SEC Track Championships set to begin

It's hard to imagine being busier than Tennessee track and field head coach J.J. Clark. With SEC Championships set to start on Friday and run throughout the weekend in Fayetteville, Ark., Clark is gearing his athletes for a competitive finish to the indoor track and field season before national competition begins.

It's hard to imagine being busier than Tennessee track and field head coach J.J. Clark.

With SEC Championships set to start on Friday and run throughout the weekend in Fayetteville, Ark., Clark is gearing his athletes for a competitive finish to the indoor track and field season before national competition begins.

While leading the women's track team for seven years, Clark has coached to two national championships in indoor track, as well as five consecutive top-five finishes in outdoor.

Now given the reins of the men's program as well, after the retirement of long-time head coach Bill Webb, Clark is ready to add to his already tremendous history as a track and field coach.

"With the women I was kind of on auto-pilot," Clark said. "Then the men were added and I wanted that task, and I enjoy doing it, but we had to redefine different responsibilities for this staff."

The ride so far has been smooth for Clark, who described an overly extended pit-stop at a Subway restaurant as the most disorganized event of the season.

"Like with the women we'd go out to Subway when we go to a meet," Clark said. "Out of there in 30, 40 minutes. We stopped in at Subway (with the whole team) and now it takes 2 hours, got to plan better."

The merger of the men's and women's track teams makes Tennessee the ninth school in the conference to try the approach. It also marks the first time a sport at Tennessee has moved in that direction.

Regardless, Clark has expressed satisfaction at the combination, citing an increase in team unity and camaraderie.

"Absolutely, even with recruiting, they may go out together more, they're around each other more, and that's good," Clark said. "That's not the way it should be, but it's the way I'd like it to be."

With the NCAA Indoor Championships also set for Fayetteville, Ark. two weeks after conference championships, some might believe Tennessee's familiarity with the stage could provide a boost.

"I'd say yes and no," Clark said. "I think that the cream is going to rise to the top… Now, is it nice to visualize the place before you get there and have an idea what's going to go on, I would like that. We're trying to do everything to enhance performance, so going to the SEC meet and coming back to the NCAA meet is welcome."

Expectations are high as always in Big Orange country, with the Lady Vols team currently ranked fourth nationally, according to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association rankings.

The men's team has yet to break the top 25 this season, but a few promising Vols could make waves at conference championships.

The pole vaulting duo of junior Joe Berry and sophomore Robert Rasnick are looking to add to their season-best mark of 17-0 ¾, currently tied for second in the SEC.

At the Rod McCravy Memorial meet in late January, senior sprinter Evander Wells lowered his NCAA provisional times in the 60 and 200 meter dashes with times of 6.66 and 20.99 seconds, en route to runner-up finishes.

The loss of highly-touted freshman sprinter Dentarius Locke in January to eligibility issues hurt the Vols chances this season, but Coach Clark is optimistic for the future of the team and his young sprinter.

"Of course we wanted Dentarius to be running this season," Clark said. "I'm a man of faith and I believe things happen for a reason. Right now, he may not be able to see why, but maybe in his fifth year when he's cruising down the track, we'll be happy to have his fifth year. The first year is most turbulent anyway. Locke will be fine next year as he's done well in school and training."

Locke was ranked No. 1 in the 100 and 200 meters according to Track & Field News. The youngster, who hails from Tampa, Fla., set state high school records in the 100 (10.31) and 200 (20.58).

Leading the Lady Vols into Fayetteville is a plethora of All-America talent, led by junior Annie Alexander (throws), sophomore Ashley Harris (sprints), junior Brittany Jones (sprints), senior Kimarra McDonald (middle distance), sophomore Chanelle Price (middle distance), sophomore Brittany Sheffey (distance), sophomore Ellen Wortham (jumps/hurdles/sprints) and senior Phoebe Wright (middle distance).

With a list like that, it's no secret that Coach Clark has worked to assemble a highly competitive squad.

The talented Lady Vols lineup is looking to defend its first place finishes in the SEC and National Indoor Championships in 2009.

The SEC Indoor Championships begin Friday at 1 p.m. CT with the men's 60 meters. All events take place at the Randal Tyson Track Center on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, Ark.


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