CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. --- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's cross country team will head to Cookeville, Tenn., Friday evening for the Tennessee Tech Invitaitonal at the Southern Hills Golf Course. The women's 5-kilometer race will get started at approximately 5 p.m. Eastern Time, following the men's 4:30 EDT start.
The Running Mocs will be up against teams from Alabama AM&M, Jacksonville State, Tennessee State and host Tennessee Tech.
Senior Tara Gietema (Knoxville, Tenn.) the lone veteran on the squad, has lived up to her role as captain according to Head Coach Bill Gautier.
"Tara has her hands full this season," Gautier said. "She is working on her MBA while planning her November wedding (to Mocs top runner Chris Berry) and leading a team with seven young, untested runners who have yet to compete in the Southern Conference Championship.
"Tara has run personal bests in each of her two races so far this season. That's the kind of person you want representing your team and university."
The Mocs are without two top runners in juniors Kathryn Stuart (Brentwood, Tenn.) and Mary Cumbee (Brentwood, Tenn.).
Stuart has not completely recovered from an injury sustained in the 2011 SoCon Outdoor Track Championships. She broke her foot during the running of the 3000 meter Steeplechase, yet completed the grueling race with a personal best time in the event.
Cumbee suffered a back injury in a non-running activity over the summer and cannot compete. The Mocs were hoping for the return of redshirt Amanda Sumner (Bristol, Conn.). She sat out last season for medical reasons and is not yet cleared to run.
Sophomore Morgan Buchanan (Johnson City, Tenn.) is finally healthy as she enters this season. She has been nagged by injuries over the last two years and has really stepped up this season to provide some much needed leadership.
The Mocs have two untested seniors in Jenna Nick (Columbia, Tenn.) and Sarah White-Woerner (Chattanooga, Tenn.) who have contributed immediately. White-Woerner is in her fourth year at UTC and just recently became serious about running.
"She's been our number two runner in each race," Gautier said. "She has been incredible. I wish we had her before, but I am sure glad to have her now."
Nick transferred to UTC from Martin and was a member of the team there as a freshman. Since arriving at UTC she has taken a break from the sport.
"I knew Jenna was here," Gautier said. "I asked her to come out for the team and add some depth and maturity. I'm very pleased with the result."
The surprise of the team is freshman Keeley Stewart (Winchester, Tenn.) who ran for St. Andrew's-Sewanee. The former Division II-A Tennessee State cross country champion has improved her personal best by over a minute in her first collegiate 5K race. That gives the Mocs a much needed boost in the lineup this year and experience for the future.
The Lady Mocs have true freshman Jessica Philpott (Manchester, Tenn.) and redshirt freshman Gabby Cader (Cleveland, Tenn.) training with the squad as backups. Both runners were recruited to run the 400 and 800 meters in track and not cross country.
"I am really proud of these two for working with the cross country team," Gautier said. "I know that if we need them, they will give us everything they have."
Junior Margo Sneed, a recent addition to the roster, was a strong high school runner who could provide additional help to the Lady Mocs.
Chattanooga will host the Front Runner Invitational on Friday, October 15 at the Moccasin Bend Race Course. It will be their final tune-up before post season competition begins.