Tennessee’s 30th-ranked men’s cross country team concluded its season on a high note Monday, finishing 28th in the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
The Vols made the most of their unlikely at-large berth in nationals, their first as a team since 2002. Tennessee became the first team ever to qualify for the NCAA Championships after a fourth-place finish in the NCAA South Region meet.
As he has done all season, senior co-captain Zach Sabatino led the Volunteers with his 23rd-place finish in 30 minutes, 8 seconds in a 253-runner field on the 10K LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
Tennessee notched its best cross country team performance at the NCAA meet since 1998, when the Vols finished tied for 21st under the direction of coach George Watts. Sabatino’s 23rd-place finish marked the best individual NCAA race by a Volunteer since Knoxville’s Tony Cosey, a future Olympian, took seventh in 1995.
Wisconsin dominated the 31-team field to earn the NCAA title. SEC rival Arkansas was second while Notre Dame earned bronze.
“I can’t say enough about Zach and his performance, not only (Monday) but throughout the season,” Watts said. “Though there have been many great ones, we haven’t had many runners at Tennessee who can match Zach’s dedication, desire and motivation to be the best he can possibly be.”
Sitting out the first race of the season, Sabatino led the Vols in each of the subsequent six meets, losing to only 39 runners while defeating 989 competitors.
Farragut native Andy Baksa finished 139th with a time of 31:21.1 in his final NCAA cross country meet. Chris Platt placed 170th, and Knoxville West grad Dusty Miller finished 190th. Ben Lukowski wrapped up Tennessee scoring with his 223rd-place finish in 32:16.6.
“We brought six guys who have a chance to be in this race next year,” Watts said. “We gained tremendous experience in this race and will better know what to expect next year. Although we lose Zach and Andy, I believe next year’s team can be even better.”