LEXINGTON, Ky. -- An SEC-record-setting performance in the distance medley relay, Nicole Cook's victory in the 800 meters and a host of other impressive performances enabled the sixth-ranked UT women's track & field team to forge a final team finish of second place Sunday at the 2004 Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships at E.J. Nutter Fieldhouse.
The Lady Volunteers, who placed ninth at last year's SEC Indoor meet with 25 points, tallied 99.50 a year later to finish behind victorious Florida, which used 32 points in the shot put to accumulate 105.50 and win for the second time in three years. UT's total surpassed the school's combined point total of the past four (97) SEC indoor meets combined.
Chasing the Gators and Lady Vols in the final team standings were LSU (84.50), Georgia (81), South Carolina (74), Arkansas (50.50), Auburn (48), Kentucky (42), Vanderbilt (25), Alabama (23), Mississippi State (21) and Ole Miss (9). Tennessee actually began the final event, the 4x400m relay, with a possibility to win the meet.
Florida ended up finishing third, ahead of UT's effort of fourth in the 4x4, but UT drastically improved its school record in the event to 3:32.59 (from 3:35.39) and earned an automatic ticket to the NCAA Championships. Running for Team Orange were junior Antoinette Gorham, junior Nicole Cook, senior Kameisha Bennett and junior Dee Dee Trotter.
"Our team came here and did the best it possibly could and nearly walked away with a championship," second-year UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "I believe that this is the nation's toughest conference, and you can hold your head up proudly when you finish among the top two in the SEC. I have to commend our team for the effort they provided and for the performances they gave during all three days of this meet."
The combination of sophomore Brooke Novak, junior Toyin Olupona, redshirt freshman Mindy Sullivan and senior Lindsay Hyatt rolled easily past the field to victory, charting the first SEC win in that event by a Tennessee quartet. The 11:16.61 readout unseated the old conference mark of Florida, which posted a reading of 11:16.93 in 1987. The time rates number two in UT annals as well, behind the 11:03.42 performance that a different lineup produced earlier this season at the Penn State National Open.
"To run that fast at the end of a long meet like this one is quite spectacular," Clark said. "Running an SEC record time in that situation is even tougher to do and is something to be proud of. The record has stood for 17 years, so it must be a tough one. The effort today just shows the conditioning and character of our young ladies."
UT won't see action as a team again until March 12-13, when the squad goes to the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.