The former Mt. Zion High School standout hasn’t missed a beat upon making the step up to Division I athletics as a freshman sprinter on the Kennesaw State University women’s track and field team, breaking a school record in the first race of her college career.
Wood turned in a time of 7.56 seconds in the 60-meter dash at the BSC Panther Indoor Icebreaker in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 1, taking second place in the short sprint behind Asia Cooper of Mississippi and setting a new benchmark for the KSU women’s program.
The eight-time state champion at Mt. Zion wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the 60-meter dash serving as her first collegiate event. But, as usual, Wood rose to the occasion.
“It was my first competition since the [GHSA] state meet in May, and it was real good to help me get back in my groove. You know, combine some new things that I’ve learned with some of the old things I brought over from high school running for my dad and the track program,” Wood said. “So the 60 meter, you blink your eye and the race is over. So that was something new, and I really, really enjoyed it a lot.
“At the time, I didn’t even know what the [school record] was. I really didn’t know what a good time in the 60 was.”
Wood also competed in the 200-meter dash — which certainly isn’t foreign to her — although the indoor environment did provide some new challenges in her first collegiate go-around. Wood finished in 21st place at 25.76 seconds in the finals after running a 24.95 in the prelims, which would have seen her place in a tie for seventh in the finals.
“In the 200, it was a little different for me. I was a little shaky because I’m still learning the curves and everything. But I’ve got a lot of work to do and have my work cut out for me. It was a good surprise, a good start to my college career,” Wood said.
The indoor competition marked the first of the season for the Owls, as well as Wood’s first time running on an indoor track, something she thinks she could get used to down the road.
“You don’t have to worry about no grass, no mud, no bugs or anything like that. It was really fun and a good experience for me. I was really glad my parents were able to be there. They were there the whole entire time. It was so exciting. They were just taking everything in, just as I was taking everything in for the very first time,” Wood said.
“Prior to [Dec. 1], I had never even seen an indoor track before. So there was a little bit of uncertainty and some nerves going in, because usually going in I have my strategies and everything planned out. But my was goal was to go in there and see what I could do. You know, just see where we were with it being the first meet of the season.”
And after starting training back in August, Wood and the Owls were ready to get the season started, though the meat of the competition doesn’t really pick up until next month. KSU’s indoor season features two trips to Johnson, Tenn., — including one for the Atlantic Sun Conference Indoor Championships on Feb. 22-23 — while the Owls are also making a trip to New York City for the New Balance Collegiate Invitational on Feb. 1-2. Wood is looking forward to the experience of traveling to some unknown destinations during her initial indoor campaign.
“Most definitely, the traveling and the New York trip is going to be a great experience. Just being on the road and traveling more often instead of just going 15 minutes down the road to a track. It will be hours of trips, so it will be really exciting. It’s a chance to learn more and get more creative with these events and learn as you go,” Wood said.
As for the outdoor season, there are several big-time events on tap at several SEC institutions, as Kennesaw State will compete in the Georgia Relays (March 22-23), Florida Relays (April 6-7), Sea Ray Relays at Tennessee (April 11-13) and the War Eagle Invitational at Auburn (April 19-20), as well as at meets at Florida State and Georgia Tech.
And having been recruited by several of the SEC programs, Wood looks forward to competing against them as an Owl.
“It will be good to see them there and also just to represent Kennesaw. Our goal is to win the conference championship. We’ve come very close over the past couple of years behind Jacksonville. So we’re really looking to knock off the powerhouse, Jacksonville,” Wood said.
“We’re also looking strong in our women’s program for conference champions in individual events. That’s definitely one of my goals that I’m looking forward to in the 100, 200 and possibly the 60 meter. I never saw myself as a short sprinter, but it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to getting better at.”
Of course, one of the biggest changes for Wood upon entering the collegiate ranks is adjusting to a new coaching staff since her father, Nolen Wood, has coached her throughout all of her athletic endeavors up to this point.
“It’s the first time in a sport for him to not coach me ever. But a new voice, a new face. My coach now has a little bit different strategies, but it’s pretty much the same basic technique. At the meet that Saturday, my dad still had a few pointers he was shouting out to me from the stands. We had our little talk before I was about to run the finals. He was saying the same things he’s always said, just to help and feel a part of the situation,” Wood said.
“We talk very often. I call him just about every day and share some of the things that I’ve learned. He’s excited to learn about new stuff, also. New techniques and different ways to do stuff that he can share with his athletes.”
And in starting a fresh new adventure at the college level, Wood is hopeful of continuing her success on and off the track as an Owl.
“It’s a very good school. It’s a relatively small school, but it also feels like a bigger college. I’m just working with the track program, and managing my time with that is definitely something to get used to — study hall, school, practice. Then you go to sleep and do it all over again,” Wood said. “It’s kind of tough at times. But you know that everything you work for, it’s for a reason.”