Trio leads Lady Vols track & field

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Annie Alexander, Phoebe Wright and Cleo Tyson delivered national-caliber performances Saturday to lead second-ranked Tennessee on the closing day of the Virginia Tech Elite Meet at Rector Field House.

Alexander, who hails from Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, continued her terrific rookie campaign, finishing as the top collegiate performer and taking second overall to countrywoman and professional athlete Cleopatra Borel (59-11) with a throw of 55 feet, five inches that just missed the NCAA auto standard by a half inch.

Furthermore, Alexander posted the best throw by a Lady Vol in 26 years, coming up just shy of Rose Hauch's school record of 55-7 3/4, set, ironically enough, in Blacksburg on Jan. 29, 1982.

With that No. 2 measurement in UT history, Alexander ascended back to number one in the SEC and to second in the NCAA this season. During the competition, she charted three of the top 10 marks in Lady Vol history, including tosses of 53-9 1/4 on her second attempt, 54-5 1/4 on her fifth try and 55-5 on her final effort.

Seniors Shanna Dickenson (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Amara McKell (Nashville) joined Alexander in the shot competition and, like their teammate, made the finals. Dickenson wound up eighth at 44-9 1/2, while McKell finished ninth with a season best of 44-4 3/4 that tied her second-longest career measurement.

A former walkon from Signal Mountain, Tenn., and Red Bank High School, Wright followed up Friday night's strong distance medley relay performance with the fastest indoor 800-meter readout of her life on Saturday. The sophomore rolled to a clocking of two minutes, 7.19 seconds to outlast 2007 Penn State All-American Briene Simmons for the win and improve her status on the NCAA qualifying list.

Wright's provisional readout ranks her sixth in the nation and number two in the Southeastern Conference this season. She now stands as the ninth-best indoor 800m runner in Lady Vol history and has posted career-bests, NCAA provisionals and back-to-back finishes of second and first, respectively, in her last two outings at this distance.

Wright was not the only Lady Vol performing well in the 800. Junior Kimarra McDonald (Lumberton, N.J.) turned in a career-best readout of 2:09.46 that was good for third place and just 46/100ths of a second off the provisional standard. Junior Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) was seventh today in a PR of 2:13.07, giving J.J. Clark five of the top 13 800m runners in the SEC this season.

Through this meet, Wright was ranked second in the league, followed by junior Sarah Bowman (Warrenton, Va.) in third at 2:07.32, freshman Brittany Sheffey (Bellport, N.Y.) in fourth at 2:08.85, McDonald in sixth and Bell in 13th.

In the invitational 200 meters, three Lady Vols were in action, and it was senior Cleo Tyson (Huntsville, Texas) circling the oval in a season-best and NCAA provisional reading of 23.75 to grab second place. Tyson, who owns the NCAA's No. 3 time in the 60m at 7.25, moved to ninth nationally in the 200m and fourth in the SEC. Grabbing fourth and sixth positions in the race, respectively, were sophomore Lynne Layne (New Rochelle, N.Y.) and freshman Jeneba Tarmoh (San Jose, Calif.) in a provisional 23.85 and 24.24. Neither time was a season improvement.

The 4x400m relay unit added the final provisional improvement of the day, taking third in 3:38.61. The quartet of seniors LaTonya Loche (Bastrop, La.) and Courtney Champion (Lawrenceville, Ga.), Tarmoh and Tyson joined forces to improve the Big Orange to number eight nationally and fourth in the SEC. The mark was an improvement over UT's previous season best of 3:39.85 at Penn State on Jan. 26.

"We're chipping away very nicely," Clark said. "Of course, you can't overlook the great effort from Annie. It was one of the best throws in the country this year. It has to be respected. We also got some marks from our sprint group in the 200m and 4x4, and Phoebe Wright won and dropped down her provisional mark in the 800m. We just have to keep driving and being persistent in our effort to be successful.

"You just want to get everyone with marks on the board. I did not know where we would do it all, but it's all coming around. We're getting some (marks) earlier and some later, but we're getting them. We are good and look forward to going to Tyson next week."

Junior long distance runner Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.) got some work in on a shorter race on Saturday afternoon, and her time spent was productive. The Lady Vol reported in with a third-place effort of 4:53.81 in the mile that rated as the second quickest of her career.

After taking fourth in the open 60m hurdles on Friday night, junior Celriece Law (Denver) returned to the track on Saturday to collect sixth-place honors against a stellar field in the invitational 60m hurdles division. Law charted her second provisional mark of the season and weekend, logging a time of 8.41, but it was not an improvement over her 8.37 effort the day before.

In the invitational division of the pole vault, junior Alicia Essex (Purcellville, Va.) returned to her home state and landed a sixth-place finish with a clearance of 12-5 1/2. She was unable to clear the bar at the NCAA provisional standard of 12-11 1/2.

Tennessee returns to action next Friday and Saturday, as it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., for the Tyson Invitational at the Randall Tyson Track Center, site of both the 2008 SEC and NCAA Indoor Championships.

"I like Tyson," Clark said. "We have our conference and the NCAA meet there, and the more we run on that track the better we know how to negotiate it. It has some nice turns on it, so we'll go there a few times and get the hang of it and hopefully come back and put some good marks down there, too."

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