Nov. 16, 2004
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In his first three years as University of Tennessee head women's cross country coach, J.J. Clark has built his program into one of the nation's top distance powerhouses. After watching Clark's Lady Vols win their third-consecutive NCAA regional championship on Nov. 13, his peers named him USTCA/WICCCA South Region Coach of the Year for the third time in as many seasons on Tuesday.
The award is the fourth of Clark's 13-year coaching career, which includes 10 seasons as cross country coach at the University of Florida. During his time in Gainesville, the younger brother of former Lady Vol Joetta Clark steered the Lady Gators to region crowns in 1997 and 1998 and was accorded South Region Coach of the Year kudos after the first of those two titles. USTCA is an acronym for United States Track Coaches Association, and WICCCA stands for Women's Intercollegiate Cross Country Coaches Association.
Clark has guided the 2004 UT edition to the school's second-straight Southeastern Conference championship, its third region crown in a row as well as its third-straight appearance in the NCAA Championship meet. Those repeat accomplishments are all school firsts, as is the gaudy overall season record of 111-5 that Clark's troops have accumulated. With another meet remaining in the current campaign, that victory total surpasses last season's previous UT-best tally of 99 (vs. 31 losses).
Under the third-year skipper's direction, the Big Orange women also have won more meets this season than in any other of the school's 31 years of sponsoring women's cross country. Tennessee rang up victories at the Mel Brodt Invitational on Sept. 11, the Paul Short Run on Sept. 25, the Tennessee Invitational on Oct. 1, the SEC Championships on Oct. 30 and the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 13.
With his success this season, Clark has moved into a tie as the second winningest coach in program history after only three seasons in Knoxville. Clark's 269-70-1 slate matches the four-year victory output that Missy Kane achieved from 1988 to 1991 and ranks behind only 10-year veteran and Lady Vol Hall of Famer Terry Crawford, who assembled a mark of 303-76-1 from 1974 to 1983.
"It is always nice to be honored by your peers for something you've done," Clark said. "It is certainly a compliment to our program.
"We have concentrated on trying to restore the old Tennessee tradition to track and cross country. We're not where I want to be, yet, but we are beginning to be recognized as one of the top programs in the nation again because of the way our athletes have been performing at the SEC and NCAA level and beyond."
Clark will put the cross country team's record and ranking on the line on Nov. 22, as he leads his 14th-ranked Lady Vols to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete in the 2004 NCAA Championship meet. The women's 6,000-meter race is slated for 11 a.m. Eastern time at the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course.