Freshman Jake Rainey begins his college career in Music City.
Sept. 2, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The University of Tennessee men's and women's cross country teams will begin their respective 2010 seasons Friday, as they make their way to the mid-state for the Belmont-VU Opener at Nashville's Percy Warner Park. The women will run a 4,000-meter race at 5:30 p.m. Central time, followed by the men's 5,000m competition at 6 p.m. on the Vaughn's Creek Course.
In addition to the Vols and Lady Vols, schools expected to be on hand include Alabama, Austin Peay, Belmont, Bethel, Lipscomb, Memphis, Middle Tennessee, Tennessee Martin, Trevecca Nazarene, Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky.
UT Director of Track & Field/Women's Cross Country Coach J.J. Clark and Men's Cross Country Coach George Watts have indicated they will not run their full lineups this weekend, holding out most of the veterans. It's a long season, and with team training just beginning in recent weeks, both UT skippers are anxious to get some of their less experienced runners some work and assess how they might be able to fit into the team's plans down the road.
"It's our first meet of the season, and we typically use it as a meet to get the ball rolling," Clark said. "We're not running a full squad this weekend, but we definitely would like to go there and start our season off on a positive note with the athletes we have competing."
This will mark the sixth straight year the Lady Vols have popped the top on a campaign at this meet. UT won the event in 2007, finished second three times and was fifth in 2009. Big Orange women have claimed victories at the past two meets, with Jackie Areson winning it a year ago and Sarah Bowman doing so in 2008.
The Tennessee women, led by two-time all-league and all-region senior Brittany Sheffey and junior Chanelle Price, welcome back seven letterwinners from a squad that finished second in the SEC and third in the NCAA South Region in 2009. The Lady Vols, who won't have Sheffey and Price with them this weekend, were picked by the league's coaches to finish in a tie for fourth in the conference in 2010, and they rank seventh in the South Region's preseason poll.
As for the UT men, they will be making their first appearance at the Belmont-VU Opener and first trip to Nashville for a cross country meet since the 2000 Tennessee Intercollegiate. Watts' squad returns eight letterwinners, including two-time All-SEC and All-South performer Michael Spooner and a senior and junior-laden cast, from a team that finished sixth in both the league and region in 2009.
The Vols were selected by the SEC coaches to tie for fifth this season, and they rank fourth in the preseason edition of the South Region poll. Among those slated to take part on Friday is true freshman Jake Rainey, a state champion track athlete and all-state cross country performer out of Clarksville's Rossview High School.
"We are excited about getting the season started on Friday," Watts said. "We have a young group representing Tennessee for the first time in their college careers, and we just want to get the first-race jitters out of the way. The expectation is to have a solid race, but with such a young group I am not going to put a whole lot of pressure on them. I just want to see where they are mentally in their first competition."