Coaches Keep Athletes Relaxed Before NCAA XC Champs

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

TERRE HAUTE, IN, USA (18-Nov) — The NCAA Division I Cross Country
Championships are fewer than 24 hours away. Sixty-two teams are eyeing
the sleek national championship trophies, while a select number of
athletes have a shot at taking the top spots and joining the exclusive
club of individual champions. So, what’s left to do between now and when
the gun fires at the LaVerne Gibson Cross Country Course here?

Nothing but rest, relax, and get rid of any lingering anxiety, said
coaches Race Results Weekly spoke to here last night.  That is probably
easier said that done.

“I’m not much for talks. Just keep them laughing, keep everything light.
They know what’s at stake and they want it way more than I do,” said
Syracuse coach Chris Fox last night at the Blue Carpet Event, pre-meet
team and VIP gathering at Indiana Theater. A former elite athlete with a
27:53 10,000m personal best, Fox guided the Orange to a nine-point
national title win over Colorado last year.

In 2015, NCAA’s couldn’t have gone any better for the Orange. Canadian
sophomore Justyn Knight led the way by placing fourth, while the rest of
the Orange’s five scorers all finished in the top 50. Last year
Syracuse attended the Blue Carpet event, and this year they did the same
trying to recreate the same magic that lifted them over Colorado when
these championships were in Louisville, Ky. While on the blue carpet,
Fox said the event is just one way to help athletes enjoy the moment and
stay calm.

“It makes the meet experience good, it keeps them from sitting in the
hotel room thinking about the race. We did all this last year and we
won, so we’re going to repeat it,” he said.

The saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ could describe both Fox and
Villanova coach Marcus O’Sullivan’s mindset heading into the meet.

In his 19th year guiding Villanova, O’Sullivan has been to nationals
with individuals and teams, rookies and veterans. This year he’s got
Australian Olympian Patrick Tiernan and freshman Andrew Marston

“It all depends on who the athletes are,” O’Sullivan told Race Results
Weekly. “In my case with Patrick Tiernan, very advanced maturity-wise in
terms of how he approaches things, I don’t give him any instructions at
all. The young kid, Andrew Marston, he’ll need a little bit more but
not until the day of the race or night before, [just] make sure they get
plenty of sleep and not make them too jittery. I’ll make them more

As for the race itself, O’Sullivan’s philosophy is less is more.

“Sometimes it’s just one or two things to think about because you can
over-analyze things. When you have too many things in your mind you can
get confused and it’s an analysis paralysis kind of thing. I like to
think about one or two things, something that would keep you calm and
keep you simply motivated, not extravagantly motivated.”

O’Sullivan’s strategy has worked in the past.  He won the 1998 women’s
national team title when he still coached Vilanova’s women’s squad, and
Tiernan placed second in the individual race in 2015.

Another veteran coach, BYU’s Ed Eyestone, chooses to remind his athletes
that this moment is a privilege and has been the goal all year long. As
such, the meet should seem like a fun opportunity and not a
nerve-wracking test.

“Try not to do anything differently, another day at the office,”
Eyestone said. “Just get in, you’ve been doing good things all year long
and just try to do what’s brought us success so far. I think as long as
you don’t change things up too drastically you’ll be fine.”  His men
come into the meet ranked fourth and the women are 28th.

“I like to remind them of all the work they’ve done. That’s one of the
things that helps. Saying. ‘Hey, we deserve to be here,’ and remind them
this is where we want to be. Sometimes nerves are there and you want to
be somewhere else. This is what we’ve been working for. This is what
we’ve been working for, so now let’s go and have fun.”

With a women’s team that ranks 11th and one of the top contenders for
the women’s individual title, sophomore Anna Rohrer, Notre Dame coach
Matt Sparks has one message: Stay true to yourself, and believe.

“Do the same thing you’ve been doing every time out for the last two
months. A championship time is not a time to re-invent yourself. Just
keep doing what you’ve been doing and you’ll be fine,” said Sparks, who
coached 2015 individual champion Molly Seidel who returns to the team
for the indoor season in the winter.

*  *  *  *  *

The NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be held here on
Saturday for the 79th time for men and 37th for women.  Held on an
all-grass course, men run 10-K and women 6-K.  Last year’s champions
were Edward Cheserek of the University of Oregon –who has won the last
three editions– and Molly Seidel of Notre Dame, who is not competing
this year.  The event will be broadcast LIVE exclusively on Flotrack. 
Go to to find viewing information.

PHOTO: The coveted NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships trophies

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