COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Commitment builds success.
With all the hard work and dedication that Stephanie Place has put into the Tennessee Tech cross country and track and field programs, it’s no wonder that Place has continued to rewrite the Golden Eagle record books with every meet.
Through her success in athletics, Place is a well-deserving honoree as this year’s Tennessee Tech Outstanding Female Athlete.
“I’m real honored to be chosen for the award,” Place said. “I certainly wasn’t expecting it. I’m happy for it but also for my fellow candidates because they all also had excellent years.”
Since the award’s inception in 1994, Place is the second recipient of the award from the track program, joining Diane Seng, who in 1998 was designated the Outstanding Female Athlete as a member of the basketball, volleyball and track teams.
Place was voted for the award among a very competitive class of some of Tech’s finest female athletes — Blair Bowens (basketball), Megan Bradford (golf), Lacie Coquerille (softball), Kelly Holtzhausen (tennis), Katherine Lang (volleyball), Meagan Lyons (basketball and track), Leah Meffert (volleyball), Allison Price (basketball and track) and Ashley Smith (soccer).
“It’s a great honor for her to win it,” said TTU cross country and track coach Tony Cox. “She’s certainly deserves it. She works very hard. She’s a great athlete and a great student.”
Without a doubt, Place has made a name for herself as a Golden Eagle, establishing herself as the most successful distance runner in the school’s history.
“She has really raised the bar for the program,” Cox said. “She’s the best distance runner this school has ever had. She’s won a lot of races and has impressed a lot of people, not only at Tech but also in the conference. She’s really a tough competitor and she’s a smart racer. She knows how to win races.”
It speaks volumes that every meet the Golden Eagles ran this fall in the cross country season, Place followed it up with an Ohio Valley Conference runner of the week honor.
On November 1 in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Place blew away the field at the OVC Cross Country Championships, posting a 18:16.7 in the 5K race — 21 seconds ahead of the second place finisher.
The finish gave Place the OVC runner of the year award, and also gave the Golden Eagles a fourth-place finish in the meet — the highest the Tech women finished in the OVC championship since 1997.
“That award was a great feather in the cap at the end of the season,” Place said. “We all worked hard in practice and ran hard during our meets. Everything just paid off in that race.”
As she completed the regular season, Place was responsible for the top 11 5K times in school history.
“Every time I stepped out on the course, I was just concerned about beating my own time,” Place said.
Place wasn’t finished yet.
On a cold, wet November morning, the Golden Eagles competed at the NCAA South Regionals in Maryville, hosted by the University of Tennessee.
With a rain-soaked, hilly course, Place put together another strong showing as she completed the 6K course in 21:35.64, finishing 19th overall out of 155 runners.
“That was a great experience,” Place said. “There are a lot of amazing runners at that level and it was thrilling to get to race against them and try to prove myself against some of the best runners in the country. It was fun — nerve-racking a bit, but it was fun.”
As the weather turned colder, the indoor track schedule heated up, and Place did not disappoint.
At the OVC Indoor championships in Charleston, Ill., Place scored 28 of Tech’s 37 total points. She set a school record in the 3,000-meter run with a 10:04.39. She also had a second-place finish in the 5,000-meter run.
But the most impressive victory came in the distance medley relay.
After Keri Light, Emily Weinzetl and Tiffany Palmer set up Place with a fourth-place standing entering the final leg, the Golden Eagles were about 12 seconds behind the leader — a runner for the homestanding Eastern Illinois Panthers.
Cox said after the race, “I knew when she cut the lead from 10 seconds to nine seconds with six laps left that we were going to win. We were still in fourth place at that time. It was fun to watch her run down the leader for the victory. The crowd started going crazy when they noticed Stephanie closing the gap on the home team girl. She came from about 12 seconds back to win by four seconds.”
Yet disaster struck as the outdoor track season approached.
A lower back injury sidelined her, keeping her from competing in the spring schedule.
“It was a bit disappointing,” Place said. “I couldn’t run for a month, so it was pretty annoying.”
“We tried to get her through that injury,” Cox said. “It just hung on longer than I expected. In the end, we had to make the decision whether to redshirt her this season or let her run the conference meet. I didn’t want her entire season to come down to just one meet.”
There is a silver lining to the story, however.
Place was eligible for a medical redshirt, which will allow her to have one last season on the outdoor track team, giving Place a chance to go out with a bang next spring.
“We made that decision and I think it’s really going to pay dividends next season,” Cox said. “It’s going to be great to have her around the program to show the new people around and to continue to set the example that she’s been setting for the last several years around here.”
Place said, “I was happy to make that decision. I’m looking forward to coming back next spring.”
Place also received her diploma from the University in May, completing her studies in nursing.
“Yeah, that’s thrilling,” Place said, “and I can’t wait to back and try to end my career on a high note.”