Vols Cross Country preparing for big challenge at SEC Championships

Zach Long during the Tennessee Rust Buster at Tom Black Track on March 25, 2017.

Tennessee track and field’s Zach Long is coming off of a historic performance on Saturday at the Bob Pollack Invitational.

The junior distance runner from Rutledge, Tennessee, broke a 28-year old program record with a time of 7:59.15 in the 3,000-meter race. The record was previously held by Glenn Morgan, who set it in 1990.

“As the race progressed, Coach (Beth Alford-Sullivan) and I adjusted, and we knew that we did have a shot (at breaking the record) going into the last 800 meters,” Long said. “That’s when it really started to become a reality.”

The milestone reached at Clemson University on Saturday is just one of several that Long has reached since coming to Knoxville three years ago.

When Tennessee director of track and field and cross country Beth Alford-Sullivan was asked about Long’s impact on the team, she answered that Long has emerged not only as a star athlete on the track for the Vols but also as a leader and an example to the other athletes.

“There’s a couple of things that stand out about Zach Long,” Alford-Sullivan said. “We noticed this in the recruiting process with him. He encompasses everything: Great passion, great leadership, great dedication and a great care for representing us.”

As one of the Vols’ top performers in track and field and cross country, Long puts a lot into his preparation for each week and believes that his strength has been his biggest improvement since his freshman season.

“My strength is a lot stronger,” Long said. “One of my weaknesses in high school was the mid-part of the race. It always made me or broke me. Since I’ve been at Tennessee, I feel like I’ve become mentally stronger, especially in the mid-part and just getting to the end of the race.”

Long joined Tennessee in 2015 as a local product of Grainger County High School in nearby Rutledge. Coming out of high school, Long considered Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas and Oklahoma before ultimately deciding to stay with his hometown school.

Since that time, Long has achieved numerous program and personal bests, including making All-SEC in cross country in 2017. He relishes the opportunity to run for Tennessee.

“I don’t see myself as anything special,” Long said. “I’m just a small-town kid from Grainger County, Tennessee, that’s living out his dream running for Tennessee.”

Being the competitor that he is, Long — with the 3,000-meter record now in hand — is looking to achieve more before the end of his college career.

“I definitely hope to improve on the 7:59 record that I have right now,” Long said. “I hope to drop that down. I’d also like to break the 5K records and the mile record as well.”

With the 2018 indoor season and his junior campaign in full swing, Long hopes that he has set a positive example for the players around him, particularly the underclassmen.

“I hope (I) set an example of resiliency,” Long said. “I hope they are grateful for the opportunity to run for Tennessee. I hope they are able to take advantage of the opportunity of the program, the coaches. I just hope they keep rising up like they have been.”

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