UT's Clark is coach of year

Second-year University of Tennessee skipper J.J. Clark has been selected as the 2003 Southeastern Conference Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year, the league office announced Tuesday.

Clark, who on Nov. 3 led the Lady Volunteers to their first SEC cross country team championship in 13 years and the program's third crown overall, was chosen by a vote of his peers. The selection marks the third SEC Coach of the Year award of his 12-year career, with the two previous occasions coming in 1996 and 1997 as he led the University of Florida to back-to-back trophies during the midst of his 10-year run in Gainesville.

While Clark picked up the women's plaque, Arkansas legend John McDonnell walked away with the title of SEC Men's Coach of the Year for the ninth-straight year and 12th time overall. Angela Homan of Auburn and Thomas Morgan of Kentucky were the SEC Female and Male Athletes of the Year, respectively, while Georgia's Kristin Heffelfinger and Arkansas‚ Mike Poe drew nods for SEC Freshmen of the Year.

With the distinction, Clark ended a five-year monopoly of the award by Arkansas coach Lance Harter, who has claimed 10 such honors since UA joined the conference prior to the 1991 season. In fact, Clark is the only league mentor other than Harter to be named SEC Women's Coach of the Year or to spur his troops on to a team title since the Lady Razorbacks came upon the scene.

The UT leader, who is now 158-65-1 in two seasons in Knoxville, joins two former Big Orange guides who also earned women‚s coach of the year acclaim. Missy Kane was the last to garner honors, leading her 1990 squad to the SEC hardware, while Lady Vol Hall of Famer Terry Crawford collected kudos after directing Tennessee to the title in the inaugural women's conference championship race in 1983.

For the season, Clark‚s troops finished with an overall record of 99-31, charting the most victories in a campaign in school history. En route to wresting the SEC title away from 10-time champ Arkansas in 2003, the 1986 Villanova graduate produced a lineup that forged a 21-0 resumé against conference foes this year. Greatly enhancing the cumulative victory total were meet wins at the Crimson Classic Invitational on Sept. 19, the SEC meet on Nov. 3 and the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 15.

The South conquest was Tennessee's second-straight under Clark and only the fourth region or district pennant ever won by a UT contingent. The most recent triumph earned him South Coach of the Year distinction for the second year in a row and the third time in his career, including a 1997 award he picked up while at UF.

As a result of the South Region victory, Clark once again took his team to the NCAA Championships, this time in Waterloo, Iowa. After finishing tied for 28th at nationals a year ago, his second edition notched a 24th-place outcome that was two spots better than the team's final FinishLynx/NCAA Division I Women‚s Cross Country Poll ranking of 26.

Now that the cross country campaign is behind him, Clark has turned his focus to the oval, where he is preparing his UT women's track & field team for the 2004 season opener. The Lady Vols, who finished 23rd indoors and 22nd outdoors at the 2003 NCAA Championships, will begin the slate at home with the Nov. 9 Tennessee All-Comers Meet in Stokely Athletics Center.


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