By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
Try to catch ACU track and field coach Don D. Hood without a smile on his face, and chances are you won’t.
That’s because when it comes to his new position at his alma mater alongside brother Derek and father Don, Don D. is speechless.
“I walked away from a pretty good job to come do this, and this is better than I could ever have wanted it to be,” said Hood, who left an assistant coaching position at Texas Tech after four years. “This is – I don’t know – I don’t know the right words for it. It’s just a dream come true.”
Brother Derek is the cross country coach in the fall and coaches the distance runners during track and field season. Father Don volunteers coaching the Wildcat pole vaulters.
Rounding out the coaching staff is assistant Stephen Moore, the 1996 NCAA Division II decathlon champion and one of the nation’s best decathletes, and former Wildcat hurdles star Suzanne Dickenson, who coaches women’s sprints and hurdles.
“We’ve got a well-rounded staff,” Hood said. “Just about anybody on the staff can coach any event.”
Don D. Hood takes over a program vacated last summer by new Texas Tech distance and cross country coach Jon Murray, a program that has won eight consecutive men’s national titles (four indoor and four outdoor). The women’s team has not won a national title since 2000, a dry spell that Hood believes could end in 2006.
“Probably the biggest thing that stands out to me is that the women’s team is stronger than it’s ever been,” Hood said. “Coach Murray left the cupboard full, without a doubt, on both the men’s and the women’s side. I’m really excited that the women have a chance to win the national championship again.”
The cupboard contains an even mixture of sprinters, jumpers, hurdlers and distance runners. Some of the athletes Hood is most excited about watching perform are sophomore Liga Klavina, an elite heptathlete in her home country of Latvia; twin sprinters Brooklyn and
Jessica Hunt; middle-distance stars Trina Cox and Olha Kryv’yak; and junior pole vaulter Angie Aguilar. Sophomore Shawna-Kaye Thompson will be one of the top 100-meter hurdlers in Division II.
The women’s 4×400-meter relay team, which has already posted a provisional qualifying time of 3:56.34 at the Wes Kittley Invitational in Lubbock on Jan. 21, is composed of Brooklyn Hunt, freshman Azraa Rounds, Thompson and Keva Wilkins and should lower that time considerably this season as it meets faster competition.
On the men’s side, junior Marvin Bien-Aime, the 2005 champion in the 200-meter dash outdoors, is a favorite in both the indoor and outdoor sprints in 2006. Bien-Aime posted a provisional qualifying time of 21.56 in a winning effort in Lubbock last weekend.
Sprinters Elton Garus-Oab, Montez Pride and Delt Cockrell form quite a sprint squad, and adding Bien-Aime, a pretty speedy 4×400-meter relay team. Senior Cory Aguilar is back for one more shot at qualifying for and winning the national meet in the pole vault, a feat that has eluded him for four years despite clearing 17 feet nearly every season. Throw in Division II cross country national champion Nicodemus Naimadu in the distance events, and Hood just might have one of the best men’s teams ACU has seen in a few years.
Hood said it is for just this reason that he will push his teams to work extra hard this season.
“I want to win wherever I am,” Hood said. “To me, whether this was the premier program or the dog program, we’re going to try to make it the best we can make it.”
Hood said keeping the ACU track and field program at or near the top of Division II is perhaps easier than at some of its rival universities.
“Kids want to come run at Abilene Christian,” Hood said. “Kids want to come here to get a degree from here. Not only are we getting good athletes, we’re getting good people and pretty good students.”
Recruiting high school or transfer athletes will be an additional task for the Hood brothers this spring, and Don D. already has his eye on vacancies that graduating seniors will leave on the 2007 track and field teams.
“We’ve got a lot to replace on the men’s team; we’re losing three or four pretty key guys next year,” Hood said. “So we’ve been on the road a lot talking to some kids, we’ve been doing a lot of mail-outs and phone calls. Again, that’s one of the neat things about this place – I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls from kids who want to come here.”
But the task at hand is training for the three remaining indoor track and field competitions before the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships March 10-11 in Boston. Hood views the indoor track and field season a little differently than some collegiate coaches, however.
“It’s pre-season,” Hood said. “We’re going to compete hard, but we’re not going to peak during indoor season.”
Instead, Hood said his teams will train hard through the indoor season and rest their legs toward the end of the outdoor season with the hopes that performances will improve then.
This weekend, select Wildcat pole vaulters will travel to Reno, Nev., for the Pole Vault Summit, an event featuring the best elite and collegiate vaulters in the United States. Both teams will return to action against Division I competition Feb. 3-4 in Lincoln, Neb., for the Frank Sevigne Classic.
“To me, if these guys are training hard, they need to compete against good people,” Hood said of the upcoming Division I meets.