Tennessee finished 12th against a field brimming with ranked teams Saturday in the blue race at the 8K Pre-Nationals Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind.
Co-captain Zach Sabatino finished ninth place in 23 minutes, 56.3 seconds to lead the Vols in the massive 217-runner field on the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Family Sports Center.
Tennessee held its own against 11 ranked teams. The unranked Vols finished just behind 10th-ranked Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and bettered 23rd-ranked N.C. State. Fifth-ranked Stanford won the race and fourth-ranked BYU took second. No. 12 Georgetown rounded out the top three.
Individually, BYU’s Josh Rohatinsky broke the course 8-kilometer record with a 23:30.7 clocking to claim gold and better Colorado’s Jorge Torres’ 2002 time of 23:34.8.
“Overall, we ran an OK race,” UT coach George Watts said. “This race shows us where we are nationally. Now we know what we need to do to move up and have a chance to quality for nationals.”
Sabatino had another strong showing to lead UT, finishing ninth and finishing in 23:56.3. Farragut native Andy Baksa finished 72nd with a 24:49.3 time. Ben Lukowski took 85th after running a 24:55.1. Tyler DeVault finished 105th in 25:06.2. Matt Piccarello rounded out the Tennessee scoring five with a time of 25:07.8, good enough for 109th.
The Vols’ top-five scoring spread measured 1:11.5, wider than sub-minute grouping Watts expects.
“An area we need to improve is our five-man spread, which is still over a minute,” Watts said. “That means we’ve got to close the gap on Zach Sabatino.
“In order for us to have a chance to qualify for nationals we need to get our five-man spread under one minute. The race Zach ran is a perfect example of how to run your race and not let the conditions or other individuals affect your strategy.”
Knoxville’s Dusty Miller took 131st, sixth among Vols, with a 25:18.5 time. Jeff Day took 157th after racing 25:39.5, still beating many in the 217-runner field to the finish line.
In the open race in the afternoon, five more Vols competed and finished seventh as a team with 152 points. Chris Platt took 21st in 25:25.3. Ed Davis followed in 52nd with a 25:59.3 time. Steve Tobin took 60th with a 26:08.8 clocking. Kenny Schappert finished 92nd in 26:50.5. In his first cross country race since the 2003 season, co-captain Matthew Lapp finished 114th in 27:17.7 in the 147-runner field.
“We are still a pretty good team and close to being a rankable team,” Watts said. “We’re ready to take on the next stage of training and sharpen up for the championship part of the season.”
Tennessee returns to action Oct. 29 at the SEC Championships in Columbia, S.C.