Michael Spooner looks to lead the Vols this weekend on the NCAA Championships course.
Oct. 14, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- For the first time this season, the University of Tennessee men's and women's cross country teams will head to different meets. On Saturday, George Watts' Vols will be in Terre Haute, Ind., to take part in the ISU Pre-National Invitational, while J.J. Clark's Lady Vols will travel down I-75 to Chattanooga for the Front Runner Invitational.
The UT men, who stand fifth this week in the South Region but are unranked nationally, will face 10 top-30 teams when they compete in the Men's 8K White Race at 12:50 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday. White Race squads appearing in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Rankings are No. 4 Colorado, No. 8 Portland, No. 13 North Carolina State, No. 16 Oklahoma, No. 19 BYU, No. 21 Tulsa, No. 22 Georgetown, No. 24 Alabama, No. 25 Minnesota and No. 28 Notre Dame.
The event will take place on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, site of the 2010 NCAA Championship meet on Nov. 22. Watts is hopeful his squad will turn in a respectable showing and generate some momentum toward making a return trip to the venue for the national meet in late November.
"This Saturday's ISU Pre-National Invitational will be our greatest challenge to date," Watts said. "We will not see better competition the remainder of the season, unless we qualify for the NCAA Championships.
"Our goal this weekend is to improve on our competitive effort from the last meet. We are supposed to have great weather, and I expect personal bests from those who have raced on this course in the past. The freshmen will get their first taste of national competition and will need to keep their focus and composure in order to reach their goals."
The UT men previously competed in the ISU Pre-National Invitational from 2004 to 2008, finishing 22nd out of 41 teams in the Blue Race in their last visit to Terre Haute in 2008. The Vols' best finish at "Pre-Nats" was a 12th-place effort in 2005. Consequently, that team went on to qualify for the NCAA Championship meet on that course later in the campaign. That visit to nationals was the most recent one for the squad from Rocky Top.
Current team members Chris Bodary (2008), David Clabo (2007, 2008), Steve Fassino (2007, 2008), Chris Rapp (2006, 2007, 2008) and Michael Spooner (2007, 2008) all have prior experience running in the ISU Pre-National Invitational, though Clabo and Fassino ran in the "Open" race rather than the "Blue." Spooner, UT's leader in his first two starts this season, made a substantial leap from finishing 167th in 2007 to placing 45th a year later at "Pre-Nats."
With his No. 15-ranked South Region team previously slated to compete in the Penn State National on Saturday, Clark made a decision last week to run closer to home. Instead of making the trek to Happy Valley, the Lady Vols will make their way to the Moccasin Bend Cross Country Course for a two-mile race at 3:30 p.m. ET.
The women from Big Orange Country will be making their fifth trip to Chattanooga for a meet and first since 2002. In Clark's first season at the helm of the Lady Vols, his troops claimed victory that year at the UTC Invitational. His current director of operations, Brooke Novak, finished fourth overall and was UT's third runner in that meet.
This weekend's races will be the final regular season events prior to the Southeastern Conference Championships on Nov. 1. The University of South Carolina will host the league meets at Fort Jackson Army Training Center, as it did in 2005.