Phoebe Wright sweeps 800m

EUGENE, Ore. - Anyway you slice it, Tennessee middle distance ace Phoebe Wright broke out her broom on a blustery Friday at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The Lady Vol standout wrote a tidy ending to an undefeated senior season in the 800 meters by winning an outdoor national title and completing an indoor/outdoor season NCAA sweep in that event before 11,972 at Hayward Field.

Running in lane four, Wright established herself as the leader in the first 200 meters, a position she would not relinquish en route to a time of two minutes, 1.40 seconds. Indiana's Molly Beckwith and LSU's LaTavia Thomas, who both gave futile pursuit to the UT standout, wound up second and third in 2:02.14 and 2:03.64, respectively.

With her triumph, the one-time walk-on from Signal Mountain, Tenn., became the fifth woman in NCAA history to win both indoor and outdoor national titles in the 800 in the same season.

Among that quintet were Joetta Clark of Tennessee (1983) and Hazel Clark of Florida (1998), the sisters of Wright's coach, UT Director of Track & Field J.J. Clark. Wright also joined Joetta Clark (1983, 1984) and Delisa Walton (1982) in the company of Lady Vols who've claimed NCAA Outdoor 800m wins.

"It was a good win," J.J. Clark said. "It was very windy, but she went out there and did what she normally does. I knew she was in control; I knew she had a change of gears and thought she could have gone to another gear if it was necessary.

"She handled herself well. It's hard to lead wire-to-wire in the wind like this, but she's very strong. She thought she was the best, and she ran that way. I was happy to have the win, because when you come here (NCAA meet), it's not about the time; it's about winning, and that's what she did."

Wright, now a nine-time All-American and five-time NCAA champion, led the pack through the first 400 in 58.63, with Thomas and Beckwith giving chase. With 250 to go, Thomas pulled even with Wright along the backstretch, hoping to make her move.

As she has done the past two seasons in defeating Thomas in four straight SEC races, Wright responded with a stronger finishing kick than anyone in the field. That reserve of power propelled Wright to her 12th victory in as many 800m races (indoor/outdoor) this season and a sweep of NCAA and SEC hardware in 2010.

"It's always weird when you cross the finish line, because it takes you a second to realize where you are and where everyone else is," said Wright. "When I saw that I won, it was like, ‘It's taken four long years to get that (NCAA outdoor title).'

"I had messed up a couple of nationals, and I promised myself I wouldn't mess up this one."

Technically, Wright was fifth a year ago and sixth as a sophomore at this meet. Not a bad finish for anyone, much less someone who came to this program as a walk-on out of Red Bank High School. She's always had high hopes for herself, but even Wright couldn't have predicted this finish.

"I knew that I had potential that hadn't been tapped into, but to say that I'd be the fastest collegiate athlete in the 800 meters - no, I didn't know that was possible," admitted Wright.

Wright said her plan wasn't necessarily to lead the race, but that opportunity presented itself.

"My plan was at 200 meters to see if anyone was willing to lead. Nobody really wanted to lead, so I feel comfortable in the front, and I wanted to keep it honest and make sure I didn't blow up at the end."

Asked if she was surprised that LSU's Thomas (a frequent NCAA and SEC contender and a four-time SEC champion in her own right) was right with her with 200 to go, Wright said, "Nope. Not even a little bit surprised. I knew she would be there until 750 meters at least, and I knew that the whole first part of the race was setting it up so I had a better finish than hopefully she would. It just worked out this time.

"She's a great closer, and she has a signature move, but I was ready for it at 250."

Was she ever.

In Tennessee's only other action on Friday, senior Jackie Areson ran in the final of the 5000 meters. It didn't turn out to be Areson's day, as the settled for 16th place in 16:17.07 after entering as the No. 9 seed. She had finished third at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.

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