Photo Courtesy: Arkansas Tech Athletics
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. - Sweating as the sun breaks the horizon, the Arkansas Tech women's cross country team has already completed a six-mile workout before most students have eaten breakfast. "I can't stand mediocrity," veteran coach Tom Aspel says, as he directs the five-freshman, two-junior and two-senior team.
Aspel is doing all he can to prepare the women for the season opener. Producing champions on the track at Tech since 1978, Aspel has winning in his blood. The coach himself trained under one of the greatest teachers in Arkansas history-John McDonnell, coach of 42 NCAA Championship teams at the University of Arkansas. The passion to win is in his spirit, and Aspel is trying to pass that attitude along to his team.
"Fatigue makes cowards of us all," Aspel says. The Golden Suns return to his office after their afternoon workout dripping from the heat and humidity. In addition to completing a 6 a.m. run, the cross country team meets at 4:30 p.m. for the latter part of its two-a-day training.
Their structured routine starts with a one-to-two-mile warm-up jog. After team stretches, the racers begin the first of 12 400-meter sprints, totaling more than three miles. Taking each sprint at a pace of 80 to 90 seconds, a minute between is rewarded to catch breaths.
"You have to be disciplined." And disciplined Aspel is making them, athletes ready to compete in their first meet. The women have been preparing for this season under the direction of Aspel for only a few days. Summer practices are self-mandated.
In less than a week the cross country team will put its practice to the test at its own home-opener: the Tech Invitational. The 5k race will wind through the grass beside Tucker Coliseum. Taking their places at the starting line will be some of the best teams in the state: Hendrix College, Southern Arkansas University and University of Arkansas-Monticello. "We have never won our home meet. We want to beat them."
A week after hosting the Tech Invitational, the team will travel to Joplin, Mo. to compete in the Missouri Southern Stampede, a race the women placed 17th in last season. Sept. 28 features the Rhodes College Invitational in Memphis, Tenn.
The Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival is in Fayetteville on Oct. 5. Though it is one of the largest cross country meets in the nation, Aspel is anxious to see how the team competes against the sport's finest. "The only way to be the best is to run with the best."
On Oct. 12 the team will race in the Jackling Jocks Invitational in Rolla, Mo., followed by the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Invitational in Little Rock on Oct. 19.
The competition returns to Russellville on Oct. 26 for the Great American Conference Championships. Because Tech only hosts this event every seven to nine years, Aspel envisions other Tech athletes lining the course to cheer on the Golden Suns. "We will have one or two girls smack out there, and it will be an exciting race to watch."
The Golden Suns were picked fifth in the GAC preseason cross country poll, but Aspel expects his team to surpass that ranking. "All I'm asking is that they run their best," Aspel said. "The talent is there. It is about how to grab it, win and learn about yourself in the process."