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Lady Vol Cross Country Team Preparing For 2009 Campaign
Jackie Areson

Jackie Areson

Aug. 28, 2009


By Eric Trainer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With the 2009 season set to open on Sept. 4 at the Belmont Opener in Nashville, the University of Tennessee women's cross country team is busy preparing for its debut race. Replacing two key seniors and developing a supporting cast to complement a trio of returning standouts will be job one for eighth-year skipper J.J. Clark.

The winningest women's cross country coach in school history with a 723-195-1 record in seven seasons, Clark has guided his program to five NCAA Championship berths, four NCAA South Region titles and three SEC Championships since 2002. He lost his first All-American at UT, Sarah Bowman, and Rolanda Bell to graduation, but he welcomes back eight returning letterwinners from a squad that finished third at both the SEC Championships and NCAA South Regional. Among them are seniors Jackie Areson and Katie Van Horn, and junior Brittany Sheffey.

Areson, a native of Delray Beach, Fla., ran to All-South Region honors in 2006 and 2008 and returns after qualifying individually along with Bowman for last year's NCAA Championship meet. Van Horn, who redshirted due to injury a year ago, opted to run cross country despite having no eligibility remaining in track. The Glendora, N.J., product earned All-South Region status in 2006 and 2007 as well as All-SEC recognition two years ago. Sheffey, meanwhile, had a breakout year as a sophomore. The pride of Bellport, N.Y., collected both All-South and All-SEC acclaim for her efforts.

Below are their comments during a recent Q&A session.

J.J. Clark (Eighth Season As Women's Cross Country Coach At UT)

On where his group stands now, in terms of its training...

"We're not where we need to be, from the standpoint of being a championship team, but that's why we come here to train and get in shape. I look forward to us building as the season goes on. We typically don't start out in the best possible shape, but we are definitely working toward that and gearing toward good performances later in the year."

On the leadership his team has...

"We have outstanding leadership with (Jackie) Areson, (Katie) Van Horn and (Brittany) Sheffey. I look forward to them getting in there along with Phoebe Wright and working with the younger group and getting them straight. It's really a good situation for our team and our younger runners."

On running at home for the Tennessee Invitational...

"It's always exciting to run on our home course. That's always something we look forward to, because we don't get out there much. Hopefully we can get some people out there and showcase our team, which is always fun."

On how he is addressing the loss of seniors Sarah Bowman and Rolanda Bell to graduation...

"As always, when you lose people, someone has to step up. Who is it going to be? Only time will tell. When folks graduate, other people have to step up. That's the way it works. I'm looking forward to seeing who will be the ones to do that. Someone will."

Katie Van Horn (Senior, Glendora, N.J.)

On her thoughts about starting the 2009 season...

"I'm really excited, because last year I didn't run cross country at all due to an injury. One of the things I enjoy about cross country a little more than track is that it feels like we're more of a team. The top five runners score all season long, so that helps us come together a little more. Whereas with track, it's a lot more individual during the course of the season until you come to the championship meets.

"I really enjoy training for cross country and training over the summer to prepare for the season. This time of year, I get really excited and want to race again. It's been three months since I last raced, so I'm a little anxious and nervous. I didn't run all last season, so I need to fine-tune some things and know how to go out there and race a 6K. I'm confident and excited that we're going to have a good season."

On what it's like to prepare for what amounts to her second senior season after redshirting last season...

"It's a second chance for me. Now, I know this is my last season. Last year, it was kind of up in the air with the injury. Am I running, or am I not running? Now, it's my last hurrah, and I want to go out with a bang. I have high expectations for myself, and I really want the team to do well at SECs and regionals, and qualify for nationals. I am really excited and happy to be here this year to compete, and I'm healthy and ready to go."

On the mix of veterans and newcomers as well as long and middle distance runners on this year's team...

"I feel as though a lot of us have experience, which is good. We also have some diversity in terms of the types of runners we have. Jackie (Areson) and I are longer distance runners, but Brittany (Sheffey) is more middle distance and is right up there with us in practices and races even though she might not enjoy cross country as much as the longer distance runners. She is very competitive and aggressive when it comes to cross country, and so is Phoebe (Wright). Phoebe ran amazingly in cross country last year and really stepped up to be in our top five.

"Chanelle (Price) has a lot of talent, and I know she's going to be right up there with us, too, this season. Ally (Colvin) and (Elizabeth) have a lot of potential, too. They kind of had to go through their freshman year last season and just experience everything. I remember my freshman year. It was kind of a struggle getting into the routine. They went through that, though, and I feel as though they are ready to push forward and have a great season."

On Coach J.J. Clark's coaching style and how he tailors that to each athlete and team he has...

"Each year, he has a similar style of coaching, but he tweaks it based on the runners we have on the team. Last year, we had Sarah and Rolanda, and this year they obviously are not here anymore. So his approach is to just work with what we have.

"He's very good about getting everyone pumped up for practice and getting into the training together so that when it comes time to race we can execute, and we are prepared for the race. He does a really good job of individualizing the summer training plans and getting in plenty of base work for everyone. I'm really confident in him, and our practice schedule this season is going to be right on cue. We just need to follow it accordingly."

Brittany Sheffey (Junior, Bellport, N.Y.)

On how her summer has gone...

"My summer went well. I really enjoyed spending some time with my family, and just being able to be around them helped me relax a little more and train."

On her goals and hopes for her junior season...

"I'm a junior and upperclassman now, so I am really excited about the possibilities. I want to be strong and confident and go into the races ready to run."

On how much her success last season in cross country boosted her confidence heading into 2009...

"It helped me a lot. It made me believe I can be strong throughout the whole, entire race. My freshman year, I was a little nervous, and it made me a little more cautious to go out harder. Now, I have even more confidence to believe I can run hard throughout the entire race."

On missing the 2009 track season due to illness and how it made her appreciate running...

"I'm really excited to be back. It really hurt (missing last track season). My team did some really great things that I wished I could have been a part of, but I was happy to cheer for them and see all that they accomplished. I was really sad that I couldn't join in on all of that, so that makes me even more excited to get back. I know that cross country helps with your base for indoor season, so that even further excites me about running cross country. It just makes you stronger, and I really look forward to improving in that area and helping out our team again this year."

On whether she is seen more as one of this team's leaders now that she's an upperclassman...

"I see where that could be the case, but I'm just focused on helping out the team. I know that there will be a little more expected of me, because we lost two great runners (Sarah Bowman and Rolanda Bell) from last year. We still have some great runners on this team, and I just want to do the best I can to help them. The better I do, the better it will help the team."

On the team dynamic this year...

"I believe we'll have a close-knit team this year that is hopefully, God-willing, going to run tighter together and just have a strong bond that's going to bring us through and do very well this season."

On how Coach J.J. Clark has helped her...

"He's helped me a lot. He's very encouraging, and he's a fun coach to have. It's not like he's domineering over you. He knows how to be a friend and a coach at the same time. He knows how to get his message across and be strict when he needs to be, but he's also a very nice person and a great father figure for us."

Jackie Areson (Senior, Delray Beach, Fla.)

On whether she was able to have the kind of training this summer that she had hoped...

"Yeah. I started off slow, just because I've started off too quickly in some years, thought I was in great shape and just kind of died out. I'm really excited about this season. I had a really good track season last year, so I am hoping for more success in cross country, and I want it to be great."

On how much last season's success boosted her confidence for 2009...

"It gave me a lot (of confidence), because I never considered myself a cross country runner. I always just thought of myself as a miler. Running well in cross country and moving to the 5K in track and running so well after never really doing the 5K made me realize that I actually am a cross country runner now. I really want to be an All-American, so that is my goal, and I'm going to try to attain that or get as close as I can to it."

On whether she thinks she'll pick up where she left off last track season...

"I'm not really sure at this point. I'll probably need at least the first race to see how I feel. Mentally, I am a lot stronger and tougher, so even if I am in not in great shape, initially, mentally I am a lot better. That will make me better."

On whether she sees her role being different this year with the departure of two seniors...

"Not really. I pretty much know what I have to do and don't really think about being a leader, being in the back or wherever. I know if I do my best, then that will be the best for the team, and we'll all do well. I just really think about running the best I can."

On her thoughts about this team and the team-oriented nature of cross country...

"I'm just really excited. I really like our team. I know we have a lot of young runners, so I really want to help them get better and get more confidence. Cross country is more of a team sport, and it just makes it more fun. If you get close, it makes you want to do well for everyone. But, I still think of it as myself, and that if I do my best, then it will be the best for the team. That's kind of how I look at it."

On her athlete-coach relationship with Coach J.J. Clark...

"I think the most important thing is that I can be honest with him. I can tell him everything I'm feeling, and he won't put me down for anything. I share with him what I need, because I know that's going to make me better. He respects that, and I like that he listens instead of just thinking that we don't know about our own bodies. That's the best thing about him. He cares about what we feel."

On the team's goals this season...

"Well, we haven't made nationals as a team in two years, so that's really the main goal, just trying to get to nationals. Stepping up and getting better each race is a goal we will have. We have a lot of younger runners, so it may take them a while, but we just want to instill in them that we need to do our best every race and try to get to nationals at the end of the season."

 

 

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