By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (September 6, 2017) — Tarleton State opens its 2017 cross country season in Commerce Saturday, one of four meets the Texans and TexAnns have before the Lone Star Conference Championships in Kingsville on October 21.
Tarleton is picked to take third in the conference on the men’s side and fourth in women’s, exactly where they finished at last season’s conference meet in Commerce.
Leading the harriers of Tarleton for the 11th season is Pat Ponder, who has also been head coach of the university’s track and field teams the past decade. Ponder has mentored three national champions and 42 All-Americans at Tarleton, including the first men’s cross country All-American in university history.
In his 28-year career, Ponder has tutored four national champions and 66 All-Americans and has been the conference coach of the year six times including in 2015 when the TexAnns won their fist-ever LSC title.
Ponder is a busy man, but The Flash Today managed to corner him long enough for a quick Q&A before the gun goes up to begin the new season.
Keith asks and Ponder answers in another Flash exclusive:
Q) What is your thought process at this time each year, and what have the athletes been doing to get prepared?
A) Well, I hope they’ve been training all summer. If they haven’t then it’s going to be a long grind for them. For the most part, I think they’ve done their job. We’re going to be real young with a lot of freshmen, and then we have a lot back sophomore-wise. We graduated Katelin Huckabee on the women’s side and that’s going to be a big loss, but we’ve got a very talented group coming in on both the men and women’s side and I think we’ll be okay.
Q) How much more important is it in your sport, I’m guessing, than in any other that the athletes hold each other accountable? I mean, it’s running.
A) That’s what I told the upperclassmen when they went home for summer break. Here’s the list of kids and when we get new names coming in I’ll get you those and I need you guys to hold them accountable and make sure they are doing what they need to do, what you need them to do as a teammate because it’s so important for the success of the team. In cross country, if you haven’t been training all summer, we don’t have time for you to get into shape.
Q) Tell us about the schedule and how it looks for you. Are there are any advantages or disadvantages to it?
A) The first meet is September 8 at Texas A&M-Commerce. I really scheduled that because it’s where our conference meet was last year, and that will give me an idea, or benchmark you could say, of where we’re at fitness wise.
The next week I’m afraid I have us on a suicide mission. We’re going to go over to Ole Miss and run against the Rebels. I’ve got some kids, who obviously can’t beat their 1, 2 or 3, but I think they’ll at least compete with them some. I want our kids to see what it takes to compete at that level.
After that, we’ll take a couple weeks to train, then we have another one that’s not going to be easy because we go to Texas A&M on (October 6), but then we kind of settle back down and run at the Angelo State Blue and Gold Meet, which is on the 10th of October, on a Tuesday. It’s always a good competition and it’s perfect for our training schedule because it’s 10 days before we leave for the conference meet.
And then, of course, we go down on (October 20 to Texas A&M-Kingsville) and check out the course that day then we run on the (October 21). And then regionals for us this year is at Canyon, so we’ll see how that goes, and if we can get someone that far, the nationals are in (Evansville, Indiana).
Q) Opening at Commerce, having coached there for years before coming to Tarleton, is that neat for you whenever you get to go back there?
A) Yeah, it’s always neat to go back there, I do still have friends there, and some of them will come out to see us. It will be fun to visit with them, but we’re there for business. It’s a good course, it’s mostly a flat course and it will give us a good idea where we’re at fitness-wise, which is why I like going back there.”
Q) For the readers who don’t understand, tell us, how many miles will these athletes be putting in between now and November?
A) Oh my gosh, the guys will average 70 to 80 miles per week and the girls will run somewhere between 40 and 50 miles each week, so you’re talking a lot of miles.
(School began the last week of August, so if there are nine weeks through the end of October, that’s anywhere from 630 to 720 miles for each Tarleton man and between 360 450 for each woman. And if they reach regionals and nationals they will still be training, possibly through the firs half of November.)
Here’s a peek at the Tarleton cross country schedule in a screen grab from TarletonSports.com. For a better view, CLICK HERE. You may also click he image below for a larger view.