The Big Orange, rated 20th this week in the USTFCCCA Poll but unranked in the Trackwire 25, will face No. 1/4 LSU, No. 3/2 South Carolina, No. 4/7 Auburn, No. 7/NR Georgia, and No. 16/NR Arkansas in the 12-team women's competition that starts with the heptathlon on Thursday at 2 p.m. Central Time. Georgia is the defending SEC Outdoor champion, while the Lady Vols were fifth a year ago.
"At this point, it is about which team can really hold together the best," fifth-year UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "We've all had long seasons with cross country and then indoor and outdoor track. It's about those athletes who can hold together mentally and health-wise and can come out and provide some good performances.
"We're in a position where we are going to have to get points in other areas than we expected in order to be competitive in the SEC picture. I believe we are capable of doing that, but we will have to make it a reality come SEC time."
Tennessee entered the campaign with depth in the distance and sprint areas, but there have been some nagging injuries in those groups that have tempered the expectations since the season's outset as well as since the SEC Indoor meet. The time has come to, as Clark says, "show up and show out."
Entering the fray, it would appear the middle distance area is the most clear-cut area of promise. Defending SEC 1500m champion Sarah Bowman, also the winner of the 2007 SEC Indoor mile and 3000 meters, heads the cast. The sophomore, who is slated to handle an 800m/1500m double, is joined by quality performers in 2006 SEC Outdoor 800 and 2007 SEC Indoor 800m runner-up Leslie Treherne, a senior, as well as freshman Rose-Anne Galligan, also a strong entry as a middle distance doubler.
They will have 1500m support from sophomore Rolanda Bell, an SEC Indoor scorer in the mile this season, and 800m strength from freshman Phoebe Wright, who is coming off career-best 800m and 1500m legs at the recent Penn Relays.
Junior Shanna Dickenson leads a shallow field event corps and enters the meet ranked second in the league in the hammer throw, fourth in the discus and seventh in the shot put. She finished second in the weight and seventh in the shot at SEC Indoors this season. Classmate Amara McKell, an indoor scorer in the shot, will try to contribute points in that event as well as the discus and javelin, while sophomore Alicia Essex hopes to once again break into the scoring column in the pole vault as she did indoors when she placed fifth.
Junior sprint All-Americans Courtney Champion and Cleo Tyson have seen limited duty outdoors in 2007, but they will be called upon to step up in the 100 and 200 meters at this meet, as will their classmate LaTonya Loche in the 200 and 400 meters. With her recent performance at the Penn Relays, freshman Lynne Layne has positioned herself as a potential big point contributor in the 100 and 200 meters as well as on the 4x100m relay.
The hurdles cadre featured three scorers indoors, and that trio is capable of doing the same outdoors. Freshman Nia Ali and sophomores Celriece Law and Pavi'Elle "Tiki" James, all NCAA regional qualifiers, comprise that group. Ali could provide a deeper impact, as the talented rookie is slated to enter her first career heptathlon on Wednesday and Thursday, and high jump on Sunday. Law and James, meanwhile, offer potential contributions in the triple and long jump areas.
Freshmen Jackie Areson and Kelly Parrish have emerged as the distance corps' newest possible point-getters. They will run in the 3000m steeplechase, an event they ran for the first time ever on April 20 at the Vanderbilt Invitational and in which qualified for the regional meet. They also will run in the 5000 meters on Sunday, along with regional qualifier sophomore Katie Van Horn, seniors Katie Flaute and Felicia Guliford and Bell. Several members of that group have been limited and will test their mettle to its utmost this weekend.
"We've had a lot of little things happen outdoors," Clark said. "All teams have had a lot of knick-knacks, little strains here and there, possibly stress reactions and injuries to the body from overuse. We've had some top kids go down, so that's why I say we'll have to find some other areas to score.
"That's what makes you a champion, when you find a way to win when you are down. If it were easy, anyone could be a champion. We look forward to the opportunity to compete at our best when it counts.
"We're going to stay focused, score as many points as we can and do the best that we can in our performances and not try to do things that we can't do. We are looking forward to the opportunity of seeing if we can be competitive in this conference."