Photo By Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics
Photo By Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

Posted on August 29, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee. — Tennessee’s cross country team finally has a place to call home–Tennessee Cross Country Course at Cherokee Farm.

For years the team competed at the Lambert Acres Golf Club in Maryville, Tennessee, but thanks to the efforts of Donna Thomas, senior associate athletics director/senior woman administrator, and Dr. David Millhorn, vice president of the University of Tennessee system, that is no longer the case. The cross country Vols can now call the Tennessee Cross Country Course at Cherokee Farm home.

Cherokee Farm is also the home of the Tennessee golf practice facility, and while visiting the area, Thomas was struck with the idea of housing the cross country team there as well.

“As I was driving around I thought, `Man, this would be a great place for a cross country course,'” Thomas said.

After showing the track and field/cross country coaches the area and discussing it with them, she went to work. Thomas met with Dr. Millhorn in the fall of 2013 and discussed what the main goal for the Cherokee Farm facility would be.

Once that stretch of the greenway was finished, the plans for the new cross country course began to pick up steam. The fields were mowed and course markers placed. Seeds were planted and grass was transported to create the best possible racing environment.

The plans didn’t just include planting grass and making the ground great for racing, it will also be an area where faculty and students alike can run or walk the course. But ultimately, it’s main purpose will be the home of Tennessee cross country.

For Thomas it has been a long time coming.

“That cross country course is sort of a dream come true for me,” Thomas said. “I always wanted a place that our student-athletes could practice consistently and compete that was close to campus.”

While the Lambert Acres Golf Club has served the Volunteers well, the distance from campus has limited the number of people who could come out to the cross country meets. Thomas said the Cherokee Farm location, only an eight-minute drive from campus versus the 32 minutes it takes to get to Lambert Acres Golf Club, allows for more fans and students to come out and support their Vols.

Nestled along the bank of the Tennessee River, the course is very viewer-friendly. The course has a 2-kilometer loop and a 1-kilometer loop, which means a race could pass the same area at least three times.

Head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said it is hard to find a course that is both big enough and also contained enough to let spectators see the majority of the race instead of only seeing just the start and finish.

“As spectators, you’re not as mobile as the kids,” Alford-Sullivan said. “Obviously you can’t run as fast.”

There will be an area above the course that is set aside for spectators to tailgate and watch the race. For the more hardcore fans, they will still be able to get down along the course itself. Just beware; the course is a difficult one.

“There are some serious hills, and it’s kind of on a hillside, which makes it more interesting,” sophomore and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, native Wesley Robinson said. “The footing has definitely improved, but it’s a tough course.”

Sophomore Jessica Rizor believes the short course allows for the runners to have a better idea about when to make their move.

“It’s kind of short, which could benefit you if you’re doing multiple loops; you know exactly what you’re going to come up against. In a shorter course, you don’t really have to try and remember every single spot.”

The last time Tennessee hosted a cross country meet, none of the current athletes were on the team. The Vols’ last home meet was the 2011 Tennessee Invitational at Lambert Acres. At that meet, former Tennessee Vol Brittany Sheffey secured her first career victory while Chris Bodary claimed a second-place finish for the men. The five-year drought Tennessee has endured since last hosting an event will end Sept. 3.

“Right now it’s in very, very good shape and we’re excited to actually host a competition on it,” Alford-Sullivan said.

While Alford-Sullivan and Thomas are excited about hosting a meet and having a home course, it’s the athletes who are most ecstatic.

“It’s your course and it’s easier to feel the Tennessee pride when you wear your jersey,” Rizor said. “I want to defend our course because this is our home.”

Rizor’s twin sister, Julia, added, “It’s our turf.”

Home is so important. Home is where you run to when things get tough; home is the escape, the safe refuge. Finally, the Tennessee cross country runners know what that feels like. How comfortable home is.

“Personally I just like having a home course,” Julia Rizor said. “A place to call home, a place that you know.”

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