KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee women’s track & field team will do something this weekend it hasn’t done in 13 seasons. The fourth-ranked Lady Vols will take part in a dual meet, competing in College Station on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern (2 p.m. Central) against number-one ranked Texas A&M at the brand new Gilliam Indoor Track & Field Stadium.
It’s been since Feb. 10, 1996, when the Big Orange defeated Indiana, 65-48 in Bloomington, that UT last participated in a dual meet. Head Coach J.J. Clark’s squad has more reasons than one to tangle head-to-head with the Aggies on their home oval.
“The Texas A&M coaches came up with the idea of having a dual meet, and I was not opposed to it,” Clark said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to get on the track where the NCAA Indoor Championship meet is going to be held. They don’t have any open meets at that venue this season, so the fact that they invited us is very good and means they saw us as a team with which they could have a great meet.
“I haven’t been involved in a dual meet in so long. To be honest with you, my last dual might have been when I was coaching at Columbia (N.J.) High School.”
The meet, which will be the first regular season event contested in the state-of-the-art facility, also will include a men’s dual between Texas A&M and heated rival Texas. The format consists of 15 women’s and 15 men’s events and is slated to last a fan-friendly three hours, as opposed to the traditional multi-day, all-day-long invitationals. Scoring will be 5-3-1 for individual events and 5-0 for relays.
“We’re going with the idea of running well and doing the best we can,” Clark said. “Both teams are ranked high in the polls, and this is the first official meet on this track, so it’s exciting to go there and open the facility and get the ball rolling. As far as scoring and trying to win the meet, we’ll have someone in every event.”
Tennessee’s strengths in this showdown appear to be the middle distance and field events. Senior All-American Sarah Bowman, who owns two SEC titles in the mile indoors and two in the 1500m outdoors, is slated to headline five Lady Vols in the mile run as she makes her 2009 debut in that event. A week ago, she automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships with a career-best and facility-record time of 9:11.31 in the 3000 meters at the Kentucky Invitational. She should get scoring help from veteran SEC competitors in senior Rolanda Bell and junior Jackie Areson and newcomer Chanelle Price , last year’s Gatorade High School Female Athlete of the Year and Olympic Trials 800m qualifier who is making her collegiate debut.
In the 800 meters, junior All-American Phoebe Wright heads the pack after finishing third at both of the SEC Championship meets a year ago and placing sixth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Relay All-Americans in sophomore Brittany Sheffey and senior Kimarra McDonald and freshman Ramzee Fondren also should be in the hunt to score for the Big Orange.
The Lady Vol distance medley relay, which won NCAA and SEC titles in 2008, is a strong force for Team Orange, while senior Katie Van Horn would appear to be among the favorites in the 5000 meters after finishing 11th at last season’s NCAA Indoor meet and scoring in the top five of the 3000 and 5000 meters at the SEC Indoor Championships.
In the field events, Tennessee already has a pair of NCAA provisional qualifiers in sophomore Annie Alexander and senior Alicia Essex in the shot put and pole vault, respectively. Alexander swept the SEC shot put crowns indoors and outdoors as a freshman and started her second season with a mark of 54-7 1/4 at Kentucky. Essex, meanwhile, is a consistent conference scorer in the pole vault who began her 2009 campaign with a clearance of 12-11 1/2 last weekend. Rookie Laquoya Kelly might be a possibility for points in the throws as well.
Tennessee’s sprints and jumps corps will be facing the strength of the Aggie program, but Clark hopes his squad is up to the task of breaking up the TAMU run in several events. Senior All-American Celriece Law was an NCAA Outdoor finalist in the 100m hurdles last season and should offer her team some help this weekend in the 60m hurdles, long and triple jumps.
Junior All-American sprinter Lynne Layne, also a good long jumper, will confine her focus to the 60 and 200 meters vs. A&M. Freshman Ellen Wortham could make some noise in the high jump, while the coaches are hopeful freshman Ashley Harris senior Amanda Alexander can break through in the short and long sprints, respectively.
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