Lady Vols claim indoor track title

LEXINGTON , Ky. - Tennessee had three event victories this weekend, and sophomore Sarah Bowman had a hand in all three of them. While her efforts drew a deserved amount of attention, it was an entire team full of clutch performances throughout that enabled the seventh-ranked Lady Vols to claim their second SEC Indoor Track & Field Championship in the past three years on Sunday.

In a three-day event held at Nutter Fieldhouse, Tennessee tallied 120 points to hold off defending champion Georgia (103) for the Big Orange's third ever SEC Indoor trophy to go along with titles in 1984 and 2005.

LSU was third with 101, followed by Arkansas (83), South Carolina (52), Florida (42), Kentucky (40), Auburn (39.50), Ole Miss (36), Alabama (21.50), Vanderbilt (15) and Mississippi State (10).

"I can definitely say this (victory) was not from one area," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "We put a good team effort together, and they showed today how you should win championship meets. I am very, very proud of this team and what they have done.

"You need points from all over, and we scored some big points at crucial times and in certain areas - the mile, 3K and DMR - but more importantly it was a team effort. I have to give respect to Sarah's effort today; it was an unbelievable effort, and she really helped us bring home this championship."

Bowman, who won the 3000 meters in the last event on Saturday night, came back about 18 hours later to take the mile run in four minutes, 44.47 seconds and chart UT's first individual double since Felicia Guliford won the SEC Indoor 3000m and 5000m titles in 2005.

The Warrenton, Va., product had to dig deep to earn her third career SEC title (she also won outdoor 1500m last spring), as defending champion Natalie Picchetti of Georgia gave it all she had in trying to defend her 2006 crown.

The Big Orange victor wasn't Tennessee's only scorer in the mile, as the Lady Vols squeezed 21 points out of the event when freshman Rose-Anne Galligan (County Kildare, Ireland), freshman Jackie Areson (Delray Beach, Fla.) and sophomore Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) kicked in points for taking third, fifth and eighth. They covered the distance in times of 4:46.53, 4:52.24 and 4:56.92, respectively, and helped Team Orange take the lead in the meet for the first time with a seven-point advantage over second-place Georgia.

As for Bowman, she and Arkansas' Dacia Barr led the pack for the first three laps, with Picchetti trailing closely behind. As lap four began, the Georgia runner made her move and went around both of the lead runners. Bowman didn't give in and jockeyed back and forth with Picchetti for the lead over the remainder of their trip around the oval.

On the bell lap, though, Picchetti surged and tried to put the matter to rest. Bowman would have none of it, giving pursuit and then overtaking the UGA standout down the home stretch to hold on and become UT's first league indoor mile champ since Patty Wiegand in 1991 and only the third in school history. Jasmin Jones was the first to win in 1990.

Bowman also brought home the baton for Tennessee's third distance medley relay victory at this meet in the past four seasons. Her 1600m leg, coming after contributions from Galligan, sophomore Kimarra McDonald (Lumberton, N.J.) and freshman Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.), put the Lady Vols into first place in the race, and she clinched the team triumph by crossing the line first in 11:24.35 and giving the squad from Rocky Top an insurmountable lead with only the 4x400m relay remaining.

"It's about consistency, and it feels really good when you can achieve that," Bowman said of her ability to win two individual events. "The DMR, I really wanted that for the girls on the team with me. They really wanted that, so I just kept my eyes on that goal and went with it. We've all put our heart out in this meet, and after last year, we really needed it."

UT would go on to finish fourth in the 4x4, with junior LaTonya Loche (Bastrop, La.), junior Courtney Champion (Lawrenceville, Ga.), freshman Nia Ali (Philadelphia, Pa.) and senior Leslie Treherne (Chesapeake, Va.) moving the baton around the oval in a season-best and NCAA provisional qualifying 3:38.48 to close out the joyous weekend.

"We wanted this," Bowman said. "We had a meeting on Saturday and sat down and prayed about it. This is something we have wanted since last year, because it was such a rough year. This win was a team effort."

Tennessee started the day by piling on 16 points in the 60-meter hurdles, but it was sophomore Celriece Law (Denver, Colo.) who was the fastest orange-clad performer rather than Ali.

After Ali tied Benita Fitzgerald's 1983 UT record and posted the fastest qualifying time at 8.18 in the prelims on Saturday, Law cruised to a second-place finish on a day later in a school-record and NCAA automatic clocking of 8.15 in the final. Helping her in the points haul were Ali, who took fourth in 8.25 and sophomore Pavi'Elle "Tiki" James (Miami, Fla.), who earned sixth-place points with a career-best and NCAA provisional improvement of 8.35.

After setting a school record in the 60-meter dash prelims at 7.19 on Saturday, Champion found another gear in the final to drop the mark even further Sunday. Though she suffered her first defeat of 2007 in 12 short sprint races, Champion hit the finish line at 7.15 to deliver a second-place result and chart the third-fastest time in the world this season. Junior Cleo Tyson (Huntsville, Texas) kicked in three more to the 11-point spree, winding up sixth in 7.44. The result by Champion matched her runner-up finish at this meet as a rookie in 2005.

Champion also added a third-place outcome in the 200 meters and got help from freshman Lynne Layne (New Rochelle, N.Y.) in a nine-point splurge for that event. Champion navigated the turns in an automatic 23.14, while Layne cranked out a career-best and provisional improvement of 23.54 to take sixth.

"Celerice Law opened the day for us in 8.15 and breaks the school record; that was just a sign that, wow, we're going to go," Clark said. "Nia didn't have the best race, but Celriece came through.

"Courtney's 7.15 is unbelievable. These are signs that we are going in the right direction. There's no question; those were world-class marks in the 60 dash. That's why I have to give credit to everyone contributing al the way around the board."

Treherne came through with eight points in the 800 meters for a second-place run of 2:06.52. After running in the middle of the pack for most of the race, the veteran coolly moved on the inside to rise from fifth to second on the final lap and chart a career-best time indoors and post her finest finish in four tries at the SEC Indoor meet.

In the 5000 meters, Clark's troops tacked on nine more points. Sophomore Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.) and senior Katie Flaute (Dayton , Ohio ) were the suppliers to the Big Orange cookie jar, grabbing fourth and fifth, respectively, in 16:43.22 and 16:45.24, respectively.

Freshman Kelly Parrish (Ocala, Fla.) and senior Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) weren't far behind, taking ninth and 10th in a personal-record 17:10.14 and 17:11.64, respectively.

In the shot put, Tennessee received a three-point contribution from the duo of juniors Shanna Dickenson (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Amara McKell (Nashville, Tenn.), who placed seventh and eighth, respectively, with throws of 46-3 1/4 and 45-8 1/2. McKell's was a career best.

In addition to her effort in the hurdles, Law tossed in a seventh-place leap of 41-7 1/4 in the triple jump. Sophomore Brittany Daniels (Tracy, Calif.) nearly joined in, finishing just out of the points in ninth place with a season-best measurement of 40-1 1/2. Loche (Bastrop, La.) also chipped in a point in the 400 meters, finishing eighth in 53.98.

"They (SEC Championships) all have special meaning," Clark said. "The first time (in 2005) was very exciting. This time, most people thought we couldn't do it because of last year (team dropped to third indoors/fifth outdoors). They probably had written us off, but we definitely showed them that we are very tough."

A few Lady Vols may be in action next weekend at various last chance meets. Otherwise, members of the squad who receive invitations will compete in the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., on March 9-10.

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