The Chattanooga Track Club

Promoting Running and Fitness in Chattanooga

Stoker, Gautier win UTC Cross Country 5K
By JOHN HUNT
Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It must have seemed like old times for former UT-Chattanooga standout Rodney Stoker. After all, the 29-year-old fellow had been one of the big guns back in the mid-90s when the Mocs put together their best men's team ever as they concluded a memorable season with a trip to the NCAA Championships in Lawrence, Kansas.

Speed the clock ahead a few years and Stoker is still running strong. He's now the head cross country coach at Bryan College, but he proved on a brilliant September morning that he still has what it takes to excel in a sport he once dominated.

The event was the UTC Invitational 5K and Stoker appeared to be having a workout by himself as he covered the dew-slick grass in 15 minutes, 57 seconds, crossing the finish line in the field next to Moccasin Bend almost a minute ahead of Geno Phillips, who was second in 16:56.

Jan Gautier is another outstanding runner who used to dominate local events and is well on her way back to prime-time performances after taking a couple of years off to deal with a nagging injury.

Now a masters' competitor with a new lease on her running career, Gautier also proved that she knows how to shift into faster gears as she won the women's division with a time of 19 minutes, 14 seconds, finishing eighth overall in the field that totaled just 55 participants.

It seemed like a repeat performance from other races in recent weeks where Gautier overcame an early lead by Jennifer Croft to capture the victory. Croft is another former UTC great who still has a strong competitive streak in her.

While Gautier was winning, Croft was the runner-up in 19:51 as she was the 11th runner to complete the distance.

The UTC Invitational has turned into a weekend event with men's and women's college races on Friday night while the open and high school events follow on Saturday morning.

The UTC men had an alumni team running in the Friday night race. Stoker would have loved to participate, but it's tough to race when the team you're coaching is also involved in the race. Nonetheless, he had his fast shoes tied when the horn sounded on Saturday morning.

"We used to train out here so much. This brings back a lot of memories of days when I was so much faster, but I'm coming around. Running with my team is really helping," Stoker said as he paused to reflect on his performance shortly after he finished.

Phillips raced on Friday night, but couldn't match the same time on Saturday morning. It was still a positive experience for him as his wife Paige participated in her first cross country race.

"I actually ran better last night than today," Geno explained, noting that his time on Friday was 16:38.

"We beat a couple of the college teams last night, but I couldn't do anything with Rodney today. I hurt the whole way. This is a fairly-flat course, but running cross country is a lot harder than it looks. I knew when I got here and saw Rodney that I'd be running for second place. I almost didn't come out, but my wife wanted to run," the 34-year-old middle school teacher said.

Gautier doesn't start quite as quickly as she once did, but she still knows how to surge during the race and she can turn it on in the latter stages when fatigue becomes a determining factor. Those tactics certainly paid off in a positive way in this race.

"I chased the best again today and didn't catch her (Croft) until we'd been about a mile and a quarter. I tried to encourage some of the high school kids who were running the open race, but then they just took off and left me.

"I love running on the road, but this is a lot tougher than a road race. I'm still working hard to get back into it and I'm getting closer to where I want to be," Gautier said.

Croft, like Gautier, is on the comeback trail. At times, she can be her own worst critic, but she knows how fast she ran a few years back and she won't be pleased until she gets a little closer to her old form.

"I could be a lot better, but I just had a horrible race. I guess I'm tired and I hurt so bad while we were running. I held onto the lead until we got to the woods and that's where Jan passed me.

"I just want to get back in good race shape. I also know that what doesn't kill me will make me stronger," Croft concluded with a smile.

While Stoker and Phillips were 1-2 in the men's division, Cliff Cowan was third in 17:37. Kevin Croft, Jennifer's husband, was fourth in 17:56 while Hugh Enicks completed the top five with his 18:11 clocking.

Following Gautier and Croft among the ladies was Tiffin Barile in third with a time of 20:41, which was 18th overall. Lisa Barrett nipped Nancy Divasto for fourth with a time of 23:04 while Divasto finished a second later. They were 28th and 29th overall, respectively.

While Enicks and Gautier were winners among the masters, David Leatherman and Amy Mullens captured wins among the Grand Masters.  Leatherman was ninth overall in 19:44 while Mullens claimed 48th with her time of 29:30.

Proceeds from these races benefit the UTC cross country program.


ABOUT SSL CERTIFICATES

Chattanooga Track Club • 1014 Dallas Road • Suite 101 • Chattanooga, TN 37405 • (423) 842-6265