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Wood feeling strong as NCAA Regionals approach

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Nov. 8, 2006

In athletics it is all about peaking at the right time.

For Samantha Wood, the right time is now. She is coming off a sixth place finish in the Atlantic Sun Conference Cross Country Championship Oct. 28 at Gardner-Webb University in Boling Springs, N.C. She ran the 5-kilometer course in a time of 19:18.

That performance came on the heels of a fifth place finish with a time of 18:12.4 in a 5-kilometer run at the Evansville (Ind.) Invitational Oct. 14.

Her performance earned her a spot in the Atlantic Sun All-Conference team. Wood, a senior majoring in exercise science at Lipscomb University, will join her teammates Saturday in the NCAA Regional Cross County meet in Knoxville

"I give a lot of credit to Sam's hard work, her believing in the program and the confidence she had in herself," Lipscomb Coach Karen Robichaud said. "She has always been this talented. But this year she has really believed in herself."

Wood has discovered that her success in running this season has been a culmination of all the miles she has accumulated.

"It's not just what I did this summer or what I did this season, but it has taken every race to get to this point," Wood said. "The teammates I have had in the past, and my new teammates this season, have also been a help to me.

"It is difficult. To go out there every day really takes a supportive team in order to maximize your efforts."

Wood has been a senior leader on a young team featuring six freshmen. Despite all the new faces the team has been a close one

"Lipscomb has something special," Wood said. "I have been to meets and seen how teams interact and their dynamics. It really makes me appreciate my own team.

"There is not that much competitiveness between our runners. We help one another push things up. We have switched back and forth between the top runners. You never know who is going to lead each day."

Robichaud points to the fact that Wood has become a more spiritual person with each passing year. Robichaud was most impressed with the way Wood quietly became a counselor for the younger players.

"She knew she was a senior leader," Robichaud said. "She was proactive in setting the tone. I am proud of her leading the younger runners in such a positive way."

Wood's teammates, especially Susan Worden, a fellow senior, have been strong influences.

"The most important thing is to have a relationship with God," Wood said. "It is important not to blow running out of proportion.

"You are standing at the starting line and you are so nervous you feel like you are going to be sick. The stress is just ridiculous. I try to remind my teammates that it is in God's hands. Things can come up that you can't control. We should let him handle the worries and doubts."

At both the Evansville and A-Sun Championship meets Wood found herself near the front of the pack. She is easy to see wearing a bright orange bandana which she claims to use to control her unruly blond hair, and sunglasses.

"I had never been up in front of a race to start before," Wood said. "I've always been more conservative starting out slower and trying to pass runners. At the beginning of a race I concentrate on staying relaxed and calm and trying to conserve as much energy as possible while at the same time opening up my stride to get up near the front.

"I have felt stronger this year. This is all about peaking at the right time. I have been able to pull out my speed, but not over train. Running comfortably is such a key."

Robichaud thinks that Wood deciding to truly embrace the spiritual side of her life helped her achieve as a runner.

"Being more open about the spiritual side of her life took some of the pressure off of her," Robichaud said. "She arrived on campus more focused, more mature and more relaxed this year. She is a fabulous runner, but, more importantly, she is a fabulous individual. It has been a privilege to work with her."

That brightly colored bandana also lets her teammates know where she is on the course. Wood likes the fact that in a race it is impossible for a runner to hide.

"That's one of the aspects of running that keeps me in it," Wood said. "There is nothing to hide behind. The race you run is the race you run and everybody can see that."

"The biggest thing is consistency. Coach Robichaud sends out training schedules every two weeks. You look at the schedule for the first time and just say, `whoa'. If you are running both track and cross country then you are training all year. You realize you have to pace yourself not only in a meet, but over time because you can burn out."

Wood started running cross country and track her freshman year at El Campo (Texas) High School. She has played basketball in middle school and wasn't as good on the court as she wanted to be so she looked for an alternative.

She learned that becoming competitive as a runner was going to take some time, but she also realized that she loved distance running. "I didn't like it at first because it was very hard," Wood said. "But I wasn't a quitter. I got hooked on it eventually. It turned out I was good at it."

She gives a lot of credit for her success as a runner, and her willingness to make sacrifices in order to excel, to Noma Kremling, her high school cross country coach.

"She was very encouraging and very challenging," Wood said. "I remember having really minor injuries, especially my senior year. She said, ` I know it hurts but you have to do it.' "

The spring track season is still ahead for Wood. She plans to compete in the 5-K as well as the 1500-meter and 3000-meter runs. After graduating in the spring she is thinking about attending graduate school, possibly to study in a particular field of medical research. She will leave with good feelings about her accomplishments in both athletics and in the classroom.

"I feel like I have surpassed my goals," Wood said. "I had certain expectations, but I didn't know what to expect when first came here.

"We all like to do what we are good at. I don't like getting beat. No matter what I am doing I want to do well."