Track & field finishes No. 2 at SEC meet

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Sarah Bowman, Courtney Champion and the distance medley relay team all posted victories on Sunday to propel the fourth-ranked Tennessee women to second place at the 2008 Southeastern Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center.

Tennessee accumulated 84 points on the final day to finish with a total of 116 and extend its school-best streak of top-three SEC Indoor finishes to five straight. UT won in 2005 and 2007, finished second in 2004 and 2008 and tied for third in 2006.

Number-one-ranked LSU, which started the day by sweeping first through third places in the 60m dash and 60m hurdles, had just a little too much firepower for UT to overcome and won with a tally of 133 points. Falling in behind the Orange and White were Arkansas (93), Florida (90), Kentucky (57), Mississippi (49), Alabama (43), Auburn (27), South Carolina (20.5), Georgia (14.5), Mississippi State (12) and Vanderbilt (8).

"We had a good performance, and we scored all the points we could possibly score, besides Cleo getting hurt and Celriece in the hurdles," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "The team stepped up and did a good job. Obviously, we would like to have won, but this was a case where there were really two championship-type teams and only one championship.

"Last year we scored 120 points, and we were very close to that again this year. We had to do a little better to be able to win it. I am very happy, though, about how we did."

After winning the 3000 meters Saturday night, Bowman returned to the track on Sunday to pull off her second straight distance double at this meet. Her readout of four minutes, 37.16 seconds was good enough to earn her a second straight SEC Indoor mile title and put her into elite company with Becki Wells (Alabama - 1994/Florida - 1996, 1997) and Tiffany McWilliams (Mississippi State - 2003, 2004) as the only women to win multiple and back-to-back SEC titles in that event.

Bowman appeared to have difficulty getting out ahead of the pack at the start, but she fought through the bumping and jostling and calmly moved her way up toward the front of the pack during the first 200 meters. She pulled behind Dacia Barr of Arkansas and Natalie Picchetti of Georgia and stayed with that lead group until only 400 meters remained. After Bowman and Picchetti made it a two-woman race with 200 meters to go, the Big Orange All-American kicked it into a gear her competitors weren't able to match, leaving Picchetti, the 2005 SEC champ, and Barr to finish second and third.

"I kind of had a rocky start, but I didn't let that worry me," Bowman said of the mile. "They (Barr and Picchetti) took it out, so I didn't need to go. I just kind of sat behind them and the pace felt really good and smooth. When the time was right, I just made my move.

"It feels really good (to have a hand in winning three events), especially because I know that I did the best I could do to help the team. I contributed everything I had to contribute."

Freshman Brittany Sheffey (Bellport, N.Y.) added to Bowman's mile 10-spot with five of her own that she accrued for taking fourth place. She did so in a career-best 4:47.26. Junior Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.) tried to join the points club, but she came up short in taking ninth at 4:56.29.

Sheffey and Bowman also played the opening (1200m) and closing (1600m) roles in Tennessee's fourth distance medley relay victory at this meet in the past five seasons. With junior Kimarra McDonald (Lumberton, N.J.) running the 400m leg and sophomore Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) handling the 800m hitch, the Lady Vol quartet easily won with a time of 11:26.26. UT had not won that event at the SEC meet until Clark came to Knoxville prior to the 2004 campaign. His charges now have taken the crown in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

"It feels really good to be a part of a great team like this and to be able to contribute," McDonald said. "Everyone did a really good job, just to be a part of that feels great. I like running the 400m leg and showing how fast I can run it. Anyway that I can contribute to the team, regardless if I have to move up or move down in distance, then that's what I am willing to do."

If Bowman's mile triumph was considered a lock to occur, senior Courtney Champion (Lawrenceville, Ga.) may have pulled off the shocker of the meet in the 200 meters. Entering the competition ranked seventh in the league and advancing to Sunday as the fourth fastest of the qualifiers, the ten-time All-America sprinter won her first-ever SEC title and became the initial Lady Vol to take top honors indoors in that event. She also followed in the footsteps of her first-year teacher, as UT volunteer assistant coach Pauline Davis-Thompson won the very first SEC women's indoor 200m dash crown back in 1988.

Running in a two-section final, Champion delivered a season-best 23.23 readout to win the opening heat, with freshman teammate Jeneba Tarmoh (San Jose, Calif.) crossing behind her in 23.39.

The two had to wait for the completion of the second heat to find out their final standings. As group two hit the finish line and the times were displayed on the video board, a Big Orange cheer arose and the jubilant strains of Rocky Top soon followed in celebration of Champion's accomplishment as well as the fourth-place result of Tarmoh.

For Tennessee, the five total victories for the meet matched the quintet of wins in 2005 for the most SEC Indoor triumphs during the J.J. Clark era.

"When I first crossed the line, I was happy with my time," Champion said. "Then someone said ‘stay here, you have to wait for the second heat to go.' I was like, ‘why, there's number one and two (ranked) people in the world running in the second heat?'

"I was thinking, I ran a good time, it's going to get me to nationals and I can do better there. When I saw that my time had beaten the second heat's times, I was ecstatic. Words can't describe the feeling, because I've always been runner-up, third place, always right there, but never winning."

Junior Shanna Dickenson (Cincinnati, Ohio) got the Big Orange on the scoreboard first on Sunday, posting her second straight runner-up finish in the weight throw at this meet. Dickenson secured eight points for her comrades with a heave of 62 feet, 4 1/2 inches on her second attempt. It marked the third straight season UT had a top-three finisher in the weight, with Ariel Brooks taking third in 2006.

In the 800 meters, two Lady Vols who had never scored individually at the SEC meet accomplished that feat. Wright, a former walk-on from Red Bank High School, gutted out a third-place finish, hitting the line at 2:07.61. She had finished 12th a year ago. McDonald also joined the scoring cause, taking seventh in a career-best 2:09.42. She was 17th in 2007.

Team Orange also got a third-place showing from its 4x400m relay to close out the meet. The quartet of Champion, freshman Brittany Jones (Pompano Beach, Fla.), Tarmoh and Loche covered the distance in 3:37.26.

In the first running event of the day, three Lady Vols collaborated for 10 points in the 60m dash. Champion led that charge, grabbing fourth place in 7.29. Sophomore Lynne Layne (New Rochelle, N.Y.) hit the finish line just a hair behind Champion in a career-best and matching 7.29 to take fifth, while Tarmoh was eighth at 7.42. For Champion, it was her third top-four outing in the SEC Indoor short sprint, following runner-up efforts in 2005 and 2007.

In the 400 meters, senior LaTonya Loche (Bastrop, La.) turned in a season-best time and also posted her best-ever finish at the SEC Indoor meet. Her NCAA provisional readout of 53.22 earned her five points for fourth place. She had taken seventh a year ago, fifth as a sophomore and sixth as a freshman.

After hustling to a third-place finish in the 3000 meters on Saturday night, junior Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.) bounced back to run the 5000 meters on Sunday. Her 16:37.84 output earned her fourth-place honors at this meet for the second straight year and supplied the Big Orange account with four more points.

Junior Celriece Law (Denver, Colo.), competing in the triple jump for the first time all season, landed a mark of 41-0 1/4 to snag sixth place for UT. She had finished seventh a year ago and eighth as a freshman.

"Courtney Champion, first time in school history a Lady Vol won the 200m, Sarah Bowman winning two events and helping to win a third event, the DMR winning for the fourth time in five seasons - there were outstanding performances all throughout the day," Clark said.

Tennessee will return to Fayetteville on March 14-15, as the Randal Tyson Center hosts the 2008 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.

CROSS COUNTRY: The Tennessee women's cross country team, which has enjoyed a great deal of success and received numerous accolades for its performances in competition, has been recognized for its academic prowess by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Out of the 325 schools and universities that sponsor NCAA Division I women's cross country teams, Tennessee was one of 158 cited by the USTFCCCA with its All-Academic Team award. The Lady Vols, who sported 104-19 record in 2007 and finished second in the SEC, compiled a 3.36 team grade point average to earn the award.

The USTFCCCA also singled out juniors Sarah Bowman (Warrenton, Va.) and Katie Van Horn (Glendora, N.J.) for their combination of academic and athletic excellence. Bowman, who has a 3.85 GPA in business, and Van Horn, who has fashioned a 3.54 mark in statistics, were named to the USTFCCCA All-Academic Team for posting a GPA above 3.25 and charting top-15 finishes at the NCAA South Region Championships.

Joining Bowman and Van Horn on the 2007 Lady Vol cross country team were juniors Rolanda Bell (Laurelton, N.Y.), Heidi Magill-Dahl (Orem, Utah), Kimarra McDonald (Lumberton, N.J.) and Leah Soro (Knoxville, Tenn.), sophomores Jackie Areson (Delray Beach, Fla.), Alyssa Bryant (Andersonville, Tenn.) and Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.), and freshman Brittany Sheffey (Bellport, N.Y.).

"It's really good to see the youngsters run at an SEC and national level and still maintain their focus on their academics," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "These young ladies are very goal oriented and have decided to make academics a priority.

"It is great to see that our team had a cumulative GPA of 3.36 and that Sarah and Katie also were identified individually for their efforts. That combined emphasis in athletics and academics shows you what we stand for here at the University of Tennessee."

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