Fresh off their performances at the NCAA Mideast Regional last week, the University of Tennessee men’s and women’s track and field teams are concluding their seasons at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The championships began Wednesday and will continue through Saturday. The teams learned June 2 that seven athletes earned at-large bids based on performances from events throughout the year to go along with the 11 that qualified automatically at the regional.
For head coach Bill Webb’s men’s side of the squad, a total of eight Vols will compete at NCAAs. Senior Nick Panezich, one of two automatic qualifiers, will compete in his first Outdoor Championships after finishing third in the shot put at the Mideast Regionals. The other automatic qualifier, sophomore Charlton Rolle, took third place in the 100-meter hurdles at regionals with a season-best time and will look to ride that momentum into a solid finish at NCAAs. Sophomore All-American Michael Ayers will look to score in the decathlon event after his 12th-place finish at NCAAs last season.
Sophomore SEC pole vault champion Joseph Berry finished 10th in last year’s NCAAs and will also be making his second trip to the championships. Junior All-American sprinter Evander Walls will make his third consecutive appearance at the Championships running in the 100-meter dash. Two Vols earned berths in the 800 meters as freshmen Joseph Franklin and Emerson Peacock recorded times ranked in the top 12 nationally. Senior Akeem Hardnett will make his first appearance at the NCAAs and compete in the triple jump after his career-best jump placed him sixth at the regional.
“Both [Hardnett and Rolle] really came on strong [at the Mideast Regionals],” Webb said. “I also thought that our guys who were ranked high enough to get at-large bids did a nice job of battling to make sure they were eligible.”
The Indoor National Champion Lady Vols track team is hoping for more of the same at the Outdoor meet. Ten athletes will be competing for head coach J.J. Clark’s squad with eight automatic bids based on their performance at the regional.
“It’s the NCAA meet, and we want to go there and do the best we can,” Clark said. “The rankings to me are not really significant; I just want to go there and see if we can bring some hardware back and see how well we can do in this national meet.”
Senior Sarah Bowman will look to end her collegiate career distancing herself from the field in the 1,500-meter run, while All-SEC sophomore Annie Alexander will compete in the discus throw and shot put. All-American junior Lynne Layne will sprint in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and senior All-American Celriece Law will make her third trip to the NCAAs and compete in the 100-meter hurdles. All-American junior Phobe Wright will try to improve on her sixth place finish a year ago at the NCAAs in the 800 meters.
Layne and Law will also pass the baton with freshmen Ashley Harris and Ellen Wortham in the 4x100 meter relay with senior Amanda Alexander standing as an alternate for the event. Freshman Chanelle Price and junior Jackie Areson earned at-large bids in the 800 and 5000 meters, respectively, after each finished sixth at the regional.