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By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001
TAMPA -- One of the first things Kelly Phillips did when she became the full-time cross country/track and field last year was look over the team roster.
She quickly surmised her initial track season could be a long one. With several athletes graduating, lack of depth in some areas and a new coach coming in, the outlook wasn't good.
Well, so much for possibilities.
Not only are the Bulls not having a disappointing year, the team is excelling heading into the Conference USA championships Feb. 22 in Houston.
"It really looked like it was going to be a rebuilding type year," Phillips said. "I've never seen anything like this. We have really performed well, and it has been quite surprising."
Surprising because the Bulls have been outstanding this winter during the indoor campaign, winning a meet at Clemson, setting school records at others and establishing NCAA qualifying times along the way.
Led by a strong group of distance runners and field athletes, the Bulls have plenty of momentum heading into the event.
The driving force behind the Bulls has been Kerine Black. The senior has lived up to her All-American status. In the past month and a half, Black has set a school record in the 55 meters (6.89), qualified provisionally for the NCAA meet in the triple jump and long jump and earned conference athlete of the week honors.
For Black, a three-time All-American, there is still unfinished business. She placed eighth in the triple jump at the 1999 NCAA meet and third last season.
But the Bulls have been far from a one-woman squad.
Saturday at the Canon Invitational in Indianapolis, the distance medley relay of Rita Arndt, Amber Delpino, Cori Kill and Jolene Williams shattered the school record by 22 seconds with a time of 11:38. The foursome finished just two seconds off of qualifying for the NCAA meet.
"It's been like that all year," Phillips said. "We have some maturity from some of the seniors. They also are running well because they have the, "It's the end of my career' mentality."
In addition to Black, freshman Charlissa Anderson has had steady improvement in the triple jump while fellow freshman Karoline Hagen has finished as high as second in the 400 in 57.43.
Junior Linda Kalender has run the 800 well with a personal best of 2:19.17 at the Florida Intercollegiates, and Jolene Williams won the 3,000 in less than 10 minutes earlier this season.
Phillips has the added benefit of having freshman Alexis McGaffigan and the versatile Makeda Prime.
Prime has competed in four events this year and ran well in the hurdles. McGaffigan, meanwhile, has exceeded expectations, setting the school high jump record in her first collegiate meet with a leap of 5 feet 7.
"It may sound a little goofy," Phillips said, "but this is a real nice group and there is a real bond between all the athletes. Everyone cheers for everyone during the whole meet, and it brings them all together.
"There is a feeling of the athletes not wanting to let anyone down."