DMR team claims NCAA title

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Tennessee's distance medley relay team came from behind in dramatic fashion Friday night to claim victory in record-setting fashion at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center.

After finishing second a year ago to North Carolina in the DMR, Lady Vol junior Sarah Bowman and her teammates would have nothing to do with a runner-up finish in 2008. Bowman's ferocious kick over the final 130 meters catapulted her initially past Stanford and then first-place Michigan to earn Tennessee a second DMR victory to match the first one the school captured in 2004.

The splendid 11:01.97 readout toppled the 2004 UT standard of 11:03:42, achieved by Brooke Novak, Dee Dee Trotter, Leslie Treherne and Kameisha Bennett at the Penn State National. That quartet would later win the NCAA title that season in 11:06.07.

While Bowman's heroics will draw the most attention because they came at the end of the race, the UT All-American was put into position to make her charge by the gutsy performances of her teammates. Freshman Brittany Sheffey, freshman Brittany Jones and sophomore Phoebe Wright left everything they had to offer on the track with their hitches in the 1200m, 400m and 800m, respectively, to hold off the second-place Wolverines' clocking of 11:02.22. Stanford wound up third at 11:03.87.

Donning new-look white tops and orange shorts for the race, Sheffey got the Lady Vols off to a strong start, covering the 1200m opener in 3:26 to hand the baton to Jones with her team in close contention at fifth place. Jones then unleashed a blistering 400m hitch to send Tennessee into the 800m leg dead-even in first place with Stanford.

Wright followed with a sensational 800m turn, giving Michigan All-American Geena Gall all she wanted before placing the stick in Bowman's waiting hand with the Big Orange close behind Michigan in second.

Having finished behind Michigan anchor Nicole Edwards in the Tyson Invitational mile a few weekends ago on this very track, Bowman bided her time and played follow the leader for the first 1100 meters. At that point, Stanford's Ari Lambie made her move and surged into first, leaving the Wolverines and Lady Vols in second and third.

On the bell lap, it became an all-out sprint, with the trio going three wide on the back stretch before Edwards and Bowman's speed propelled them past the Cardinal anchor. Over the final 50 meters, Bowman's kick proved to be a little more potent, as she overtook Edwards with 10 meters to go and triumphantly crossed the finish line.

With the first-place finish, Tennessee moved into a tie for sixth place in the team standings with Stanford. Michigan stood atop the points race after the first day with 18, followed by Texas, Virginia Tech and Ole Miss with 16 and defending champion Arizona State with 15 to round out the top five.

"I couldn't ask for any more of them," UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said of his DMR. "Brittany Sheffey, by far, ran the best leg she's run this season. Brittany Jones put us right back in front. Phoebe Wright just dug her teeth into an All-American, who is in the 800m final, and she did not let her go. She ran her all the way down to the wire.

"And Sarah, she just sat on the kid who beat her a few weeks ago (Edwards) and out-kicked her. It was a great race, and I am very proud of them. Not because they won, but because they believed in themselves."

In the 200-meter dash final, senior Courtney Champion provided the Big Orange women with their first point of the meet with an eighth-place finish. Running in a two-section final, Champion posted a 23.36 readout to score in the NCAA Indoor 200 meters for the third time in her career. She was third in 2007 in 22.92 and third in 2005 in 22.98.

Champion had advanced to the 200m final via a season-best 23.22 clocking in heat three of the prelims. Sophomore Lynne Layne and freshman Jeneba Tarmoh came up short in their quest to make the final on this night. Layne wound up fourth in heat three and 12th overall at 23.71, while Tarmoh was fourth in heat four and 16th overall at 25.17.

Making her first NCAA Championships appearance, junior Katie Van Horn turned in an 11th-place time of 16:33.28 in the 5000 meters. Van Horn, the first Lady Vol indoor 5K entrant in this meet since Sharon Dickie placed eighth in 2001, had entered the competition ranked 15th with a career-best time of 16:24.28.

Bowman took care of business earlier in the evening, winning heat one of the mile prelims in 4:41.04 and running the fastest time of the 10 qualifiers. She advances to Saturday's 6:25 p.m. Central/7:25 Eastern final. It marks her second straight appearance in the NCAA Indoor mile final, as she placed sixth a year ago to earn All-America accolades.

In the 60m dash prelims, Tennessee advanced only one of four entries into Saturday's final (7:25 p.m. CT/8:25 ET). Champion was the lone qualifier, moving along as the eighth and final entry with a fourth-place clocking of 7.26 seconds in heat two. That mark was just off her season best of 7.25, which she posted in the prelims of the SEC Championships.

Elsewhere in the 60m, Tarmoh matched her non-altitude career best with a 7.28 readout to take third in heat three, but her 10th-place overall tally in the prelims left her two spots shy of making the final. Also failing to advance were Layne, who was fifth in heat two and 14th overall in 7.34, and senior Cleo Tyson (Huntsville, Texas), who was seventh in heat one and 19th overall in 7.52.

Junior Celriece Law began the day for Tennessee in the 60m hurdles, but she was unable to advance to the final. She wound up fifth in heat two in 8.23 seconds and finished 11th overall. Senior LaTonya Loche was unsuccessful in her bid to make the finals, as well, finishing third in heat two and 10th overall in the 400m dash prelims in 53.66.

On Saturday, in addition to the previously mentioned finalists, the Lady Vols will have freshman Annie Alexander starting the Big Orange day in the shot put and their 4x400m relay team in action in the meet's final event. The lineup will most likely include Champion, Loche, freshman Brittany Jones and Tyson.

"We were looking for more points, but you take what you have," Clark said of UT's 11-point, sixth-place result after day one. "You can't labor over anything. At this meet, you go in, you set goals, things happen and then you have to focus on the positive things. What was positive was that we won the DMR, we have someone in the 60m and mile finals tomorrow, we have a thrower and a 4x4. That's what we have to focus on."

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