Heather Van Norman
July 31, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- University of Tennessee Director of Track & Field and Cross Country J.J. Clark announced his first new staff hire Friday, selecting Tulane's Heather Van Norman as the Big Orange's assistant coach for women's sprints and hurdles. He also confirmed the retention of three full-time assistant coaches for his 2009-10 men's and women's teams.
Van Norman, who was head coach of the Green Wave men's and women's track & field and cross country programs during a tumultuous period caused by the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, replaces Pauline Davis-Thompson, who resigned on June 19 after two years at UT. Additionally, long-time men's cross country/distance coach George Watts has been promoted to associate head coach and will handle those same responsibilities along with aiding Clark with management of the program. Assistant Norbert Elliott will continue in his role of directing men's sprints, while Lady Vol throws coach John Frazier will now assume duties for both the women and men as he did previously at Arizona. Clark expects to fill the final assistant position in the coming weeks.
"I am very elated to announce that Heather Van Norman is our new women's sprint coach," Clark said. "She brings a great deal of experience in the sprint area and a lot of skill in recruiting and dealing with student-athletes. We're looking forward to getting her in orange and out on the road recruiting future Lady Vols.
"I believe the group we have assembled thus far, with George Watts as associate head coach and with Heather, John Frazier and Norbert Elliott serving as assistants, will be one of the best staffs in the country. We're looking forward to wrapping it up with our final hire in the jumps area in the very near future."
For the past seven seasons, Van Norman headed up the women's team at Tulane. In 2005, she oversaw the resurrection of the TU men's program after a two-year hiatus caused by the effects of Katrina. Since arriving in New Orleans in 2002, the former LSU standout built a foundation for her student-athletes to be successful, both in competition and in the classroom.
On the oval, Van Norman's past prowess as an All-American and SEC champion sprinter served her well as a coach, especially with her female sprinters, who made names for themselves at the NCAA level. Among her most noteworthy sprint pupils were former All-American Gloria Asumnu, whose brother Stanley played basketball at Tennessee, as well as Valencia Wilson and Olivia Kizzee. As a junior this year, Kizzee made the NCAA Outdoor semifinals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and was in contention for a trip to the World Championships for her parents' native country of Nigeria.
In her seven seasons in "The Big Easy," Van Norman oversaw 16 NCAA Championship meet appearances, including one All-American, and 44 entries into the NCAA Mideast Regional field. Tulane student-athletes also earned all-conference recognition 144 times and won 14 league championships in various events.
Asumnu, meanwhile, was one of two Green Wave athletes to be named Conference USA Track & Field Freshman of the Year under Van Norman's tenure, winning the honor indoors in 2004. Wilson garnered outdoor acclaim in 2006.
Academically, more than 70 of her charges were selected to the Conference USA Academic Honor Roll, while Helmi Leppanen attained ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District status and Brianne Darragh earned a Conference USA Postgraduate Scholarship during her career.
Prior to her stint at Tulane, Van Norman served four years as an assistant at Georgia Tech and prior to that had a two-year stop at Rice. At Tech, she handled sprints, relays and long hurdles and saw seven of her individuals and one of her relay teams earn All-America accolades. Her tenure at Rice was highlighted by her 4x400m relay team winning the 1997 NCAA Indoor Championship.
A 1994 graduate of LSU who nearly signed with Tennessee out of high school, Van Norman was a six-time All-American for the Tigers. She won three national championships in 1993, doing so as a member of the indoor 4x400m relay team as well as the outdoor 4x100m and 4x400m tandems. She was instrumental in LSU's run of titles during that time, helping the Bayou Bengals claim three-straight NCAA Outdoor crowns from 1991 to 1993, a pair of NCAA Indoor trophies in 1991 and 1993, and SEC Indoor and Outdoor crowns in 1993 and 1995.
In 1991, Van Norman was a member of LSU's American-record-setting 4x200m relay. A year later, she won the 1992 SEC Indoor title in the 400m and competed in that event at the U.S. Olympic Trials in New Orleans.
A USATF level 1 and 2 instructor certified for sprints, jumps, hurdles and relays, Van Norman began her collegiate career at the University of Minnesota, where she was named Freshman Track Athlete of the Year. The Gopher State native is a charter member of the Windom High School Hall of Fame and is active with the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, serving on the USTFCCCA's executive committee for five years and as its current secretary.
As for the returning staff members, Watts is back for his 15th-consecutive season and 25th year overall as a coach at Tennessee. He has earned four coach of the year awards in cross country and track, and has directed 33 All-Americans, 21 SEC champions and four Olympians. Elliott is entering his fifth season working with the male sprinters and hurdlers at UT and his 22nd year of collegiate coaching with previous coaching stops at his alma mater, Texas-El Paso, as well as at Georgia and Murray State (head coach, 2002-04). He was the 2007 Mideast Region Male Assistant Sprint Coach of the Year and has been selected as a coach for the Bahamas National Team on four occasions.
Frazier, meanwhile, was the ideal choice to tackle the men's throws duties. His Lady Vol corps, led by All-American, SEC champion and World Championships competitor Annie Alexander, will have the program's largest and possibly most talented roster in recent memory. His record coaching male athletes at Arizona, his previous stop before coming to Tennessee, demonstrates he will likewise find success working with the Vols. Also a regional coach of the year honoree during his career, Frazier's pupils have achieved a total of 36 All-America honors and won four NCAA Championships.