The University of Tennessee women's track and field team continues its

climb up the treacherous ladder of SEC track and field. Under second-year

head coach Myrtle Ferguson, the Lady Vols took another step up on Sunday,

taking fifth place, with 72.50 points, at the SEC Indoor Championships at

the University of Florida's Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

UT was tantalizingly close to finishing in fourth place, trailing Arkansas

(73) by only half a point. LSU claimed the title with 114 points, while

Florida was second (106.50) and South Carolina (77) was third.

Ferguson was happy about the improvement but did not leave the arena

feeling satisfied.

"We thought we could finish in the top five, so it was a good meet from

that standpoint," Ferguson said. "Being that close to third and fourth,

though, leaves me hungry for more. We all just need to keep working hard so

we can become a team that everyone has to contend with."

Senior Kelli White turned in her best performance in four years of

competing in SEC indoor meets, finishing in the top three in two individual

events for the first time in her career. After finishing third in the

shorter sprint in 6.81 seconds behind Georgia's Debbie Ferguson (6.71) and

LSU's Peta-Gaye Dowdie (6.74), White came back to finish second behind

Dowdie in the 200 meters in 23.52. She will see both of those competitors

again March 5-6 at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Indianapolis.

The distance corps continued its strong point production, providing eight

points in the mile, five in the 5000 meters and six in the distance medley

relay. Maureen Ferris ran a strong race to claim third in the mile in

4:50.27, while freshman Sharon Dickie scored in her second event of the

meet with a 5:00.24 reading to take seventh.

In the 5000 meters, junior Mindy Watkins cranked out a fourth-place result

to improve upon her 1998 indoor performance of seventh (18:01.73). Her time

of 17:13.37 was a personal best.

As for the distance medley relay, the combination of Angie Pothier,

Tyangela Sanders, Frenke Bolt and Ferris crossed the line in third in

11:43.13 to secure Tennessee in fifth place heading into the final event of

the day.

The quartet can thank Ferris for its position, as the senior captain

brought the Lady Vols back from a sixth-place standing to third with her

gutsy performance in the 1600 meters. The relay unit's outcome was the best

by a tandem at SEC indoors since Jennifer Brewer, Stephanie Fields, Lynn

Collazo and Celese Susnis were third in Gainesville in 1994.

In the pole vault, Tennessee garnered 9.5 points, as Tracy Carrington and

Beth Gehring finished tied for third and fifth, respectively. Carrington

cleared 11-3 before missing at 12-2 3/4. She had cleared that height last

weekend with her school-record vault of 12-6 1/4. Gehring, meanwhile,

cleared 11-3 before being eliminated at 11-9. Her successful vault was her

first over that height since a season-opening and then-school record 11-9

3/4 at the Virginia Tech Invitational on Jan. 16.

Other athletes scoring for UT included junior Lesly Love in the 400 meters

(55.01, fifth), freshman Frenke Bolt in the high jump (5-6 1/2), senior

Erica Witter in the 200 meters (24.28, seventh) and junior Marquita Knight

with a personal record in the triple jump (39-3, seventh). Love finished

fifth at last year's SEC indoor meet and came into the 1999 meet ranked

fifth in 3:42.57.

On the first day, UT tallied 16 points from three newcomers to the program

to secure fourth place behind Florida (20), LSU (19) and Arkansas (18).

Combining for 10 points for the Lady Vols were freshman Sharon Dickie and

junior Angie Pothier in the 3000 meters. where they took third and fifth,

respectively, in 9:56.03 and 10:01.65. Pothier's time was a personal best

by nearly nine seconds.

Junior Andrea Pappas chipped in six points with her third-place result in

the shot put. Her throw of 47-2 1/4 wasn't her best, but it did make her

the first female UT thrower to finish in the top three in an SEC event

since Alana Preston took first in the indoor and outdoor shot in the

1995.

Elsewhere, Kelli White sizzled to a school-record time of 6.76 seconds in

the preliminaries of the 55-meter dash to provide her usual highlight

material. The senior from Oakland, Calif., topped her previous UT mark of

6.77 from last year's NCAA indoors in qualifying for the finals with the

fastest time of the day.

She came back later in the afternoon to clock the second-fastest 200-meter

preliminary time, charting a 23.58 reading to advance to Sunday's

final.