored indoors and out at the 2006 SEC meets in the hurdles as well as the triple jump, will be bolstered by the arrival of Miami (Fla.) transfer and ACC scorer Pavi'Elle "Tiki" James (Miami, Fla.) and national prep champ Nia Ali (Philadelphia, Pa.).

Law has run 7.68 in the 55m hurdles, while Ali has a best of 7.75 and James logged a 7.82 readout last season. They will run the 60m hurdles this weekend, in which Ali owns an 8.32, Law an 8.36, and James an 8.45.

The distance corps, also fortified by new arrivals, will open the year with five in the 3K on Saturday. Dependable seniors Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) and Carly Matthews (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and vastly improved sophomore Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.) will be joined by rookies Jackie Areson (Delray Beach, Fla.) and Rose-Anne Galligan (County Kildare, Ireland), who were highly-regarded prep standouts.

The Lady Vols' best field events competitors include junior Shanna Dickenson (Cincinnati, Ohio) and sophomore Alicia Essex (Purcellville, Va.).

Dickenson, whose top event is the discus outdoors (176-2), will be competing in three events this weekend, including the weight throw, in which she ranks number two all-time at UT (62-7 1/4).

Essex, meanwhile, is Tennessee's top returning pole vaulter. She improved from 11-6 1/2 indoors to 11-11 3/4 outdoors in 2006 and just missed scoring at the SEC meet in 10th position.

There are others competing this weekend, or opening up in the coming weeks, who will also have an impact on the 2007 squad. The wealth of talent and depth makes for arguably the most-promising team Clark has led at Tennessee. That includes the 2005 NCAA Indoor Championship team, which got contributions from some of this year's stars.

"You have to be careful," Clark cautioned. "We are very talented on paper. It is very important that we don't just relish in the fact that we have a strong recruiting class or that we have several of the key contributors who helped us win national and conference titles in 2005.

We have to do something to earn respect this season, because no one is just going to hand us a victory."

That process starts on Friday evening.

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