National Coach of the Year J.J. Clark and nine qualifiers from the Lady Vols track and field team traveled to No. 1 Texas A&M’s home track to face the Aggies, along with a host of other top competition, and they walked away with their third NCAA Indoor Track and Field National Championship in the program’s history.
UT finished with 42 points, just ahead of Texas A&M with 37 and BYU with 33.
“The team showed great composure. They really dug down and did something spectacular,” Clark said. “We were going in as the underdogs at Texas A&M, and this team showed great composure, great savvy, great tenacity, and they achieved something that is outstanding. My hat’s off to them and the rest of the coaching staff.”
The first night of the event was mainly preliminaries, but it was also the night UT’s distance-medley relay team consisting of Phoebe Wright, Brittany Jones, Chanelle Price and Sarah Bowman tried to improve on their time of 10:56.40, which had been good enough for second in world history. Even though the race appeared close through the first three legs, UT was in perfect position entering anchor Bowman’s run to break the world record. Price, who runs the third leg of the relay, ran a season-best turn of 2:03.19. Bowman then pulled away not only the event’s record and American record, but also the world record with a time of 10:50.98. The previous record had been 10:54.34 set by Villanova in 1988.
“They wanted to break this record, and they really had to band together to make this happen,” Clark said. “It has been 21 years since the previous record, so it just shows you how long a record like that can stand with that quality, and it was just good they got the chance to make it work.”
After the preliminaries, UT had opportunities to score points in the mile and 3,000-meter with Bowman, the 800-meter with Wright, the 60-meter hurdles with Celriece Law and the shot put with Annie Alexander. The Lady Vols received personal bests from Bowman in the mile and Law in the hurdles when the meet was still in doubt. Bowman was up against, among others, Sally Kipyego from Texas Tech who had never lost in a NCAA Championship event. The race between Bowman and Kipyego was tight the entire way, but Bowman pulled out a gritty final lap and stretched out at the finish line to win by only three-tenths of a second. Bowman’s time of 4:29.72 set the meet record and beat her own personal best by nearly five seconds.
Clark said Bowman’s win really got the momentum going for the Lady Vols.
“I was very confident in what she could do. She looked good, and I knew when the pace got going Sarah was in a great spot, and her leg speed was good,” he said. “After she won, Celriece came on right after and did well and Annie had a big throw, it was like an effect that got things moving along.”
Even though Bowman’s win was the only victory of the day for UT, they picked up a key second place finish from Law in the 60-meter hurdles. Law’s time of 8.04 was good enough to break UT’s school record.
Law said the key to her victory was concentration.
“The good thing about the race that I actually focused on myself, which I usually have a problem doing,” Law said. “I think that was the main reason the outcome was so good, before the race things always get in your mind.”
Wright also finished second in the 800-meter and provided the eight points UT needed to clinch the National Title. Wright, who had not practiced much because of a sinus infection, went back and forth with BYU’s Lacey Cramer, who passed her near the end of the race for first.
“When I first crossed the line I was upset because I really wanted to win — if you go for the win at the start and fall short it’s tough,” Wright said. “But when I realized the eight points secured the title for us I was really proud.”
Alexander also showed great improvement in the shot put. After finishing second in the SEC Championships, she was able to set a school record mark of 57 feet and 2 inches that was good enough for third place.
Wright said the unity of the team was vital to their victory.
“Our team was on point. Everyone did their share; everything worked out perfectly, and I think it was because our team was so supportive,” Wright said. “I wanted Celriece to win as bad as I wanted to win, and I cried a little bit when Sarah won. We were all pulling for each other just like a family.”