Oct. 2, 2009
BY AUSTIN BAIRD
Running with its full lineup for the first time this season, the men's cross country team heads to the Greater Louisville Classic on Saturday.
Junior Michael Spooner says he's excited to build off his performance last weekend when he was the individual runner-up in his season opener at the Colonial Inter-Regional Challenge.
In this Q&A, Spooner talks about everything from his decision to come to UT out of high school and why he thinks cross country deserves more attention to what he expects out himself and of the team this year:
You graduated from West Springfield High School in Virginia in 2007. What made you choose UT?
"Former UT runners Jeff Day and Steve Tobin [who also graduated from West Springfield] both came here within a short period of time, short enough for everyone to run together. They had a big influence on me coming to UT. Also, with Coach (George) Watts being from Northern Virginia, his brother was a meet announcer in the area so there was always a lot of Tennessee involvement even early on in my running career.
"But really what tipped it over was the chance to be part of a bigger picture. Coach Watts told me when I came in that he really wanted to change our distance program back to the way it used to be, and get our competitive level up, back to the level of when he, Todd Williams and Glenn Morgan were here.
"These great teams that Tennessee was known for and being able to help build something new like that meant a lot to me when I was in high school and still does today." In your first couple years in Knoxville, how do you feel like that's come along? How have you fit into the process of taking UT's running program back to the elite level?
"When I was in high school I had very little mileage. I was only [running] 30 miles a week, which is very low for what I managed to accomplish as a runner...when I came here I was able to start working on the endurance and working on the mileage.
"After my first year, I did good at cross country but I struggled at indoor and wasn't running where I wanted to run and coach eventually had a meeting with me. He told me that the way it was going to work for me was a step plan. You know, the first year I was going to learn how to work out, learn how to keep my body healthy, learn the basics about my body and running. Then sophomore year I was going to learn how to race and then junior and senior year we were going to learn how to win and try to win as much as we could.
"That's where I'm at now and I think this year could be a turning point for me, and with as good as everyone else is running, for the program too."
I think it's safe to say that running cross country isn't in the same spotlight as some other sports. Can you talk about that and how you'd like to see it change?
"One of our secret goals on the team, to be honest, is to get the spotlight and to change it. There are schools like Oregon where running and track is actually their biggest thing on campus. That's a really cool idea to think about.
"We want that to change, we want people to think `oh yeah, they have a good track team and a good running program' when they think about Tennessee, just like they think of football and basketball now. We want to be able to contribute to the reputation at this school so people will think of UT as the best overall in the country.
"I know all athletes think that their sport should be higher than everybody else's sport, but that's just being competitive and being an athlete."
So what sets cross country apart from other sports and makes it higher than some in your mind? Can you talk about what goes into workouts and getting ready to race?
"That's a big part of why I think cross country should get more credit than it does sometimes. Most people really have no idea how much running and working out goes into the sport. People ask me sometimes how much I run every day and I'll say, `I ran 12 miles today,' and it'll blow their mind.
"Coach Watts obviously trains us in his own way. He trains us according to what he remembers being trained as, so we're an old school style training team. There are a lot of guys on our team that contribute to the work out--our three captains, Chris Rapp, Steve Fassino and Mike Brodsky, all three of them are big helps.
"Brodsky probably shows the most heart to be a winner as anybody on our team. He really steps it up when it comes to workouts and races, not only to help the team but also to push himself. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we work out hard and run a lot. Coach trains us in an old school, hard nose running style. It's really paying off for us this year and it's going to help everyone." Outside of the obvious--winning--what are some of your personal goals for the season?
"I feel like if I don't finish in the top 20 [that it] would be a disappointing season. If I don't finish this season and hang up my cross country flats knowing that I was an All-American, it will be a disappointment.
"Whatever I do at SECs and Regionals is fine and good but when it really comes down to it, what people remember is whether or not you were an All-American that year. It would really be bad to not accomplish that this year and that's at the top of my list for goals this year."
How do you feel about your performance in your first race of the year last weekend at the Colonial Inter-Regional?
"In a word, disappointed. It was an important race to me, because I'm from Virginia. There were a lot of friends and family there, friends of our UT team. I made an error in the race where I should have pushed sooner, I should have pushed after the three-mile mark, and I didn't. I decided to wait and take a little gamble and see if the guy ahead of me at the time was going to fall back or not. He eventually never did. I basically let him run the race instead of trying to mix it up a little bit.
"Even though it didn't turn out how I wanted, it wasn't 100 percent disappointing. It was a good first race. I was able to get some rust off, kind of remember what it's like to race again and work on the pace it takes to win. It was a good start and great for our team to get a win in and I was glad to be a part of it."
What do you expect from the Greater Louisville Classic this weekend?
"This is the first race of the season where we're all going to come together. The first race this year at Alabama, I sat out. Then in the second race at William and Mary, Peter [Sigilai] sat out. We've been the top two guys on the team and now we're going to come together at Louisville, and with everyone else doing so well, I think this meet in particular will be a big meet for respect. That's what I hope to take away from the weekend--respect.
"We're not nationally ranked yet, and we believe we should be. We believe we're just as good as everyone else. [We] beat Auburn without me and they're still ranked, and yet we're not. We actually only moved up one spot in the region which is pretty insulting.
"So we feel like there's a lot we need to show the coaches poll and everyone else and by winning the meet this weekend is part of that. That's our goal, that's flat out our only goal: win the meet or go home. I think if we get second we won't be happy.
"We're going there to win, and I'm excited to do my part."