J.J. Clark led the Lady Vols to the first-ever regional title.
Nov. 19, 2002
J.J. Clark, the first-year skipper of the University of Tennessee women's cross country team, was named the South Region Coach of the Year Tuesday by the Women's Intercollegiate Cross Country Coaches Association. Clark received the honor from his peers, who chose him after his team's victorious performance at the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 16.
Clark, who spent 10 highly successful years as cross country coach and track & field assistant at the University of Florida, was accorded similar distinction in 1996 after leading the Lady Gators to an NCAA District title that season. He was hired in May of 2002 to take over the Lady Volunteer cross country and track & field programs. As if UT Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan didn't already know she had selected the right person for the job, Clark has gone out of his way to validate her decision.
On Saturday, his squad won the program's first NCAA South Regional championship and claimed the first regional or district cross country crown by the school since 1983. That triumph qualifed the Lady Volunteers for their first NCAA Championships berth since 1998 and only the Big Orange's sixth trip since beginning NCAA competition in 1981.
Additionally, four of his pupils, senior Sharon Dickie (Grand Blanc, Mich.), sophomore Brooke Novak (Kaukauna, Wis.) and freshmen Megan Cauble (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) were named to the All-South Region squad as Tennessee prevailed for the team title, 72-74, over Florida State. That total of honorees, by the way, was another UT record for regional or district competition.
"Everything came together Saturday, and we had a solid race at the right time," said Clark. "What we accomplished is really exciting, because something like that hadn't happened here since 1983 when I was still in college. That's a long time ago.
"It (the award) means the team is going in the right direction and that we are peaking at the right time. We still aren't where we need to be, but we are continuing to move toward achieving our goal of becoming one of the top programs in the nation."
En route to leading the Lady Vols to a 57-7 overall record and a 16-2 slate against Southeastern Conference foes this year, Clark's squad recorded victories at the season-opening Tennessee Invitational, at the adidas Wolfpack Classic (over No. 6 N.C. State) and the UTC Invitational. UT was also sixth at the PSU National Invitational and posted a third-place finish at the SEC Championships, the program's second-straight top-three finish there and only the third upper echelon league showing in the past 12 seasons.
Clark and his squad will leave Saturday for Terre Haute, Ind., where the Lady Vols will compete Monday in the NCAA Championships. The 6000-meter women's race, which is slated to start at noon, will be hosted by Indiana State University and held on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center.
"Our objective at this point is to get there healthy," Clark shared. "You are either in shape by now or not. We just want to go to Indiana and try to duplicate or improve upon the effort we had at the regional meet."