Sept. 16, 2009
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vols will make their season debut, and the Lady Vols will face their second meet of the 2009 campaign Friday evening, as the Tennessee cross country teams travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the Crimson Classic at Harry Pritchett Running Park.
The trip to Alabama is a change from the original schedule, which called for the Big Orange to host the Tennessee Invitational on Saturday morning at Lambert Acres Golf Club. A lack of teams, however, forced that meet's cancelation. Instead, action in Tuscaloosa begins with the women's 5,000-meter race at 5 p.m. Central Time, followed by the men's 8,000-meter competition at 5:30 p.m. CT. The course is the same one that will host the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 14.
Among the teams slated to be on hand are host Alabama (M/W), Alabama A&M (W), Alabama State (M/W), Auburn (M/W), Belmont (M/W), Chattanooga (M/W), East Tennessee State (M), Georgia Tech (M/W), Huntingdon (M/W), Jackson State (W), Kennesaw State (M/W), LSU (M/W), Mississippi Valley State (M), North Alabama (N/W), Samford (M/W), Stillman (M/W) and Troy (M/W). Nationally-ranked men's teams include No. 10 Alabama and No. 13 Auburn. No women's teams are ranked, but the Lady Vols are receiving votes.
The UT men will hit the trail for their first race as the No. 6 team in the NCAA South Region, according to the USTFCCCA Preseason Rankings that were released this week. Among the top returnees for the Big Orange men are junior Michael Spooner, a 2008 All-South Region and All-SEC honoree, senior Chris Rapp, Tennessee's fourth runner at SECs and regionals in 2008, and sophomore Chris Bodary, a 2008 SEC All-Freshman Team choice.
Fifteenth-year men's cross country coach George Watts is anxious to see what lies ahead for his squad, which returnees eight letterwinners from last year's fifth-place conference and region finishers. He also welcomes seven newcomers and four more coming off redshirt seasons to his 21-man roster.
"We look forward to opening up the season this Friday," Watts said. "I'm not quite sure what to expect from the guys, but we have been training very well over the past four weeks.
"Our goals this Friday are three-fold. First, we want to have a solid, attainable performance for each guy. Next, I would like to see a one minute or less spread between our first and fifth men. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we will run a race on the site of the regional meet."
The Tennessee women, sitting third in the NCAA South Region and receiving votes nationally in the USTFCCCA Preseason Rankings, enter their second competition of the campaign after placing fifth at the Belmont-VU Opener on Sept. 4. They were led in that meet by senior Jackie Areson, who won the 4,000-meter race in a career-best time of 14:04.18. She should have help up front this weekend from junior Brittany Sheffey, who finished 19th in Nashville in 15:02.12, and senior Katie Van Horn, who is slated to make her 2009 debut.
Clark simply sounds hopeful for a time this season where he won't have to pick and choose his travel roster based upon who's sick and who's not.
"Really, I just want our team to recover from the flu bug our team has been hit with and try to move forward," Clark said. "We just want to get back on track, get in shape and move closer to becoming a championship caliber team by the latter part of the season."
Like Watts, Clark is taking the schedule change in stride, even though it means the loss of the squads' only home meet this season.
"Sometimes things can be a blessing in disguise," Clark said. "With this opportunity that presented itself, we get a chance to see the regional course. No one on our team has run on that course before, so we get a chance to do that, get in better shape and recover from the illnesses that have been plaguing our team. We're just looking forward to a good meet."
The Vols are making their first appearance at the Crimson Classic, while the Lady Vols are making their second visit. The UT women won the meet back in 2003 in Clark's second season as coach. The squads also are making their first treks to Tuscaloosa since 2004, when they competed in the NCAA South Regional there. The Tennessee women won that meet, while the men placed sixth.