On a Friday afternoon, while most college students are taking naps or watching T.V., Juniors Weldon Ehlert and Zac Yanis are pounding down a hill at Steeplechase Park. Teammates Kevin Green and Caleb Key are hot on their heels, with the rest of the Bison cross country team close behind. The Lady Bisons, staggered a repetition ahead of the men, shoot off of the starting line 200 yards away.
It's a sweltering, cloudless August day, and both squads are hammering out 1,000 meter repeats. Although they looked fresh and felt good for the first couple of reps, the men and women are beginning to wear down. They've run over three miles at a demanding pace, and the sweat stains, labored breathing, and sagging shoulders serve as proof.
Two things haven't changed, though - the times, and the look in their eyes.
Holding pace is impressive, but the gleam -- something between hunger and determination -- is what stands out now. The Lipscomb cross teams are gunning for something. After injuries led to a disappointing finish in the 2003 campaign, the Bisons and Lady Bisons are looking to show what they're really made of.
"We haven't forgotten about last year," said Junior Zac Yanis, back in the dorm recovering after Friday's workout. Zac finished second on the team in the A-Sun Championship race in 2003, a race that the Bisons want to improve on. "We're hungry for it - I guess we feel like we have something to prove."
The Lipscomb men finished 9th out of 11 teams, well short of their goal.
"We weren't happy about our conference results last year," said head coach Clay Nicks. "We just didn't get it done, but some things were out of our control. The men's and women's teams were riddled with injuries."
On the men's side, Weldon Ehlert, who led the Bisons for several races in 2002, was out for the greater part of the year with a severe ankle injury. Caleb Key, the third scorer on the squad, missed some time due to a hip mishap. The result was the unsatisfactory finish in the conference final.
On the women's side, Candace Cox, who holds the school record for a 5000 meter cross country race at 18:57 at the Auburn Invitational in 2002, battled health problems throughout the last season and never really hit her stride. Freshman Elizabeth Schall, the #2 runner for the Lady Bisons, passed out during conference. Amazingly, she was still able to finish, but her time suffered considerably.
Nicks isn't caught up in the past, though. He knows he's got talent on both teams, and is looking to make it all come together this year.
He has a senior veteran in Deanna Edwards, who has logged some impressive times in her career. Cox and Ruth Mick are working hard and continuing to get better. And the sophomores, arguably the best recruiting class in recent Lipscomb cross country history, bring lots of young talent. Amanda Wright, Susan Worden, Samantha Wood, and Schall complete the competitive, if small team.
Worden began to come into her own at the end of 2003, finishing in the top 30 at conference championships. The finish earned her All-Freshman honors.
"It should probably be one of the best teams we've ever had here," said Nicks. "Every year we've gotten a little bit better, and we just need to stay healthy."
Ditto that for the men. Between Yanis, Ehlert, and the rest of the squad, the Bisons have the talent to move up in the standings.
Key showed real promise in 2003 before the hip injury slowed him. Kevin Green, a junior from Maryville, Tennessee, is regularly in the top three runners thus far this fall. Eric Brown is pushing the top four as a freshman, and Daniel Pellitier, Matt McWhirter, Naeem Thompson and Tim Cotton aren't far behind.
The teams will get their first taste of competition on Friday when the Belmont Bruins host the Belmont Opener at Vaughn's Gap.
The focus of the season, though - the gleam and determination in the runners' eyes - is the conference championships. In their second year of A-Sun competition, the Bisons and Lady Bisons alike are pining to prove last year was merely a fluke.
And just in case they needed something to sweeten the deal, the conference championships will be at their home course, Vaughn's Gap.
Both teams will endure the 1000m repeats, the 6 a.m. runs and the 2-hour long runs. This year, Lipscomb has something to prove.