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interviewed by Cara Hawkins & Dave Milner 04.12.09

Knox West’s Matt Sonnenfeldt had an impressive senior cross country season. He won the Tennessee State AAA Cross Country championship in 15:42 at Percy Warner Park. Sonnenfeldt followed up this State win with qualifying for Footlocker with a personal record of 14:50. Sonnenfeldt was runner-up behind Alabama’s Bill Matthews. He finished in 21st place with a time of 15:56.

The year has not been easy one for Sonnenfeldt. Six days before his State win, Sonnenfeldt learned that his best friend, Markie Voyles, had lost her life in a single vehicle accident. Voyles, a senior at White County High School, was a fellow cross country runner and a recent district champion. Sonnenfeldt had talked to her just hours before the accident. It was a rough time in his life but Sonnenfeldt persevered, displaying great maturity. (Click here for a great article written by Fran McLaughlin for Milesplit)

Sonnenfeldt recently committed to University of Kentucky, where he will be a part of the men’s cross country and track team. Before then, he has a few goals to accomplish. Namely, winning a State track title and trying to get ahead in the rivalry between Sean Keveren and himself.

TR caught up with him the day after he lowered his 3200m PR to 9:06.08 (#17 in the U.S so far this year) at the Arcadia Inviational in California.

TR: Congratulations on a great cross-country season and a great run at Arcadia last week. Let's back up a few years, though, and tell us how you began running?

MS: I began running with Knoxville track club. I did it just to do it, really. I made friends and kept going back to hang out with friends. I really was not serious 'til eighth grade. I mainly wanted to play football. When I got to high school, though, I knew I had to make a decision. I just saw more potential in running

TR: Both your parents are runners (Marty Sonnenfeldt was an All-SEC distance runner at the University of Tennessee in the mid-1970s who married Lady Vols middle-distance specialist Betty Shell). Did you ever feel any pressure to follow in their footsteps?

MS: Not at all actually. They let me gradually get into running. I played soccer first, and then decided to get into running.

TR: Your Dad took over your coaching your junior year. What has that been like?

MS: I don’t think it is hard at all. He has been coaching me my whole life - including AAU track and soccer. We butt heads every once in a while, but not often. He always has my best interest at heart.

TR: You had a very successful senior cross country season, winning state and going to footlocker. Was there anything else you would have liked to accomplish that you did not get a chance to?

MS: I would have liked to be All-American at Footlocker. I really wanted top ten but if not top ten, at least All-American. I came in thinking I would be in top ten, but fell a little short.

TR: Did you take any time off between Cross and training for track?

MS: I always take time off - about a week - and all I do is basically core strength work. If I get bored, I will maybe bike, but no swimming. I definitely sink, and not swim!

TR: Arcadia was obviously a very encouraging benchmark for you. What are you goals going into this rest of this track season?

MS: I want to go Nike Outdoor and getting some bragging rights on Sean [Keveren].

TR: You're currently 3.4 seconds behind schedule, since Sean clocked 9:02.61. How do you intend to catch up that ground?

MS: Haha, yeah, I definitely noticed that. I just plan on doing the same things I've been doing all season. Training hard and being patient.

TR: What type of work-outs do you on a semi-regular basis to gauge your fitness?

MS: 10 x 400m with 60 seonds rest and it is a nice tough work-out. It hurts pretty bad, but it absolutely checks fitness. During Cross Country, I do time trials.

TR: Do you have any large meets penciled in for this spring?

MS: I don’t really want to peak early. The Vol track classic this week, that's the meet my dad directs; I would like to do well there. Beyond that, I really want to win a State title. Track the last two year has just been a horrible season for me

TR: Are you considering tripling at State?

MS: No, my dad will not let me triple. I think is a little overrated. I don’t know if I could win an 800. If I was to triple and I would want to win all three, and the 800m is just too stacked.

TR: I have heard you and Sean are close. How would you describe your relationship?

MS: It is a little rivalry and so it would be great to better his times so he can’t call me slow anymore!

TR: What would be the perfect ending for your high school running career?

MS: Winning a State title on the track. Two years coming in second to that scrub Keveren is enough! I would like to win one for Markie’s family - that would be perfect.

TR: You have recently committed to Kentucky. What drew you there?

MS: A year ago, you know, I thought that there was no way I would go to Kentucky. Coach Mortimer kept trying to get me and made me believe that he could make me into a great runner. Sometimes, I think he believes in me more then I believe in myself. Besides, I wanted a change. I have grown up in the Knoxville area and it will be nice to get away.

TR: What do you see yourself accomplishing there?

MS: I expect a lot, I don’t want to come in and fall under radar. I want to contribute to the team and make it better.

TR: Do you have a major picked out yet?

MS: I am majoring in Business, and hopefully becoming a sports agent for track athletes. I really like working with people.

TR: Who is the better basketball player? You or Sean?

MS: Haha. Easiest question of the interview. Me! Of course. I don't think he has ever beaten me a game of Horse, and I was the first person to make "the shot." He'll tell you other wise, but he's denying the truth.

TR: Aside from your father, who have been the biggest influences on your running career so far? And which runners do you most admire or respect?

MS: I don't want to be cliche, but Steve Prefontaine. Growing up thats all I ever heard about. I have the two movies and the Fire On The Track documentary. When I was first getting into track he was who I looked up to. He made track fun and cool to do. Not to mention he was a total bad ass. Other than Pre, I'd say that Steve Scott is my other hero. I like Scott just because he reminds me of, well, me. He's a bigger runner, I think around 170, and I'm around 150, much bigger than most of the guys I line up with, so I kinda found a connection in that.

TR: What was the last song you downloaded?

MS: Well I did just download one song, but i downloaded a slew of Gin Blossoms, and OAR.

TR: Grab your iPod. Put it on Shuffle mode. Which song comes on first?

MS: Electric Feel - MGMT

TR: What is your weirdest/wackiest running story?

MS: At Great American, they have these huge Great Americans signs. Before the meet, I got hold of one of these huge sign. I ran across the starting line and across the first part of the course with this huge sign. Everybody can see me Race officials and spectators are just staring at me but nobody says anything. I run to my car and put in there. Nobody says anything, so I go back the next day and steal another. I have quite a large collection of signs!

TR: The last 6 months, following Markie's tragic passing, have been a tough time for you, I'm sure. What has been the biggest lesson you have learned from the last 6 months?

MS: It has been tough, but it has gotten better each day. It's true when people say time heals. I've learned that, no matter what, you need to cherish the people you love, and the moments you have with them. You never know when they will leave you. I talked to Markie 6 hours before she died and there's not a day that goes by where I don't wish i had those moments back. So don't take for granted the moments you have with the people you love.

TR Contributor CARA HAWKINS, who hails from Murfreesboro, is a junior at Carson-Newman College, where she runs on the cross-country and track teams. She is also a regular contributor for Flotrack. DAVE MILNER is the editor of TR and coached Sonnenfeldt's close friend, Sean Keveren, in high school.

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