Rowing sprints on tap in Oak Ridge

Twenty-three squads will vie for the Aramark Cup this weekend at the 2007 Aramark Central/South Sprints, being held at Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn. This prelude to the NCAA Rowing Championships, held May 25-27 at the same site, boasts the largest field in history.

This combination of regions sent five full teams to last year's national regatta, nearly half of the 12 that received bids. This year's field seems to be even stronger. Nine of the country's top 20 programs according to the USRowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association NCAA Division I Varsity Eight Coaches Poll are a part of this record field, with 99 boats competing in one of the five events. All 23 teams have an entry in the Varsity 8+ race, while 21 shells will compete in both the Second Varsity 8+ and Novice 8+ races.

The Central Region boasts of five nationally-ranked squads, including three in the top 10. Defending Aramark Sprints Varsity 8+ champions Notre Dame lead the way with a No. 3 rating, with No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Minnesota rounding out the region's representatives in the top half of the poll. 2006 Aramark Cup winner Ohio State holds down the 12th spot, while Michigan State stands at No. 13.

They will compete for the Central Region title against Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Murray State and Wisconsin. Eastern Michigan and Murray State are making their first appearance at these championships since 2004 and 2002, respectively.

The Buckeyes won two grand finals and claimed their second Cup title a year ago, topping Wisconsin by five points. Notre Dame, powered by the Varsity Eight gold medal, took home a program-record third-place finish, while Michigan and Michigan State rounded out the top five.

Coming in with four ranked teams, double the number from last year, is the South Region. Perennial power Virginia looks to win its sixth South title after losing by 10 points last year to Tennessee. The Cavaliers lead the way for the South's ranked teams, coming in at No. 5.

UCF stands at No. 11, with the 17th-ranked Lady Vols and the 19th-ranked Louisville Cardinals also claiming a slot in the rankings. The Knights and Cardinals both claimed their first top-10 finish in the overall standings last year. Those four will vie for the region crown against Clemson, Duke, Miami, North Carolina, SMU and Texas.

For the third year in a row, Aramark has signed on to be the title sponsor of the 11th annual Central & South Region Championships.

Racing starts Saturday with the Open 4+ heats at 9 a.m. The semifinals on Saturday afternoon kick off at 2 p.m.

Sunday's finals open at 9 a.m. with the Novice 8+ "D" Final and conclude at 11:50 a.m. with the Varsity 8+ Grand Final. There is no charge for admission for this weekend's events.

LADY VOL TRACK: After landing two sprinters and a distance runner during the fall, the Tennessee women's track & field team has bolstered its throws corps with the addition of three student-athletes during the spring signing period.

Joining throws coach John Frazier's throws cadre are Annie Alexander of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Brittany Napoli of Howell, N.J., and Taylor Rotella of Knoxville. They complement a fall signing class that includes sprinters Brittany Jones of Pompano Beach, Fla., and Jeneba (JEN-uh-ba) Tarmoh (TARR-mo) of Stockton, Calif., and middle distance runner Brittany Sheffey of Bellport, N.Y.

"I'm ecstatic about our spring signing class because of what John Frazier has gone out and done," Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "He went out and got some very talented throwers, going internationally for one. Alexander is a 52-foot shot-putter and 153-foot discus thrower, and I am sure he will teach her how to throw the weight and hammer and improve her dramatically in all areas.

"He also signed a young lady from New Jersey, my home state, and we're very pleased about the depth she will add to the throws, particularly the javelin area. She shows great promise in that event. Those two alone are very good, and then he adds a talented young lady from our area, Taylor Rotella, who shows a lot of ability.

"This just adds more strength and depth to a unit that will have Shanna Dickenson and Amara McKell coming back next season as well. We hope this group will lessen the impact of losing four distance seniors off this year's squad and add a very powerful punch to the SEC and NCAA picture."

Alexander is the most heralded of the spring trio and has extensive national and international experience with her country's teams. She has twice competed in the IAAF World Junior Championships, finishing 10th each time, with a throw of 50 feet, four inches at Grosseto, Italy, in 2004 and recording a career best and national junior record of 52-0 3/4 in 2006 at Beijing, China. The latter mark would rank second among SEC women thus far in 2007 and 19th in the NCAA.

During her 2006 season, Alexander swept shot and discus championships at the Carifta Games in Guadeloupe, the Trinidad and Tobago National Junior Championships and the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in her home country. Her toss of 153-1 in the discus at the Carifta Games set a national junior record. Her victorious heave of 51-7 3/4 at the 2004 CAC Junior Championships in Vera Cruz, Mexico, established a new meet standard in that event. In all, Alexander has competed in two World Championships, four CAC Games, four Carifta Games and one Pan Am Junior Games.

Napoli is a product of Howell High School, where she played field hockey and has been a four-year member of the track & field team. In 2006, she managed an 11th-place finish at the Junior Olympics National Championships and was a third-place finisher in the New Jersey Group IV Championships. She also charted a runner-up effort at the New Jersey Group IV Sectionals and was second in the Monmouth County Championships. She possesses a career-best measurement of 127 feet, nine inches.

Among her 2006 awards were Star Ledger All-Monmouth second-team honors as well as Outstanding Athlete kudos from the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports (NAGWS). Just last weekend, Napoli posted a ninth-place throw of 125-0 at the 2007 Penn Relays.

Rotella, meanwhile, competed in basketball and track & field at Bearden High School, and is the third generation of her family to attend UT. Vol football fans should be familiar with her last name, as her grandfather (Al) was a tackle in 1942 and from 1946 to 1947; her uncle (Jamie) played linebacker from 1970-72, captaining the team and earning All-America acclaim his final season; and her father (Mike) was on the squad in 1972 and 1973 at Rocky Top.

In 2005 and 2006, Rotella was named a Junior Elite All-American hammer thrower outdoors, and she was a top-three finisher indoors those seasons in the weight throw in the AAU Southeast Region. A year ago, she also was a qualifier for the state meet and was a regional finalist as well. Her career bests include 39-3 for the shot, 130 for the hammer and 42-7 1/2 for the weight.

In 2007, Rotella turned in an 11th-place finish in the weight throw with the aforementioned personal-record heave at the Nike Indoor Championships and was a National Scholastic Indoor Championships qualifier in that event as well. Additional national exposure has included placing fourth in the hammer at the 2004 Junior Olympics and qualifying for the 2006 Junior Olympics in both the shot and hammer.

LADY VOL SOCCER: Head coach Angela Kelly has collected National Letters of Intent from six new players to join her 2007 Lady Vol soccer team.

Among those who have signed with Tennessee is a pair of players listed among the Soccer Buzz Top 150 recruits in the country. Signed into the 2007 freshman class are Julie Edwards (Glenmoore, Pa.), Tanya Emerson (Capistrano Beach, Calif.), Anna Fisher (Franklin, Tenn.), Ali Halverson (Belleair, Fla.), Ashley Owens (Murrieta, Calif.) and Melissa Speros (Ephrata , Pa.). Also joining the team is rising junior transfer Alissa VonderHaar (Bolingbrook, Ill.), who spent the past two seasons at DePaul.

Julie Edwards earned All-Pennsylvania honors in 2006 after claiming Co-MVP accolades from the Ches-Mont League and leading her Dowington East squad to a perfect 14-0 record. The Cougars' leading point scorer for four years, she earned Daily Local News all-area honors on three occasions and Philadelphia Inquirer All-Southeast Pa. accolades twice. One of the top 100 recruits in the country according to Soccer Buzz, Edwards has been a member of the Region I Olympic Development Program (ODP) pool for three years.

In 2006, she helped lead her squad to the 2006 ODP national title. While playing club ball with the Pennsylvania Strikers, she helped the squad to the 2006 Eastern Pennsylvania state finals. Her Strikers teams also claimed the 2002 U.S. Club Soccer national championship and made the finals of the 2003 U.S. Youth Soccer Association (USYSA) tournament and the 2004 Super Y League. Also a standout in the classroom, she is a member of National Honor Society and has made the high honor roll every year at Dowington East.

A four-year letterwinner in soccer for San Clemente High School, Tanya Emerson helped the Tritons to three consecutive South Coast League titles and the 2003 California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division I crown. A second-team CIF honoree, she also has received all-league and OC Register second-team all-county honors at San Clemente. She also was named to the third team of the 2006 Southern California Soccer Coaches Association Division I girl's team.

While playing with the Slammers FC, she helped the group win the 2003 USYSA U16 national title and, playing up a year, assisted the team to the 2004 U.S. Club Soccer national title.

Anna Fisher hails from in-state power Centennial High School in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tenn., where she has led the squad in scoring the past four years while tallying an amazing 101 career goals. The 2005 district MVP and 2005 and 2006 Region 6-AAA most valuable offensive player, she is a two-time member of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association All-State and National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/adidas All-Region squads.

The Cougars, led by Fisher, claimed district and regional titles in 2006. With the Brentwood Real Madrid soccer club, she led the team to five state club titles in six years. A member of the Region 3 ODP pool, Fisher also has been named a scholar athlete and to the principal's list at CHS from 2003-07. She becomes the first signee from Tennessee since rising senior defender Erica Griffin (Memphis) inked with the team in 2004.

Ali Halverson played on four district championship teams at Clearwater Central Catholic High School and led the squad to the 2006 regional title, propelling the Lady Marauders to the state final four. The two-time team offensive MVP and 2007 overall MVP, she also earned an honorable mention on the All-Pinellas County team as chosen by the St. Petersburg Times.

Winning two letters in track and field and one letter in both golf and tennis, she helped the 4x800m and 4x400m relay teams from CCCHS to regional crowns. Halverson also played with the Countryside Lightning club team, helping her U17 squad to the state finals.

A USYSA co-national champ with the 89 ODP Cal-South State team, Ashley Owens hails from Vista Murrieta High School. She has played on numerous club tournament finalists with the Eagles out of Camarillo, Calif., including the 2005 and 2006 Surf Cup "Super Group" Champions. Her club team also won the Coast Soccer League crown in 2006 over Emerson's Slammers squad.

Owens, whose older brother Brandon was a Soccer America Freshman All-American at UCLA, also lettered in track and field at Vista Murrieta. She joins Emerson as the first signees from California for the Lady Vol soccer program and would be just the second and third Californians to don the Orange and White, following two-time All-SEC and All-South Region selection Kim Patrick (Pleasanton, Calif.).

Melissa Speros lettered three years for Ephrata Senior High School, where she was a three-time first-team Lancaster-Lebanon League All-Star. Hailing from the same club as Edwards and current Lady Vols Kylee Rossi (Pennington, N.J.) and Devon Swaim (Levittown, Pa.), Speros helped FC Pennsylvania to the 2003 USYSA national championship.

A member of the Region I ODP pool, she led her 2006 team to the ODP national title. One of the top 150 recruits in the country according to Soccer Buzz, Speros has been named to the honor roll in each of the last four years.

A two-year starter for the Blue Demons, Alissa VonderHaar was DePaul's leading goal scorer in 2005, knocking four balls into the net. The midfielder, who shared a high school hall with Lady Vol basketball All-American Candace Parker, won three letters at Naperville Central, earning all-conference honors on three separate occasions and all-sectional accolades after her 2005 senior season.

She picked up academic all-conference soccer honors and earned all-conference honors in cross country during her Redhawk career. She played club soccer with the Eclipse Select team and traveled to Europe with her regional ODP squad.

"With the opening of our brand new Regal Soccer Stadium in the fall of 2007, we knew that would have to be followed with a great recruiting effort," Kelly said. "My staff and I are very excited about the different personalities we are bringing in this fall. We will be very dynamic in every position, as we have increased our team speed drastically with this in-coming class.

"This '07 class displays a tremendous versatility which will allow us to play a plethora of different formations based on the competition. Assuming we stay relatively healthy, we will be very exciting to watch!"

These six players will join 12 returning letterwinners and two redshirts in Knoxville next fall, as the team will try to continue its string of five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

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