Texas A&M, which defeated the Lady Vols head-to-head in a dual meet here on Jan. 24 by the score of 83-69 gamely tallied 37 points to place second. BYU was third with 33, followed by Texas (31) and Arizona State (30) rounding out the top five.
"The character and heart of this team was just unbelievable," seventh-year UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "What they did today, coming out here competing and breaking meet and school records, it's just an unbelievable performance by the entire team. An 8.04 in the hurdles, 4:27 in the mile, 57-2 in the shot and then Phoebe Wright, who was really sick last week, coming here and giving her best performance today, was absolutely critical. I am really proud of what they've done.
"Really, it just signifies what our teams at Tennessee have been about. We've won before and gotten third and fourth-place trophies here and there. We always work hard. Not just this team, but all of them, should be proud of this victory today. It was just a really spectacular moment for Tennessee."
Senior Sarah Bowman started the day in grand fashion for the Big Orange by capturing her first-ever NCAA individual crown and her third overall national triumph in a meet-record and school-best clocking of four minutes, 29.72 seconds in the mile run.
She dramatically out-leaned Texas Tech's sensational Sally Kipyego at the finish line after a fabulous final-lap fight for victory and became the school's first-ever NCAA mile champion. Falling by the wayside was the 4:30.63 meet standard, set by Wisconsin's Suzy Favor in 1989, and Bowman's previous UT and season best of 4:34.69, which she ran at the Tyson Invitational on Feb. 13.
"I've been here for four years now, and I hadn't won an NCAA individual title," Bowman said. "I don't like to think about that (sort of thing) going into a race, because I don't want to put that pressure on myself. But, it's lurking in the back of my mind. It's something I've wanted for so long."
Kipyego and Bowman ran one-two for nearly the entire race, with North Carolina's Brie Felnagle and Wichita State's Kellyn Johnson making it a four-runner affair for laps three through six. On trip seven around the oval, Kipyego and Bowman surged ever so slightly before separating from the pack as they approached the bell lap. Bowman immediately began her push to overtake Kipyego with 200 to go, but the Red Raider would not yield.
With the runners coming down the homestretch side by side, Bowman reached down for everything she had and found just enough steam to propel her across the finish line a hair in front of Kipyego (4:29.75).
"Going into that last lap, I kept pulling up on her side, thinking, ‘be patient, be patient, your time's going to come, you feel good.' We came around the turn, and it's a small track indoors, so it's short and you don't have much time (to make a move)," Bowman said. "I just kept gut-checking it and saying, ‘no you don't want to settle for second; you don't want to settle, and I leaned through that line. Then, I just waited ... I guess it was just my day, today."
"It was definitely a great feeling (to see Sarah Bowman start the day with her first career NCAA individual win)," Clark said. "Sarah had a huge PR again today, and everything went right for her. She ran two miles already at this meet (mile prelim and DMR anchor leg) and came back and ran 4:29. That's quite an accomplishment. She's just a superb athlete.
"She came here very confident and out-kicked one of the top NCAA runners of all time. My hat's off to her."
In the 60-meter hurdles, senior Celriece Law provided the race of her life when her team needed it most. About 15 minutes after Bowman set the school record in winning the mile, the Denver, Colo., native masterfully navigated the hurdles in a UT-best clocking of 8.04 seconds that earned her runner-up accolades and contributed eight points toward the Big Orange cause. Michigan's Tiffany Ofili finished just ahead of Law in 8.00.
"We always knew it (a time and performance like today) was there for Celriece," Clark said. "She just had to come out here and let it happen, and she did. She was very poised and very focused, and I felt very good about what she was going to do prior to getting on the line. She came here and ran one of the fastest times in NCAA history also."
While Bowman and Law were getting the job done on the track, sophomore Annie Alexander was over in the shot put ring, working her mojo. On her second attempt of the competition, she unleashed a throw of 57 feet, two inches, that would stand up for third place and greatly leave behind her previous season-best of 54-11 1/4. The crucial effort matched her 2008 school record and tossed in six more points toward Tennessee's point total.
"I tip my hat to Annie for her performance today and to our staff for getting our athletes ready to get the job done," Clark said. "It was part of our total team effort at this meet. When you get contributions from every area like we did, this year and other years, it shows that our victory in 2005 and our other top-four national finishes were not the result of luck."
In Tennessee's final scoring opportunity, junior Phoebe Wright came through with the decisive eight points that tipped the scales in the Lady Vols' favor. Still battling the effects of a sinus infection, she gutted out a second-place finish in the 800 meters in a time of 2:04.38. She made her move to the front at the bell and fought off Minnesota's Heather Dorniden, but BYU's Lacey Cramer went to the inside down the home stretch and nipped Wright at the line with a 2:04.27 readout. Dorniden was third in 2:04.43.
"She gave us some valuable points," Clark said of Wright. "I didn't even know if she was going to be able to go. We had an alternate here in case she wasn't feeling well for the DMR, because she was feeling so poorly last week.
"She showed so much character, and ran to the best of her ability, and we're very proud of what she's done. We needed a second place to clinch the victory, and that's what she did."
Bowman, who captured her third overall NCAA title, her first individual national crown and initial NCAA team trophy, summed up the feelings of her teammates.
"Oh, my gosh, look at what we've done this weekend," Bowman said. "I couldn't ask for a sweeter weekend my senior year. I can't even put it into words, it's so amazing.
"The heart that this team has, I could actually tear up just talking about them. Just to be out here with these girls who are putting their hearts on the line for the team, and it makes you want to do it all the more. It's awesome to be part of a team like that."
Clark, who now has directed Tennessee to four top-four NCAA Indoor finishes in the past six years, concurred and had a tip of his hat to everyone involved.
"This was a team effort, from the shot, to the hurdles, to the 800 to the DMR to everything," Clark said. "It as definitely a team effort that got this done. I want to compliment my entire staff for making this happen. It was a great effort."
With the indoor season complete, the Lady Vols now will turn their focus toward the outdoor campaign. After taking next weekend off, Tennessee will open the second half of the 2009 season at two different meets on March 27-28. The distance corps will head west to the Stanford Invitational, while the rest of the squad will head down to Atlanta for the Yellow Jacket Invitational at Georgia Tech.