MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- As they have done in every meet this season, Chris Bodary and Brittany Sheffey led the charge for Tennessee. Their efforts enabled the Big Orange men to place fifth and the women seventh Monday morning at the SEC Cross Country Championships at Lambert Acres Golf Club.
The Vols, picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches poll, matched that prediction by tallying 169 points to tie with Alabama. Arkansas, led by individual champion Eric Fernandez (24:10.60), took the men’s crown with 33 points, followed by Florida (66), Georgia (68) and Kentucky (126).
The Lady Vols, meanwhile, came in expected to place ninth by the coaches. Bouncing back from last year’s disappointing 12th-place outcome, UT managed a seventh-place effort with 184 points. Vanderbilt captured the women’s trophy with 30, followed by Arkansas (61) and Florida (62) in the top three. Kristen Gillespie of Arkansas was the individual winner in a course-record 20:19.84.
The Tennessee men, who lost three of their top six finishers from the 2010 SEC meet and underwent a coaching change in the offseason, managed to avoid a dropoff despite counting the scores of two freshmen and a sophomore at this meet after losing Michael Spooner (11th), Chris Rapp (26th) and Steve Fassino (44th) from a year ago.
“We weren’t scheduled (predicted) to win, but I think we came in here and ran solid,” UT Director of Track & Field/Cross Country J.J. Clark said. “I like to win, but we’re not there yet.
"For the younger guys, it was a difficult situation, coming in not knowing how to respond athletically and what to do. If I could be coaching them right now, (at this point last year) I could probably do some better things with the young gentlemen. They came in, they handled the transition with new coaching, and we came in here and we ran respectable. We like to win. That’s my goal, to win, and I believe we’ll get to that point.”
Instead of playing it safe, Bodary went for a big finish in his final SEC meet by running with the leaders and hoping to hold on at the end on his home course. Over the latter stages of the race, however, he was simply unable to keep up that pace and reported in with a 28th-place finish. The senior navigated the 8000-meter men’s layout in 25:07.40 against a field of 96 runners, setting the tone for his teammates for the fifth time this season.
“Bodary went for the jugular; he went for the whole shebang,” Clark said. “If he had run for the top ten, it would have been a little different run. But he went for something exceptional, which was a top-three finish.
“He went for it. And I commend him for that. He held on well and gave everything he had.”
Sophomore Jake Rainey and freshman Austin Whitelaw weren’t far behind Bodary, crossing the line 30th in 25:12.25 and 32nd (31st scorer) in 25:16.11, respectively. Rainey improved four places from his SEC All-Freshman effort of 2010, while Whitelaw earned a spot on this year’s all-rookie squad with his performance as one of the top seven newcomers.
Senior Tom Gilmartin ran fourth for Tennessee, placing 34th (33rd scorer) in 25:21.32, while freshman Jeremy Dickie was the fifth man in 52nd place (47th) at 25:53.63. Rainey, Gilmartin and Dickie all had personal-record marks for 8K.
“Jake, best race of the season; Whitelaw, best race of the season, doing a nice job of making the SEC All-Freshman Team,” Clark said. “Tommy Gilmartin, best race of the season. That’s what you want.
“Jeremy Dickie, another freshman, ran a good last half of the race. He was a little too far back, a little too far back. But it was a good race for a freshman. He had a lot going on, and he wasn’t feeling well for several weeks coming into this. He pulled it together for the guys today.”
For the Lady Vols, Sheffey became only the ninth UT woman to earn All-SEC acclaim three times in a career. She made the second team once again, finishing 12th out of 104 by covering the 6000-meter course in 21:00.63 while running with lead group for much of the race. She also finished 12th in 2008 and 2009.
Sophomore Amber Zimmerman, 42nd a year ago, was UT’s No. 2 finisher and claimed 26th overall in 21:34.13, while Chanelle Price checked in 43rd (41st) in 22:02.84 after taking 72nd in 2010.
Freshman walk-on Kacey Nobert, competing for only the second time this season, filled the No. 4 scoring slot. She did so by clocking a 22:17.45 readout to wind up 53rd (49th). Freshman Amirah Johnson was in the scoring five for the fifth straight meet, placing 62nd in 22:32.57. Both runners recorded career-best times for 6K.
“The women’s race was a little different scenario,” Clark said. “We were ranked (in the SEC) early in the season around ninth. We started pulling some things together and we were actually ranked around top five. It might have happened, but Ramzee ran too hard. She did not follow the plan, and Sheffey could’ve gone a little more, could’ve done a little better. But from a team standpoint, Sheffey locked it in, did O.K. and put us in position to score some points.
“Zimmerman came around pretty well. Chanelle did this cross country thing for the team and really, really helped us out. Kacey Nobert coming in and helping was key. We’re talking about a young lady who didn’t come to school to run. She’s in a sorority and has different demands, but she’s doing well academically, has a busy social life, and she’s able to help us out. That’s very important for us.”
The Vols and Lady Vols are off next weekend before resuming competition on Nov. 12 at the NCAA South Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
WOMEN’S TEAM RESULTS: 1. Vanderbilt, 30; 2. Arkansas, 61; 3. Florida, 62; 4. Georgia, 124; 5. Mississippi, 158; 6. Alabama, 181; 7. Tennessee, 184; 8. Kentucky, 214; 9. Mississippi State, 233; 10. Auburn, 247; 11. South Carolina, 295; 12. LSU, 337.
LADY VOL INDIVIDUAL RESULTS: 12. Brittany Sheffey, 21:00.63; 26. Amber Zimmerman, 21:34.13; 43. (41.) Chanelle Price, 22:02.84; 53. (49.) Kacey Nobert, 22:17.45!; 62. (56.) Amirah Johnson, 22:32.57!; 70. (63.) Kelsey Kane, 22:53.00!; 84. (74.) Ramzee Fondren, 23:21.84; 96. Elizabeth Altizer, 24:46.44; 97. Patavia Lowery, 24:53.39; 101. Elizabeth Tiller, 25:22.77.
MEN’S TEAM RESULTS: 1. Arkansas, 33; 2. Florida, 66; 3. Georgia, 68; 4. Kentucky, 126; 5. Tennessee, 169; 5. Alabama, 169; 7. Mississippi 179; 8. Auburn 183; 9. Mississippi State 234; 10. LSU 235; 11. Vanderbilt 300.
VOL INDIVIDUAL RESULTS: 28. Chris Bodary, 25:07.40; 30. Jake Rainey, 25:12.25!; 32. (31.) Austin Whitelaw, 25:16.11; 34. (33.) Tom Gilmartin, 25:21.32!; 52. (47.) Jeremy Dickie, 25:53.63!; 61. (53.) Daniel Tobin, 26:08.50; 65. (57.) Stephen Derlath, 26:20.52!; 75. Alex McCandless, 26:40.70!; 79. J.R. Creekmore, 26:59.74!; 95. Scott March, 28:36.95.