Jan. 13, 2011
By Eric Trainer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The University of Tennessee men's and women's track & field teams will open the 2011 indoor campaign this weekend, as they travel to Lexington, Ky., for the Kentucky Invitational.
The meet gets underway Friday at 6 p.m. Eastern time, with field event competition at UK's Nutter Field House. Saturday's full slate cranks up with field events at 10:30 a.m. and running events at 12:30 p.m., and the meet is slated to conclude around 5:30 p.m.
A total of 14 women's teams and 12 men's squads are expected to have entries in the meet. On the women's side, the Lady Volunteers are the highest rated program, checking in at No. 4 in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Preseason Rankings. Also on hand will be No. 18 Louisville, No. 21 Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Michigan State and a host of others. There are no top 25 men's teams entered, but the Vols will face off against the same foes as the Lady Vols, as well as a few others.
"I'm excited to get going at Kentucky," UT Director of Track & Field J.J. Clark said. "It seems like it's been such a long time since we've been on the track. After a year under my belt as the director, we've made some adjustments and we are looking forward to getting things underway for both the men's and women's teams.
"We want to have a solid meet, get some marks on the board early, stay healthy and just build from there. It's important to build from where we start, and we look forward to that."
The Big Orange women enter the year with the top-ranked returning woman in the 800 meters (junior Chanelle Price, 4th at NCAA Indoors, 2nd at SECs in 2010), and UT's three-time defending NCAA champion distance medley relay unit also begins the year at No. 1. Returning from that quartet are Price and juniors Brittany Sheffey and Ellen Wortham. Lost to graduation is the highly-decorated Phoebe Wright.
Senior Jackie Areson is rated No. 2 in the 5000 and 3000 meters after placing third and fourth nationally last season in those events, while junior Annie Alexander stands at No. 7 in the shot put. Other returning All-Americans include juniors Brittany Jones (DMR/4x400mR) and Ashley Harris (4x100mR). Newcomers to watch include transfers Liz Costello (Princeton) and Nijgia Snapp (Seton Hall) in the distance and middle distance areas, respectively, as well as a solid rookie class of 400/800 runners in Brittney Jackson, Ty-Vonna Johnson and Kianna Ruff.
"After the winter break for the holidays, it's always a wait and see deal," Clark said about what to expect from his troops this weekend. "They've been off about four weeks. If they did their work during that time period, then we'll find out very shortly."
The Vols are building for the future, as they return no All-Americans. Key performers back include a three-time SEC pole vaulter in junior Joe Berry and a 2010 NCAA qualifying pole vaulter in junior Robert Rasnick, a four-time SEC 800m scorer in junior Joe Franklin, up-and-coming long jumper in junior Desmond Brown and a point-producing distance standout in senior Michael Spooner. Also back are league scorers senior Peter Sigilai (distance) and junior Ben Bartholomew (shot put).
The UT men will have several highly-regarded newcomers to watch, including redshirt freshman sprinter Dentarius Locke, the nation's top sprint signee last season, and freshman jumper Justin Hunter, another blue chipper who displayed his incredible hops (and hands) as a record-setting wide receiver on the football team during the fall. Other nationally-ranked first-year performers to watch develop during the coming years will be throwers Matthew Hoty and Matt Darr (redshirt punter on the football team), distance runners Ford Bell and Jake Rainey, sprinter Jarael Nelvis and hurdler Terry Benson, a transfer from Central Arizona College.
"We have some new faces like Dentarius and Justin and some returnees like Ben, Joe and Michael, so we're anxious to get the ball rolling and see what everyone can do."