Nicole Cook's earned her a victory in the 800 meters and catapulted the University of Tennessee women's track & field team to a final finish of fourth place Saturday night at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
The UT women, who tied for 23rd a year ago with eight points, closed out the evening with a school-record, fourth-place finish of 3:31.49 in the 4x400m relay to end up with 43 for the meet.
Coach J.J. Clark's squad posted the program's best indoor finish since the 1987 team, under the direction of Gary Schwartz, placed second in Oklahoma City. The 43 points were the most since 1984, and the 2004 tally ranks as the third-most productive NCAA meet ever by the Lady Volunteers.
"This was a great day for our program," Clark said. "Everyone on the team stepped up and performed to the best of her abilities.
"I thought we showed a lot of character tonight, after not having our best outing yesterday, by coming back and performing at a national-caliber level."
Individually, Cook became the first Lady Vol to win an individual event indoors at nationals since Patty Wiegand grabbed the 3000-meter crown in 1991.
"Nicole came around at the right time and performed when it counted," Clark said. "That's what it's all about. She showed she is one of the nation's best athletes and demonstrated she has the ability to go on to the next level."
Toyin Olupona turned in the best NCAA finish ever crafted by a UT woman in the 55 or 60 meters, bettering the third-place outcome that Dedra Davis enjoyed in the 55m in 1994. She also became UT's first scorer and All-American in the short sprint since White (fifth) in 1999.
"Toyin has really matured a lot this year," Clark said. "Coach Smith has done an excellent job, and Toyin simply executed her race model tonight. I'm very proud of how far she has come from last year."
A peak performance was also delivered by Dee Dee Trotter in the 400 meters. The junior from Decatur, Ga., erased the school record for the fourth time this season, rocketing to a 51.29 readout to finish third and garner six points.
"Dee Dee has had a tremendous season and has established herself as one of the nation's best," Clark said. "The experts had her picked fifth, and she overachieved. She is one of the most talented athletes I have ever seen."
With the indoor season complete, the Lady Vols will now turn their focus toward the outdoor campaign, which begins March 26 and 27 at the Raleigh Relays in Raleigh, N.C.