Nov. 9, 2011
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- There's been a great deal going on recently in Big Orange Country as it pertains to cross country and track & field. University of Tennessee Director of Track & Field/Cross Country J.J Clark shared his thoughts with UTSports.com on a variety of topics.
On Saturday, his Vol and Lady Vol cross country teams will be in Tuscaloosa, Ala., competing in the NCAA South Regional meet at Harry Pritchett Running Park. The men run a 10,000-meter race at 10 a.m. Central time, while the women take on a 6000-meter course at 11:15 a.m. CT.
(On his team's mindset heading into the NCAA Cross Country South Regional)
"As far as looking forward to the NCAA Regional meet, we have run the course. We have an idea of what it's going to look like. We're familiar with the terrain. They're (UT runners) a little tired coming off the SECs, which is normal. We gave them an extra day to reboot.
"We're ready to get back out there and see if we can have a better performance than last time. You always strive to do better and you're always seeking to do better. You're always trying to improve yourself. Our goal is, naturally, to try to run a little faster, to get Bodary up further."
On Oct. 31, Tennessee squads hosted the SEC Cross Country Championships at Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville, Tenn. The Vols finished fifth, while the Lady Vols placed seventh. Brittany Sheffey earned second-team All-SEC accolades for the third time in the women's race, while Austin Whitelaw picked up SEC All-Freshman Team status in the men's race.
(Reflecting on the SEC Cross Country Championships)
"Well, starting with the men, they had their best race of the season. They packed really well. They had five in a very short time span, which was 46 seconds. We believe we can even do a little better in a couple different areas, but I was pleased that they ran their best at their home meet.
"We lost three of our top five last year, and that is significant. So to come back and be in the same ballpark is the direction we want to go in as we move forward and keep getting better and better.
"On the women's side, they also had their best run of the season. We had one person out of position, but I feel that all around we maximized. We're definitely looking forward to recruiting on both sides and moving up the ladder and being in the territory I'm familiar with--which is winning.
"I'd also like to commend Tara (Brooks) and Chad (Culver) who doing an excellent job hosting the meet. We couldn't do anything (preparations the week before) due to rain. We had to do it all pretty much in one day. We pulled together and got out there and got it done, so I tip my hat to them and Tennessee for hosting and doing a great job."
On Oct. 25, UT announced graduation success rates (GSR) for the years 2001-02 to 2004-05, and the women's and men's cross country/track & field teams had two of the best rates of any team on campus. The women's squad had a perfect rate of 100 percent, which tied with basketball, tennis and volleyball for top honors. The men's team posted a score of 71, which ranked No. 2 among Vol squads behind only men's swimming and diving.
(On recently-released graduation success rates for track & field and cross country)
"My philosophy is that you're a student and you're here to graduate. I would like for us to continue that and at the same time, they are called student-athletes, so we want to have the best of both worlds, which is being academically superior and athletically showing talent as well.
"I think that on both sides, that was done, and that's really a credit to the University of Tennessee's support systems and the mentors, the reading labs, the math labs, the Thornton Center. Our academic program here and the support system have been stellar and allowed us to perform at a very high level academically.
"On the men's side, as you mentioned, it was the second best amongst the men. I would like to continue to improve that rate, and I believe that we will. It's a matter of commitment and doing well. It's what is necessary to be successful in life, and I believe we're on that track."
(On averaging at least one Academic All-American the past several years)
"Being an Academic All-American is equivalent to being an All-American on the track. That's the highest pinnacle in the NCAA, and so we really have the best of both worlds and we're living what I believe, and that is, you can have great academic success without giving away athletic performance, and vice versa.
"We're balancing well and, again, if you use your resources here, you don't really have a choice but to do well, and that's what we've encouraged the student-athletes to do. They've bought into it. You're seeing the benefits of the Thornton Center in the high graduation rates."
From Oct. 27-31, former UT track team members and their family members gathered for a long reunion weekend with former Vol Head Coach Chuck Rohe. The activities included attendance at the Knoxville Track Club Hall of Fame, a reunion dinner, a golf outing, a UT football game and the SEC Cross Country Championships.
(On his thoughts about Chuck Rohe and alums he met at the reunion dinner)
"I can see why he was successful. He's very enthusiastic and passionate about what he does and what he did. He was able to recruit and form relationships. He was able to build a bridge between track and football that was extremely successful here for a long time. He was able to use talents from that end. He was able to recruit guys here when we didn't even have a track. They all came looking for a track, and there was no track. But he was able to convince people that this was the best place and to build relationships with people to get this program to where it needed to be, with 21 straight SEC Championships between cross country and track & field.
"His former student-athletes still are very close to him to this day, which shows me he really cared for them. I learned a great deal at the banquet, and it was a good night, meeting people that I've read about and seeing the support for our program. It is a time of change and most of them were very supportive in that change and saying that if there was anything they could do, let them know. They want to see Tennessee and that orange be successful, and I was really taken aback by that. I had some lunch meetings with former alumni, discussing the program's direction and bouncing ideas around off some of the coaches of major universities. It was good to discuss with some of the alumni who really have the best interests in our program."
Also at that reunion dinner, Clark presented awards to a pair of Vols. Scott March was given the 2010 Vega-Watts Award, which annually goes to the Vol cross country runner who has sacrificed the most for his team. Michael Spooner, meanwhile, was announced as the 2010 Cross Country Most Valuable Athlete and the 2011 Most Valuable Outdoor Track Athlete.
(On presenting the Vega-Watts Award and two others during the reunion dinner)
"We brought in some of our current student-athletes and gave them awards during the Rohe reunion dinner. That was really nice. They were really excited to meet some of the school record-holders from the early 80s and so on, and some of those guys still hold records. It was good bridging the gap from our past to our present and future.
"Spooner's award is pretty easy if you just look at the stats. He was our best athlete and gave us the most points and was most consistent, so definitely it was something that we wanted to make people aware.
"With Scott March, I was not around him that much in 2010 and decided to have the team vote. That award is for someone who sacrifices the most for the team, and I wasn't around to decide, but it was the overwhelming favorite that Scott March was the winner of that. Now that I coach him, I can see that he's the first one there, last to leave, always willing to help and do whatever is necessary for the team. He's a team player. So I understand why he was chosen by his peers.
"It was a great night, and I think everyone involved enjoyed mingling and discussing the program, where it's been, where it is, and where it's going."
On Oct. 27, the Knoxville Track Club Hall of Fame dinner was held, and several with UT ties were inducted. Former Vols Donnie Graham and Marty Sonnenfeldt were welcomed, as were friend of the program Eddie Reymond and several who have officiated meets at UT through the years, including Brint Adams, Hayes and Joyce Hunter, Max Springer and Jerry Wrinkle.
(On the Knoxville Track Club Hall of Fame induction dinner)
"Whenever you have someone doing something positive in your community, it always gives you a warm feeling. The fact that we have UT alumni, former track and field athletes and those associated with the sport and program in that KTC Hall of Fame induction gives you a special feeling.
"We know that Marty does a lot for the community with the Knoxville Track Club. Hhe has touched many youngsters' lives and helped them, and that is very positive. He should be commended for that, along with Donnie Graham and our long-time, loyal meet officials. They should be commended. And Eddie, who is a friend of our program, has done so much with his shop to help people and help as many as he can and give advice and encouragement and tell them what they need to get better. He has been a tremendous resource. I thank them all, and I enjoyed that night, and hopefully, we can continue our relationship with Knoxville Track Club and make it stronger because together we can touch lives and I think, ultimately, that's what it's about."
Tennessee will open its indoor track & field season on Jan. 13-14 at the Kentucky Invitational in Lexington. With two new members on his staff in Rohsaan Griffin (men's sprints) and Mary Jayne Reeves (distance), Clark is happy with the group's invigorated approach to recruiting and looking forward to the 2012 campaign.
(Looking ahead to January and track & field season)
"I'm excited about the season. We have a great staff that's working hard. The young student-athletes are committing hard. We are not as deep as I want in some areas, but we are starting to recruit. We are expecting to have some help in January coming in, as we are recruiting. We've had some commitments. I'm excited about the long-term future and the immediate future.
"We have some people who are developing and scoring and can get us some points. Obviously, we lost Justin Hunter with a football injury, which impacts us greatly, but we have some good returning student-athletes who can put marks on the board and some people who haven't competed for us yet, like Matthew Hoty, a thrower we're really excited about. We have some others, like Joe Franklin and Jordan Chaney. Just so many who can score for us, but they have to be developed and they have to be peaking at the right time, of course.
"On the women's side, we have some youngsters who are SEC Champions already who are returning, like Annie Alexander, Chanelle Price, Brittany Sheffey and Ellen Wortham. We have people who have scored, such as Nijgia Snapp and Kianna Ruff. We have people we believe can get it done and score. We have a variety of different options on the women's side, and it's just a matter of getting deep enough and having enough people score.
"That's what we're working on in all areas, getting deeper, and getting the best student-athlete for the scholarship given. And we'll see how it all pans out, getting those athletes in here and the coaching staff taking them to another level."
UT has plans for an indoor track/volleyball facility to be built adjacent to the Regal Soccer Stadium off Neyland Drive. Please see the following link for an artist's rendering: Indoor Track/Volleyball Facility.
(On the plans for an indoor track facility and what that would mean for his program)
"The administration is very committed to making sure that we have a facility that suits student-athletes and allows them to have the best experience on a day-to-day basis. We're still getting closer and closer to starting the project. We still need money to kick it off. It's a great facility, and we're getting ever-so-close to getting underway. They have all the blueprints drawn. Now it's just a matter of closing that deal and getting that support financially. If anybody wants to donate...it's going to be a great facility.
"We look forward to completion of that project. It's very important. We have a number of sports, and really one main complex, which is the indoor football facility, and that's very tight and can be chaotic there. Football has a tremendous complex, one of the best in the country, and everyone wants to jump on that when it rains and we have bad weather. It's just not possible to do that. That forces us to train outside.
"If we are able to build this facility, then we'd be able to train inside every day during the cold, rainy months and make a plan for what we want to do, as opposed to, "can we train?", "is it going to rain," "is it too slippery?" This project is big from a recruiting standpoint. Student-athletes can be very materialistic and like to see nice things. That's the way it is. And we understand that, everyone understands that, we're all on the same page with understanding that and needing a facility."