Courtesy of UT Sports

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Bolstered by all-league efforts from three runners, the unranked University of Tennessee women cross country team surged to a second-place finish Saturday morning in the Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Steeplechase Course.
The Lady Volunteers scored 84 points to chart their seventh straight top-three performance at the meet and were the league runner-up for the third time in SEC history, following second-place finishes in 1989 and 2001.
“A lot of coaches congratulated me more today than they did the years when we won the meet,” sixth-year Tennessee coach J.J. Clark said. “I think we shocked a lot of people, because we haven’t been doing as well as we were expected to do at the beginning of the season. It was our best performance of the year, absolutely.
“We did insert Heidi Magill-Dahl, but everyone else stepped up also. Sarah Bowman ran another good, solid race, Katie Van Horn answered the bell and our freshman, Brittany Sheffey, improved her time by a minute. It was very good to see the team pull together like that. I am very proud of the effort they put forth.”
For the fifth time this season and the ninth time in her career, Bowman set the tone for the Lady Vols. Adding her third first-team All-SEC award in as many years, the UT junior covered the rolling 6,000-meter course in 20 minutes, 58.13 seconds to wind up fourth out of 99 runners. Bowman had placed seventh a year ago and sixth as a freshman in 2005.
“What I like about Sarah is the maturity that she has shown, on and off the course this season,” Clark said. “It is really showing through her being consistent in her racing, and that is something that I am very happy to see.
“Some years, she’s been up and down, but this season she has been consistent and she understands the importance of cross country for her to run well on the track in the spring. For her to finish top five is a very good performance, and she was only 10 seconds from the leader. She is zeroing in on possibly winning this one before she is done.”
Van Horn wasn’t far behind her classmate, finishing seventh at 21:09.20 to post her best finish at the league meet and collect her initial All-SEC citation, doing so as a first-teamer.
“Katie was 16th last year, and now she’s moved up to the top seven,” Clark said. “Her start today concerned me. She didn’t get out the way I thought she should have gotten out, but to move up all the way to where she ended up was a good run.
“She has shown a lot of consistency, and she is definitely showing that hard work pays off. Katie has been a staple for our program because she is so consistent all the time. We look forward to that at every meet as she gets stronger and stronger.”
Making her debut in orange and providing a huge boost to Tennessee’s fortunes was Magill-Dahl. The junior transfer from BYU had not competed in a meet for the Lady Vols this season (and had not run in a cross country race since 2005 after redshirting 2006 with the Cougars) while administrators verified that the required amount of transfer credits had been accepted by UT and allowed the strong student to be eligible under NCAA rules. After being cleared this week, the two-time All-Mountain West Conference and All-NCAA Mountain Region honoree added second-team All-SEC distinction to her resume with a ninth-place result of 21:16.45.
“I’ve had some teams that were there at the beginning of the season and then just continued on and performed well at conference,” Clark said. “This team is different. We had to piece things together throughout the season.
“First couple of meets, it was just Sarah. Then it was Sarah and Van Horn. Then it was Sarah, Katie and Jackie. Today was more of a team effort. It took a lot of work, but we came together at the right time, and it’s a good feeling.”
Tennessee will now start gearing up for the NCAA South Regional, which will be held Nov. 10 in Gainesville, Fla. The Lady Vols have won four of the past five regional meets and finished third a year ago, advancing to the NCAA Championships all five of those seasons.
“I think our team is very confident that it can do better because of this race,” Clark said. “I think they believe we are moving in the right direction and peaking at the right time. We look forward to getting after it again and seeing what happens.”