Daniel Tobin made the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2010.
Aug. 29, 2011
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
The Tennessee cross country teams begin the 2011 campaign on Friday in Nashville at the Belmont-VU Opener. Race times are 5:30 p.m. Central time for the women's 4000-meter race and 6 p.m. CT for the men's 5000-meter competition. Here's a preview of the 2011 Volunteers...
KNOXVILLE -- After coaching the Lady Vol cross country team the past nine seasons, Tennessee Director of Track & Field and Cross Country J.J. Clark will take on the added responsibility of leading the men's program in 2011. He replaces 16-year veteran George Watts, who was not retained following the 2010-11 campaign.
"I'm extremely excited to be the men's coach," Clark said. "It's a new challenge for me. I like challenges, and this is a way for me to connect stronger with the men's team.
"I'm excited about it. We have to put some pieces together, and we will." In his first campaign as Vol coach, Clark will have on hand six returning letterwinners, three of whom are only sophomores. He also welcomes eight newcomers into the fold, drawing an extremely youthful hand as a first-year skipper attempting to put his stamp on the men's team.
Unfortunately for the Big Orange, the squad will no longer have the services of four departed runners who were contributors for the program. Michael Spooner, Chris Rapp and Steve Fassino were lost to graduation, while Peter Sigilai opted not to return after missing last season due to injury.
While Rapp and Fassino were key performers a year ago and during their careers, and Sigilai lettered in 2009, only Spooner leaves Rocky Top with all-star accolades. The four-year letterman joined elite UT company when he collected the third All-SEC and All-South Region certificates of his career in 2010 and qualified for the NCAA Championship meet.
Clark is fortunate, though, to have on his roster a trio of Vols who earned accolades in 2010 for their showings at key meets. Senior Chris Bodary leads the way after garnering All-South Region acclaim for finishing 23rd at the NCAA South meet and crossing the line second among Vols there a year ago. He was Tennessee's No. 2 man in three of the five races he ran in 2010, including a personal-best fifth-place finish at the Commodore Classic on Sept. 18.
"Chris Bodary had a great regional race and was an all-region runner for us last year," Clark said. "We look for him to have another good cross country season and help set the tone for our team."
Sophomores Jake Rainey and Daniel Tobin also drew notices for their efforts as rookies. Rainey, who led the team to a runner-up finish with a personal sixth-place output in his initial college meet at the Belmont-VU Opener, joined Tobin on the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2010.
Rainey and Tobin ran fourth and fifth for the Vols at the SEC meet, carding 34th- and 36th-place outcomes in Columbia, S.C. Both ran in all six meets for Team Orange a season ago, matching those No. 4 and No. 5 team scorer positions at the NCAA South Regional as well.
"Jake and Daniel showed great promise last season as freshmen," Clark said. "They were key members of our team in 2010, and we look for them to be factors for this year's squad, without a question."
Gilmartin saw duty in five meets as a junior, contributing to the scoring tally on two occasions. He finished seventh and sixth on the squad for Tennessee, though, at the league and regional races in 2010, so Clark will need the Knoxville native to raise the bar in his final season.
Franklin did not compete last year while battling injuries, but he could be a scorer if he returns to health. Franklin appeared in five meets two seasons ago and competed in both the 2008 and 2009 SEC Championships for the team from Rocky Top.
"Tom is someone returning who can move into a position to help us out," Clark said. "Along with Chris, Jake and Daniel, he gives us four guys back who were contributors last year.
"Joe has tremendous ability to help our program. I look forward to seeing that happen. Joe was banged up a little bit last year, but I believe he can be an asset at the 8K and 10K distances."
Stephen Derlath also is back after lettering as a freshman. He scored for Tennessee in one meet and finished in ninth place on the team at the SEC Championships.
Additional returnees include senior Scott March, junior Breon Dixon, and sophomores Jordan Chaney and Alex McCandless. Chaney, who did not run cross country in his first two college seasons because of injury, could be someone who emerges if he continues the improvement he demonstrated during the 2011 track season.
Clark also will be looking for someone from the large group of newcomers to step up.
Jeremy Dickie and Austin Whitelaw appear to be the most likely to emerge from the freshman class. Dickie, younger brother of former Vol Bob Dickie and former Lady Vol Sharon Dickie, was the 2009 Michigan state runner-up for the lower peninsula, while Whitelaw was the 2010 second-place finisher.
Highly-touted 800 runner Nick Kaiser is the third member of the Michigan rookie trio, but his quickest route to impact seems to be on the oval. Other freshmen include J.R. Creekmore, Jack Felix, Scott Foy, Zack Royster and Kyle Walter. Also new is junior Garrek Thompson, a transfer from LSU, who sat out last season and looks to be more of a factor on the oval in the spring.
"You add the incoming freshmen, Whitelaw, Dickie and a couple others, and it should balance out our team pretty nicely," Clark said. "Kaiser will train with cross country, and we'll see how he takes to that role. We're hoping for some surprises from the rest of the group."
Clark's unit will get its first test on Sept. 2 at the 5K Belmont-VU Opener in Nashville, followed by a home meet, the 8K Tennessee Invitational, at Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville on Sept. 17. It will mark the Vols' first time as a regular-season host since the 2008 campaign.
Following 8K races at the Brooks Paul Short Run and Crimson Classic on Sept. 30 and Oct. 15, respectively, the Big Orange men will return home to host the SEC Championship meet for the first time since 1998. Lambert Acres will be the site for the 8K trophy battle on Oct. 31.
The UT men, who finished fourth at both the league and region meets in 2010, will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 12 for the NCAA South Regional. At that meet, the Vols will attempt to qualify for their first NCAA Championship meet since 2005. If they make it, they'll compete in Terre Haute, Ind., at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course on Nov. 21.
"My objective is the same for the whole program," Clark said. "It is to establish a relationship or rapport, demonstrate how I coach and then get them going as fast as I possibly can. I look forward to the opportunity."