It’s 6:15 in the morning and Paige Williams meets 14 other cross-country runners at the track. Hours before most students rise, and sometimes just a few hours after some go to sleep, two teams begin practice.
Williams is a member of the UT women’s cross country team, who are currently ranked 20th in the nation. Of the 15 regular runners, 10 travel with the team, and only seven get to compete and have their times count towards the team. Just like golf, the lowest score wins.
The top seven are usually Laura Woznicki, Williams, Jessica Forrester, Michele Gabrielle, Julia Vola, Sarah Nelson and Dara Fox.
Six days a week they practice before dawn. Sometimes they run the track and sometimes they run on Davis Islands.
“Track workouts are harder,” said Williams. “Practice usually lasts an hour and a half.”
Often they run about eight miles in practice. Meets are a standard 5K (3.1 miles). They have seven regular season meets that go until November when the conference championships start. After that meet, the team will compete in the NCAA South Region.
To advance to the NCAA National Championships, the team must place in the top three in the region. The top 15 runners in the region receive automatic bids to compete nationally.
Last year, at the conference championships, disaster hit the Spartans. Top-runner Woznicki passed out during her race, and Fox became dehydrated near the end of her race.
Despite the misfortune at the conference championships, Woznicki, Williams and Alysha Duffy were named first-team All-Conference. Woznicki and Williams were honored as All-Region runners as well. Forrester garnered second-team All-Conference honors.
“We can definitely win the conference,” said Nicole Miranda, a junior runner who is currently battling a foot injury. “We can probably win the regionals too, and then we can go on to nationals.”
Williams named Florida Southern as the most serious contender in the conference. Harding University (Ark.) is currently second in the nation and first in the South region.
With only one senior, the team is stacked for success. Guiding them through the season is coach Jarrett Slaven, in his eighth year as head coach at UT.
“Coach Slaven is awesome,” said Williams. “Everyone loves him.”
Slaven also coaches the men’s cross-country team along with Dror Vaknin, a seventh-year coach.
The men’s and women’s teams are close, but the men have a distinct physical advantage.
“They’re just faster,” said Williams. “We travel together, though. We’re a little family.”
The little family also competes together in the spring on the track team. The cross-country runners mostly do the distance events in the spring. In May of 2007, Williams advanced to the National Championships in the 3000-meter race.
“It’s pretty much the cross country team and some random people who just like to sprint,” said Miranda of the spring track team.
Many students often ask: Can you watch cross-country?
“You can come to our meets,” said Williams. “Last meet, Sarah (Nelson)’s parents came in from Iowa. Everyone from out of state comes to watch. Our next meet is in Brandon, which isn’t too far.”