Conference crown for track & field

LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the third time in the past five seasons, Tennessee women's track & field team stands atop the league. The second-ranked Lady Volunteers calmly clinched the victory in the second heat of the final event, extinguishing any lingering drama and extending the program's odd-year run of glory at the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships on Sunday at Nutter Field House.

Needing to finish no worse than fifth, and running in heat two of a three-section final of the 4x400-meter relay, the quartet of Chanelle Price, Brittany Jones, Kimarra McDonald and Phoebe Wright navigated the oval in three minutes, 39.57 seconds to win heat two with a time also faster than any team in heat one.

With only four squads running in the final, including second-place LSU, it meant the Tigers could not overtake UT in the team point standings, even if they won the event.

Tennessee's final tally of 111 points gave J.J. Clark's squad SEC Indoor crown number three in a line that started with trophies in 2005 and 2007, as well as the program's sixth-straight top-three finish at the meet. UT also won the inaugural meet in 1984.

LSU, which wound up fourth in the final heat of the 4x4, finished second with 105 points after beating Team Orange for the league trophy in 2008. Arkansas was third with 97, followed by Florida (94), South Carolina (57), Auburn (54), Kentucky (49.50), Ole Miss (32), Mississippi State (28), Alabama (26.50), Georgia (14) and Vanderbilt (5).

"It was an unbelievable effort from our team today," Clark said. "I've never had this many SEC champions. People really pulled out some great performances, and it was a total team effort. We expect Sarah Bowman to go out and do what she did, but you have to do it. Phoebe Wright, Celriece Law, Lynne Layne, Annie Alexander, the DMR - it was just an incredible meet.

"We dug in and got it done. LSU didn't just die and fold, they did some great things. We've battled them before, and we're just happy to come out on top in such a great conference."

After winning nine conference championships in the past three seasons at the SEC Indoor meet, Lady Vol senior Sarah Bowman finally earned the Cliff Harper Trophy, given to the meet's top female point producer. She scored 22.50 this weekend, thanks to victories in the mile and 3000 meters as well as for her anchor contribution on the distance medley relay.

"Every year, I was thinking, maybe I can get that trophy," Bowman chuckled. "Finally, the third time's the charm, and I got it this year. It's not like I come out here working toward winning the high point trophy. It's all about the team and doing the best you can and scoring as many points as you can toward the goal of winning a championship.

"I knew it was a possibility that I could win, but it usually goes to a jumper, sprinter or multi. I guess this year was just my year. That's really exciting, and I'm glad I could contribute toward the win."

Just as she did in the 3K on Saturday night, Bowman seemingly toyed with the field for most of the mile run before leaving the pack behind en route to victory. After running out front with Florida's Charlotte Browning for much of the race, Bowman hit the throttle with about two laps to go and cruised home unchallenged in 4:41.35 to run her total of SEC Indoor individual crowns to a school-record six.

After becoming the first woman in league history to win three straight SEC Indoor 3000m races on Saturday night, she duplicated that feat in the mile on Sunday.

Rolanda Bell chipped in six points for a third-place finish in the mile, covering the distance in a career-best 4:46.18. Junior Jackie Areson came home in 4:56.76, but finished out of the points in ninth position. The efforts of Bowman and Bell, though, pushed Tennessee into a tie for the team score lead for the first time at 59 apiece with LSU with seven events remaining.

Later, Bowman concluded her SEC Indoor career with her third victory of the meet and her ninth conference crown at this event. She took the baton after turns from senior Rolanda Bell and freshmen Ellen Wortham and Ramzee Fondren, barely trailing Vanderbilt.

After getting her motor cranked up over the first 50 meters, Bowman overtook the Commodore like an avalanche and delivered another resounding triumph. With 15 Olympians and 99 All-Americans having gone through the UT program, Bowman stands atop the list for SEC Indoor trophies with six for individual wins and nine total, counting the relay triumphs.

"Our conference is so tough, she can help us score 30 points and not get the Cliff Harper Trophy," Clark said. "This year, she finally got it, and we were laughing about that, saying ‘yeah, you finally got it.' What she means to our program is immeasurable with nine SEC championships indoors and our success within our team and conference.

"Those types of performances are hard to replace. We still have outdoors, so I look forward to that. But, she's been a tremendous anchor for our team, indoors and out."

A pair of former walk-ons, who are now on scholarship, provided Tennessee with incredible wins and important momentum in the 60m hurdles and 800m run. Senior Celriece Law of Denver (Colo.) Montbello High School and Wright, a junior from Signal Mountain, Tenn., and Red Bank High serve as great examples of what hard work can do.

Law started the day for the Lady Vols with a bang in the 60m hurdles. Running in lane four, the three-time conference scorer in this event became only the second UT woman to win the short hurdles indoors, navigating the obstacles in a season-best and NCAA provisional time of 8.16. She joined the great LaVonna Martin (1987, 1988) as the only Big Orange women to triumph in the hurdles at SEC Indoors.

Later, Wright stepped to the plate and belted one out of the park in the 800. She had a tremendous start and maintained the lead throughout the race, impressively out-kicking two-time defending champion LaTavia Thomas of LSU down the stretch. Wright's 2:02.39 effort was a career best by two seconds and tied for the second fastest 800 time ever produced by a Lady Vol.

Teammate Chanelle Price, a freshman, kicked in three points toward the 13-point spree with a sixth-place clocking of 2:07.94.

"Celriece Law and Phoebe Wright both walked on to our program, and they are both SEC champions," Clark said. It's unbelievable. I really tip my hat to them for their hard work."

Junior Lynne Layne nearly came up with a victory of her own, coming up a hair short in the 60m dash. Still, she delivered eight huge points to the UT account with a runner-up effort of 7.22 behind LSU's Samantha Henry (7.21). That mark was a career best and automatically qualified Layne for the NCAA Championships.

Layne came back later in the day to produce another second-place finish, this time in the 200m dash. She did so with a personal record 23.53 readout to win the slower of the two heats. Only one other runner, Henry, was better out of the supposed faster heat.

Two late day contributions played a big role in keeping Tennessee in contention for the trophy. Sophomore Annie Alexander came up short of repeating as the shot put champion, but her throw of 54-5 1/2 earned her second place and eight points.

Law also delivered more points toward the cause, hustling up six points in the triple jump for a third-place leap of 41-4 1/4. Their contributions, combined with the DMR, put Tennessee into the lead heading into the final event.

Elsewhere, senior Katie Van Horn was sixth in the 5000m in 16:57.09, Areson was ninth in the 5K in 17:10.44 and freshman Ellen Wortham was ninth in the high jump at 5-5 1/4.

Select Lady Vols may compete in a last chance meet next weekend; otherwise, Tennessee will turn its focus toward the NCAA Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas, on March 13-14.

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