Cross country season begins today at Tennessee with what senior Chris Bodary describes as a "good vibe" around the team.
A good vibe is a good sign for a team that underwent a jolting coaching change barely two months ago.
UT's men and women launch the 2011 season today in Nashville at the Belmont Opener. For the first time in his 10 years at Tennessee, J.J. Clark is coaching not only the Lady Vols but also the men.
It was around the Fourth of July the UT men learned longtime cross-country (and assistant track) coach George Watts was being let go in the continuing merger of the men's and women's programs under the combined direction of Clark.
Bodary, a senior from Pennsylvania, was thrust into a leadership role for a young men's team laden with freshmen who had been recruited by Watts.
"Before George left, he told me he was going to have me as a captain this year,'' Bodary said. "So a lot of guys came to me.''
Bodary, who hopes to one day coach on the college level, advised them to not be shy about taking their concerns and questions to Clark and talk it out.
It appears to have been sound advice.
"There's not been any problems with the transition,'' Bodary said. "We have a huge freshman class, but other than that we've got a real good chemistry.
"I wouldn't say I ever got depressed or anything. J.J. has had a lot of success and change is always interesting.''
While some men's alumni have gone public with concerns about the program's direction, Clark said the mood within the cross-country team has been business as usual.
"It really hasn't been that much to deal with,'' he said. "Everybody came back in good spirits. We just came in and got to work without a lot of laboring over it.''
The laboring is over conditioning, which is, as always, geared for peaking for the postseason.
The Lady Vols, beset by injuries and graduation, finished last in the SEC meet in 2010. Brittany Sheffey is the key returnee after missing last season.
The men, who finished fourth in the SEC, have lost lead man Michael Spooner. Bodary is the top returnee, along with sophomore Jake Rainey.
Clark said coaching both teams isn't "reinventing the wheel." He is assisted by Mary Jane Reeves, a new member of the staff who essentially replaced Watts.
"I'm a coach, that's what I like to do,'' Clark said. "I've just got another group.
"I just look at where we are and what has to be
done. It's all about maximizing our potential.''
The time to do that will be the SEC meet, which is in Maryville on Oct. 31.