Kepler talks about the regional meet, the cross country season and looks forward to track and field.
Nov. 14, 2006
The NCAA Mountain Region meet served as the final meet of the '06 Utah cross country season. After a 15th-place finish a year ago, it was my hope that we could improve a couple of spots and continue to show overall program improvment as we did at the conference meet. As a head coach of a progressing program sometimes you get caught up in always wanting more and not appreciating the smaller steps of the process. I've been very wary on this because I am constantly talking about building things for the long term and focusing on the process with our kids. Therefore, I have to take my own advice and have a enough foresight to provide positive feedback on even the smallest victories.
With that noted we had to make a tough decision early in the week not to run our top runner (Rebecca Mackelprang) due to a soft tissue injury. She was able to perform well at the conference meet after not running all week. While the injury has progressed, she still had not run much in the last two weeks. Rather than have this injury continue to linger we (Becky and I) came to the decision not to run after practice on Thursday. Her first reaction was that she was letting her teammates down. If we were trying to qualify for the NCAA meet there is no doubt she would have run, but this was not the case. She has her whole collegiate career in front of her and it would be a bigger disappointment to her teammates if this injury continued to linger longer than it needs to.
After a short, but "energetic" flight to Albuquerque on Friday morning, we checked into the hotel, got in a pre meet run, and the gals had a nice dinner. The energy came from all of the comraderie and laughter from the gals during the trip and continurd throughout the day and into the evening. I took it as them being relaxed and enjoying each others company which was the case. Assistant coach, Burke Bockman, appropriately named the distance crew "the giggle squad" a year ago and it couldn't be more true this year as well. I think I've noted before this very young team has a unique knack of understanding when to have some fun and relax on a trip versus when its time to focus and prepare mentally. Several people have tried to attribute that to my coaching style or something I do. Anyone who knows me and knew me as a runner knows that's likely not true. I'm known for being very business-like in my race preparations. As a runner, I prepared more like a sprinter or a boxer (minus the trash talking). Anything but total focus during the last 24 hours before a race was not my style. As a coach and a sports psychologist, I certainly understand that my way can not be my athletes' way. So I've learned as much from them as they learn from me. The good thing about this team's approach is that nothing really seems to bother them. We decided not to run Becky and they just went with the decision and consoled their teammate for making a tough, but correct decision. I was not my usual efficient self in terms of the planning of this trip. We got lost driving to the course. I did not have a plane ticket for our student assistant coach until the day before the trip. These kinds of things really make me uptight. I know that my organizational skills are pretty solid and I take a lot of pride in making each trip as efficient for the athletes as possible. Yet, this group never complained about revisiting the airport (not intentionally) and our little side tour of Albuquerque's finest neighborhoods. They simply saw it as more time together as a team in a new place.
Through all of this...they woke up Saturday morning and were ready to compete. From the second we arrived at the course I felt pretty good about how we'd perform. We had our race plan in place, the gun went off, and they executed the plan. As the race progressed we had a solid pack of four runners in the middle of the race and slowly moving forward. Freshmen Alyssa Abbott picked up where she left off at the conference meet as our number one. The big surprise came from sophomore Lauren Endersen who was our number two. She was followed closely (within .5 seconds) by Chelsea DiGrazia who redeemed herself after not finishing at the conference meet. Frosh Stephanie Skoreyko was number four. Those four finished within about 35 seconds of one another. Our fifth, Kellie Anderson and Janett Ern had a bit of an off day, but still ran hard and were our five and six. We ended up with 301 points (95 less than a year) ago. This was good for 11th place (out of 18 teams) exceeding my expectations. We beat three teams who had beaten us during the year and ended up only 13 points from a top-ten finish. These are the continued signs that our program is improving and progressing nicely. I'm most encouraged that our entire group is totally committed to the training and the direction of the program. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. They are committed to each other and the program.
It was a great way to end the season. As we take a short recovery period next week, the focus will be on mental restoration and refocus for track. It's hard to think Thanksgiving is upon us and that the track season is only about two months away. We're looking forward to it...after a short rest!!!
Just a couple of side notes...when in Albuquerque bring your own maps and don't rely on the gas station attendants for directions:) I usually do have my own maps, but as I stated before, my planning of this trip was a little off. Eat at Rudy's BBQ house...the lean brisket is unbelievable! There are TWO university golf courses...one South and one North and they are no where near one another.
With great support from the university administration and a unanimous vote from the mountain region cross country coaches...the University of Utah will be the host institution for the 2010 NCAA Mountain Region cross country championships. Utah has been permanently added to the five school rotation ensuring that this meet will continue to be held at Rose Park GC every five years. This meet was held at Rose Park every year during the 1980's and several years in the 1990's before a rotational system was put in place. The last time Utah hosted this meet was over ten years ago. Official time and date for the 2010 event will be announced at a later time.
My second Utah cross country season is complete and I've enjoyed every minute of it. The student athletes have responded very well to the training and environment with great improvment and success. The support of the administration has been top notch. The way people look at this program around campus, the city, and the state is starting to change in a very positive way. We need to keep this momentum going with another successful track season! How quick will this very young group learn and grow...we'll find out shortly!