The Tennessee Volunteers' track and field teams are set for their first and last home meet of the season. Their seniors are hoping to enjoy the weekend, finish strong and show Knoxville what makes the Vols one of the best track and field teams in the nation.
Last week, the Lady Volunteers didn't just return victorious from their meet; they excelled. Their time of eight minutes, 28.81 seconds gave the Lady Vols the seventh-fastest 4x800-meter mark in program history, breaking the Pepsi Florida Relays and Percy Beard Track records and former 2009 Lady Vol record of 8:28.99.
Winning both the 4x800-meter and distance medley relay races set the perfect goal for this weekend at the 47th annual Sea Ray Relays. Fifth year senior and Knoxville's West High School graduate Kesley Kane said that while the possibility of graduation hasn't hit home for her just yet, the significance of this next meet for her personally and for the team is not lost on her.
"This weekend — since this is my hometown — means a lot to me," she said. "Being in Knoxville and being on Tom Black, I grew up on this track. I'm really excited about it. I think everyone else is excited about it as well."
Kane's experience over the last five years has not been the story of a typical UT athlete. She suffered from compartment syndrome — a physical condition involving pressure buildup within one's muscles — throughout much of her collegiate career. She missed two seasons with the Lady Vols as she struggled through her injury, surgery and recovery period.
The distance runner had been running since her sophomore year of high school. Having to stop training and let her body heal was one of the most difficult seasons of her life, but over the past few years she’s seen tremendous success and growth in her career.
“It was hard watching home meets go on and sitting in the stands with all my friends and family here and not competing or doing as well as I thought I would like to, but this means more than ever now that I’m doing well,” she said. “It puts on a display where I grew up and how much I’ve been through with the surgery.
“It just means a lot. I really want to put on a good show out here because it does symbolize how much I’ve gone through and how much I’ve accomplished and how far I’ve come from that.”
For Kane, overall success of the team as a whole comes first. But if she had to succeed personally in one area, she’d choose the 800-meter event.
“I’m usually a distance specialist, and after last weekend I got my 800 down a lot … I’m kind of focusing on getting my 800 down,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people are expecting me to run a fast eight so kind of getting out here and have some fun and run a fast time."
She said sitting back, enjoying events and not focusing on time have helped her bring that time down.
“I think this season more than ever I’ve just enjoyed it and I haven’t thought about times,” she said. “I haven’t put a lot of pressure on myself honestly, which is kind of surprising being a senior, but I think once you let go of all the expectations you kind of let go and the times drop, but I think more of what I think about is just I’m going to miss the team and being around them so I’m just taking it day by day and soaking it all in and enjoying being around them.”
She will be competing in the 800-meter on Friday, but said she’s also looking forward to the team’s distance medley relay on Saturday. Head coach and director of the men’s and women’s track and field, J.J. Clark, said the Sea Ray Relays mean a lot to the team and each individual athlete’s career, but it’s also important to them as a way to show their hometown a competitive and successful meet.
“This weekend we’re looking to continue getting sharper for down the road,” Clark said. “We’re also looking to perform well at home meet … .
“We’re looking to put on a good show and keep everyone healthy. We have some seniors here that are here for their last time, their last ride, so to speak.”
He said he’s excited to see Kane not just overcoming physical adversities but succeeding in her performances.
“We’re looking forward to her coming here and having a great show and having a great time here,” he said.
He said he would like to see both the men and the women sharpen up their marks and think with the SEC
Championships in mind. He’s especially looking forward to the team’s one hour Showcase on Saturday. It will include both men's and women's heats and sections for seven different events, including the 200-meter, 1500-meter, 800-meter, 400-meter, 100-meter, distance medley and 4x100-meter relays.
The men's and women's invitational discus, men's and women's long jump and men's high jump will also be a part of the Showcase, followed by a time to honor UT seniors.
“It’s just a couple of events that are exciting, but overall that one hour block is where we’re hoping to have a lot of success and victories,” he said.
For seniors like Kane, Clark said it’s a bittersweet moment, but he’s excited to see how the team responds and the seniors strive to make their last home meet their best.
“We’re going to hope that they have a great send off on their home track,” he said.
The Sea Ray Relays will be held this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.