Tuesday, April 08, 2008

SPORTS>>Carpenter headed for finishing line

Leader sportswriter

She’s pacing herself for the future. Her high school career is hitting the home stretch. She’s running toward her dream.

There are dozens of clichés to describe Emily Carpenter’s track career, but simply put, the senior Lady Panther is really good.

Carpenter, a three-time All-State selection in both track and cross country from her freshman season on, is now entering the final month of her high school track career, with the outdoor season’s biggest events just around the corner.

From there, she will journey to Beaumont, Tx., to Lamar University, where she will run track and cross country for the Lady Cardinals.

Current Lamar senior Clerc Koenck has brought a lot of recent attention to the program with strong performances in both the Southland Conference and NCAA championships, and Cabot’s top female track prospect since Cory Chastain over a decade earlier hopes to continue that trend upon her arrival in the fall.

Carpenter lives in the nearby community of Culler, and grew up a Carlisle Lady Bison until the start of her junior year, when she made the jump to Cabot High School.

She didn’t particularly like giving up the school she had attended since kindergarten, but track running at a small 2A school can sometimes be a lonely endeavor.

“There’s just more opportunities here,” Carpenter said. “I got tired of going to meets and being the only one there. I needed that support system. You have your coach, and you have your family, but you need a team.”

When coach and mentor John Steward parted company with Carlisle High and went to Vilonia, Carpenter made her move as well.

Carpenter has made big waves in the year she has been at Cabot, and is also part of a larger influx of female track talent in the central Arkansas area.

With all-purpose Searcy star Whitney Jones, Conway cross-country standout Erika Setzler, and Carpenter being just a few of the big names from the area, the stranglehold on track and field by the northwest Arkansas schools over the past two seasons seems to be dwindling.

The key to successful distance running is a strong mind set as well as top physical conditioning, Carpenter said.

“Running is 90 percent mental, especially distance running,” Carpenter said. “If you are mentally stronger than the person beside you in a race — even if your talent level is not what theirs is — you’re going to beat them. All it is is mind games, especially in a two-mile race.

“You’ll be running side by side, and you’re both dying, but that girl will surge on you just a little to see what you have left in your tank. If you don’t go with her, she’s thinking, ‘OK, well I’ve gother beat,’ but if you go with her, she’s like, ‘well, I don’t know if I can get rid of her.’

“That’s what it’s like the whole race. You’re just thinking about what the other person is going to do, and you’ve got to make your move before they make their move, or you’re beat.”

Carpenter has been on various relay teams, and has run in numerous events, but her bread and butter since her freshman year has been the mile- and two-mile runs.

She has earned both indoor and outdoor titles in each of the two events since ninth grade. In addition to her familiar long-distance events this year, Carpenter is adding the 300-meter hurdles to her list of competitive events.

Carpenter said the notion that track and field is not difficult is a big misconception.

“Everybody can jog, not everybody can run,” Carpenter explained. “You go year-long; you don’t get big breaks. It’s not like basketball where you have your season and then you kind of stop and then go into off season. You’re hard-core year round.”

With such rigorous training, Carpenter said the biggest obstacle —besides avoiding injury — is knowing when to push toward a personal peak, so as to avoid sputtering before the biggest events in late spring.

“You start off training pretty hard,” she said. “And then it just gets harder and harder until you peak out for state. If you peak out before state, your body is just exhausted, and you can’t go anymore, no matter how hard you try. You’re not going to get any better. It’s all about timing.”

Carpenter prefers track season training to cross country due to the long and monotonous miles required in cross-country training. She said that the differences between runners who excel at sprint events and those who are adept at long distances like herself are vast.

“Sprinters and distance runners are two completely different people,” Carpenter said. “Sprinters are more outwardly confident; distance runners tend to be more quiet. You always have to be aggressive in shorter events, whereas in distance, it all depends on who you’re running with.”

Leon White, now in his eighth season as the head track coach at Cabot, said the addition of Carpenter last season was a big shot in the arm for his already-solid program.

“Emily has the best work ethic of any girl we have had in a long time,” White said. “There are others that work hard, but she kind of goes beyond sometimes. It had a big impact on the other girls. They saw how hard she was working, and it started having a domino-effect. I think she has had a big effect on our program.”

The stormy spring weather has made training difficult for Carpenter and her fellow Lady Panther runners, but business is about to pick up. Cabot will take part in the Lake Hamilton meet on Friday before hosting its own Cabot invitational on April 17. They will travel the following weekend to Fayetteville for one of the biggest meets of the season.

Carpenter said she believes she is ready for a big finale to her high-school career. She’d like to erase the memory of what she considered a poor performance at the state cross country meet last fall — after recording the fastest time at the 7A-Central Conference meet.

“I don’t want a bad memory of my last race,” Carpenter said. “My last cross-country race wasn’t very good, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to me in track. You want to have good memories when you finish up. I’m going to have plenty of good memories, though. In 10 years, I’ll forget all the bad stuff.”