J.J. Clark’s Three-Time Defending Champs Collect Five Of 12 First-Place Votes
Despite returning four all-league performers from a squad that won its third straight Southeastern Conference championship last season, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers have been predicted by conference coaches to finish second behind Arkansas in the SEC Preseason Cross Country Poll, released Monday.
The Lady Razorbacks, who finished second at the SEC Championships to UT by three points last season and by two the season before, collected seven first-place votes to wind up with 117 points. UA has won 10 league titles since joining the conference in 1991, but the Tennessee harriers put a stop to a Lady’Back streak of five by starting a school-best three-year spree of their own in 2003.
The Lady Vols, who welcome back two-time All-SEC honorees Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) and Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) as well as sophomores Sarah Bowman (Warrenton, Va.) and Leah Soro (Knoxville, Tenn.), who earned all-league acclaim as rookies, tallied 114 points and five first-place votes. Georgia was picked third with 99 points, followed by Florida (88), Kentucky (76), Mississippi State (60), Alabama (59), Vanderbilt (56), Auburn (55), LSU (29), South Carolina (23) and Ole Miss (16).
“I understand why they didn’t pick us (as the favorite),” Clark said. “It is very clear that, even though we have four all-conference runners returning from last year, that they (the coaches) didn’t think we were the best. That’s good. It gives us something to work for.
“As I have said many times before, I don’t put much stock in preseason polls. We just have to buckle down, go to the meet (SEC Championships) and let the meet decide who is champion.”
The Big Orange skipper returns for his fifth season at the helm of the Lady Vols. During his first four seasons at UT, he has guided Tennessee to a record of 404-122-1, which ranks him as the all-time winningest cross country coach in school history. Clark has been named SEC Coach of the Year the past three seasons after helping the Lady Vols secure league trophies, as well as in 1996 and 1997, when he led the University of Florida to conference titles.
Clark’s 2006 squad will make its season debut on Friday evening, when it travels to Nashville to compete in the 4,000-meter Belmont Opener at 5:30 p.m. CT