With an almost preseason-like competition in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and a training week out of the way, Tennessee’s track and field team is ready to get back to work.
It will be a split squad this weekend as the sprinters will head to Gainesville, Florida, while the distance runners and throwers head out west to Stanford, California.
Head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said the Florida Relays puts an emphasis on sprints, relays, and jumps while the Stanford Invitational is an elite meet for distance runners and has a wonderful set-up for throws.
It is early in the season, but Alford-Sullivan is excited to see all of the Vols’ relay teams in action. Tennessee took both men and women’s 4x400 meter relay team to the Indoor NCAA National Championships and both took fifth place.
“Both men’s and women’s 4x100 will open up,” Alford-Sullivan said. “We’ll run a 4x1, 4x2, and a 4x4 down at Florida and I’m anxious to see how our 4x1 goes. Early season again but I think we’ve got some pretty high caliber 4x1.”
There will be carry over from the indoor relays to the outdoor relays. Many of the same personal will run in the 4x4 and other relays.
Both current 200 meter Indoor National Champions, Christian Coleman and Felicia Brown, will begin their outdoor campaigns in Florida. Both will run in the 100 meters which Alford-Sullivan said everyone has been anticipating and is excited about. The Vols will take 25 to 30 athletes to Florida while 10 or 11 will go to Stanford.
Austin Whitelaw will run the 5,000 meters and Chelsea Blaase will run in the 10,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational. Cameron Brown, two-time SEC Champion in the weight throw and third place finisher at the 2016 NCAA Indoor National Championships, will compete in the hammer throw.
“She (Blaase) is very prepped and primed and ready to go,” Alford-Sullivan said. “This is early one shot at that 10K, this is about the best she’ll get in terms of competitive and environmental opportunities.”
Last season, Blaase won a Bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at the SEC Championships and placed sixth at NCAA Outdoor National Championships. Blaase ran a time of 33:27.73 at nationals. The time to qualify for the Olympic Trials this summer is 32:25. Her personal best time in the 10,000 is 32:28.39 which Blaase set last season.
Alford-Sullivan said it is logical to think that Blaase will hit that standard and make it to the Olympic Trials this summer.
While Blaase looks to make it to the Trials, several of her teammates have already qualified. Coleman, Felicia Brown, Cassie Wertman, and Jake Blankenship are just a few. Even with the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio less than 130 days away, Alford-Sullivan has a team to run and wants her athletes to focus on Tennessee.
“Our sport will be represented by college kids,” Alford-Sullivan said. “You are probably talking about a quarter to a third of those being college-aged students. Our focus here at Tennessee and pretty much everywhere for the collegiate is ‘hey this is where our focus is.’
“We are representing Tennessee and we’re going to take this as far as we can get it at the NCAA level. If you happen to be in a situation to make it to the Trials and beyond we’ll support you there but (Tennessee) is your primary focus.”
For the Vols that focus for the outdoor season begins this weekend at Florida and Stanford.
“This will definitely be a work weekend,” Alford-Sullivan said.