Nov. 19, 2003
Brooke Novak is in a hurry.
"I'm always on time or early," said the three-time All-SEC and two-time NCAA All-South Region cross country honoree. "People get really annoyed with me because I'm always trying to get out fast. I'm really impatient. I want to get there, get done and go home."
Novak seems to exist on a different time schedule than everyone else. On Novak time, interviews take place and finish before they are scheduled to begin. Most importantly, on Novak time, she beats everyone else to the finish line.
It is a trait that suits her well, especially considering her sport of choice. The junior distance runner from Kaukauna, Wis., leads her team by hurrying to be the first Lady Vol to the finish line, as she has done four times this season as the squad prepares for the Nov. 24 NCAA Championships. Leadership, however, is not a quality that Novak necessarily sees in herself.
"Since I've been here the longest," she said, "I think people look up to me, but I'm not sure if they see me as a leader."
On the cross country course, the rest of the pack does not have to look up to her; they just have to look forward. Novak's leadership-by-example showed in her third-place finish at the 2003 Southeastern Conference Championships. The performance led the Lady Vol cross country team to the program's first SEC title since 1990.
A week later, Novak ran to a fifth-place outcome at the NCAA South Regional in Auburn, Ala. Her season-best time of 20:54.80 set the tone as the Big Orange rolled to a second-consecutive region title and earned a spot in Monday's NCAA Championships meet.
"It was really exciting," Novak said of the titles. "It's a really good feeling knowing that we accomplished so much in Coach (J.J.) Clark's first year-and-a-half here."
Novak is quick to acknowledge the leadership that second-year mentor Clark brings to the table for Tennessee.
"He's been a really big influence over the team with his attitude and the atmosphere," Novak said. "He's taught us how to win as a team."
SEC and NCAA regional crowns, however, are not just the work of leaders combined with good coaching. More than anything, it is hard work and sacrifice by every member of the squad and coaching staff that translates to success on the course. Most college students never see the darkness of 6 a.m. wake-up calls. For Novak and her team, early mornings and long days are nothing new. Instead, they are a necessity and a key ingredient for winning.
"We get up in the morning for 6 a.m. practice where we run four miles and do weight training," Novak said, describing the daily schedule. "Then we go to class all morning and have lunch. After that, it is back to practice until 6 p.m. Next, we find time for dinner and homework so we can make it home and to bed by nine to start all over again the next day."
And you can bet that on Novak time, the next day always starts just a little bit early.