November 22, 2013
The pre-meet press conference for the 2013 NCAA Cross-Country Championships were held today.
The featured guests included female athletes Abbey D’Agostino (Race favorite), Aisling Cuffe of Stanford (Pac 12 champ), Waverly Neer of Columbia (Heps runner-up + she’s from Indiana), Cally Macumber of Kentucky (2nd returner from last year), and Colleen Quigley of Florida State (FSU’s #1 woman), male athletes Anthony Rotich of UTEP (NCAA steeple champ), Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech (defending champ), Kemoy Campbell of Arkansas (SEC champ), Futsum Zeinasellassie (#1 guy for #1 NAU, 9th last year) and John Mascari (Indiana State’s #1 and regional champ), women’s coaches Lance Harter (coach of #3 Arkansas), Mark Wetmore (#5 Colorado), Michael Smith (#6 Georgetown), Matt Roe (#13 Butler), James Li (#2 Arizona), and Karen Harvey (#4 Florida St) and men’s coaches Mark Wetmore (#3 Colorado), Dave Smith (#2 Oklahoma St.), Eric Heins (#1 NAU), Ed Eyestone (#8 BYU) and Chris Miltenberg (#4 Stanford) .
We present you the highlights below. Enjoy. We start with the athletes and then go to the coaches.
Words of Wisdom From The Female Athletes
Abbey D’Agostino: The heavy favorite seemed totally unintimidated by the weather/course conditions.
D’agostino said cross country is “by far” her favorite season and when asked about the conditions she said, “It’s like bring it on.”
That’s all we needed to hear – she’s your winner. D’Agostino wasn’t there long as she had to leave to got take an exam.
Aisling Cuffe is looking forward to ‘real’ cross country
I’m very excited about the race tomorrow. I haven’t seen the course yet but I know what mud looks like I’m real excited it’s going to be real cross country.
Kentucky’s Cally Macumber:
“It (the course) wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
On whether Abbey D can be beat: “We all have a shot at it. I don’t want to just hand it over to her. I’m just grateful to be here.:
Columbia’s Waverly Neer:
“I think it (mud) brings out the toughest competitors.”
Colleen Quigley is enjoying having less pressure on FSU this year
“It’s definitely different. We were ranked #1 the last two years coming into this meet. It is a lot of pressure and lot to think about the whole year especially when you are ranked #1 from the pre-season on. It’s kind of on your back.
I was looking forward to not having that this year. It’s less pressure.Let’s see what we can do. No one expects us to win.”
The NCAA Men
Heavy Favorite Kennedy Kithuka also was unfazed by the wet course and cold weather forecast.
“It was cold last weekend. It was muddy there at Arkansas (at Chile Pepper),” said the defending champ who said he planned on trying to run as fast as possible but admitted he might have to slow his pace just a little based on the conditions.
“Maybe I am going to reduce my speed just a little bit. It depends on how I feel when I wake up tomorrow. I hope to run very fast.”
Kithuka came across as confident (he pointed out he’s already raced everyone of the other individuals at the press conference today) but not arrogantly so. “I expect him (Rotich) to be there with me. I ran with him at regionals.”
Indiana HSer Futsum Zeinasellassie Is Hoping Terre Haute is His Lucky Charm That Gives Him A Result Worthy of A Movie
“Indiana has been so good to me and I was bummed last year that we weren’t here. Now I’m back with my home town and we are back with a very strong team. We can’t wait for tomorrow. This place is very lucky (for me). I just can’t wait. Having my family and coaches and teammates to support me means a lot.”
Futsum said the atmosphere at Regionals where his NAU team beat then #1 Colorado was relaxed as NAU knew they were going to NCAAs pretty much no matter what (last year they needed to get top 2 as they didn’t have at-large points).
“ We treated it as a workout and got after it the last 2k,” said Futsum.
Futsum said NAU doesn’t need to do anything special to get the job done on Saturday.
“No miracles,” said Futsum. “Just do what we (have done all year) which is win.”
“We’ve been on the podium a bunch of times but never been on top. Tomorrow is the day, it is the time. It would make like a perfect movie if we won it tomorrow in my hometown.
Kemoy Campbell Is Proud To Be Defying Stereotypes As A Jamaican Distance Runner
We asked Campbell how he got into the sport as Jamaica isn’t exactly known as a distance power, “It’s kind of a weird story. On sports day at high school I got thrown into the 5k. I wasn’t planning on running it but my teacher forced me to,” said Campbell.
“(Now) people always ask me what I’m thinking running such a long race. At one point, my coach was making fun of me, saying anyone that passes the finish line more than twice (in a race) is kind of crazy.”
When asked who he trains with when home, Campbell said he’s got a great training partner – who gets a little help from a bike.
“When I’m in Jamaica, I don’t have much to train with except my brother who has a bicycle and rides next to me. My family really encourages me.”
As for the cold, the Jamaican said he’s not worried about it. “It’s definitely different here in the cold but I’ve gotten used to at Arkansas. They say Jamaicans can adapt to anything.”
UTEP’s Anthony Rotich seemed unfazed by the fact he’s lost to Kithuka twice last year.
“Personally, for me I like something (like this)- very challenging.,” said Rotich. “(Tomorrow, you) forget everything you’ve been going, conference, regionals. Everyone runs in the same conditions, same weather. This is cross country.”
Indiana State’s John Mascari hadn’t even bothered to go look at the course yet.
“It’s going to be tough but it feels good to have theme back in Terre Haute. I haven’t been out there the last few days but I know it’s going to be muddy.”
Insight From The Coaches (Men first/then women)
Oklahoma State’s Dave Smith: “Let the great athletes do their thing…..Focus on your one job and run smart at the start and hard at the end and let the chips fall where they may”
“I think there’s not a lot to tell them if they are here as these guys are competitive naturally and they know how to run races. They have kind of innate instincts about how to run races and (follow) the flow of races. Often times I have great strategies and race plans that go unfollowed and we get wins out of it.
I’ve kind of learned more and more especially this time of year that the less I say the better they are going to do. Let great athletes do their thing. So we don’t have very elaborate plans and strategies except everybody has a job to do. Focus on your one job and run smart at the start and hard at the end and let the chips fall where they may.”
As for the course, Smith said that he was calmed greatly by the fact that the everyone at Indiana State is on top of their games and working hard and very experienced so it’s a relief to know it “will be in the best post possible condition possible.”
As for his strategy, Smith said (jokingly we think as he told us the Cowboys would get out hard), “We’re just going to follow Wetmore around because he knows what to do in these type of conditions.”
Colorado’s Mark Wetmore (talking about both men and women)
Wetmore said he remembered the 2001 NCAA championships at Iowa State and thus will “be happy” about tomorrow’s conditions.
“The course isn’t in terrible shape. My guys ran it and they were pleasantly surprised.”
Wetmore said a lot of people have been coming up to him and saying congratulating him on the Colorado conditions but he said he didn’t know why as in Colorado it’s sunny 320 days a year there and most of the time it’s in the 50s.
On his women’s team/the women’s race, Wetmore said “Our women have been moving up the rankings throughout the season. We had agreat race at the Mountain region, but maybe the rankers have been overly kind to us. We’ll be happy to be 5th tomorrow.”
When asked by us if he’d analyzed the women’s team race closely and if he had a favorite, he said, “I’m sorry to say that I haven’t broken down. Each year as my career moves further and further forward. I try to waste less energy and trying to calculate whose runners will be where on November 23rd is a waste of energy.”
He did add, “There is no one team that is head and shoulders above everybody else. I think that is the same with the men. It will probably come down to the last kilometer.”
“I’m excited to have the top 7 people that I probably would have picked on July 1st mostly healthy.”
As for the men’s team, Wetmore didn’t reveal too much. After Dave Smith said his Cowboys would follow Colorado around the course, Wetmore quipped, “I think we have an unprecedented circumstance where you are looking (here) at the coaches of the last 35 runners at the quarter mile mark.”
Wetmore did say he thought the race would be decided late, “No matter what (happens at the start) it will be wild the last 2k I’m sure.”
NAU’s Eric Heins Wasn’t Afraid to Admit That The Goal All Season Long Has Been #1
“We’ve accepted that. Why should the goal not be to go out and win the national championship? We’ve never shied away from that. It is the goal,” said Heins who raved about his team’s “personality.”
He said the guys are sometimes so loose three hours before a meet, goofing around that it makes him a bit nervous and he just leaves and lets them be and then when it’s time to get ready, they are totally focused.
BYU’s Ed Eyestone Says The Course Conditions Remind Him of European Cross Country Races Where Strength Wins Out
“(The course today) reminded me of 2006 (NCAAs) and old European cross country type courses where the strength individuals do well. We’ll definitely be picking the mud out of our teeth when this is all over.”
Chris Miltenberg Is Hoping Stanford Can Get Back To Being One of The Nation’s Elite
Miltenberg, despite the fact his team is ranked #4, acknowledged that Stanford isn’t in the same league as the big 3 of NAU, Ok State and Colorado right now.
He said after a “really disappointing NCAAs last year” the Cardinal are excited to try to “get back to a place where we really are playing with these teams again.”
He said the key to doing that in a high pressured situation like NCAAs is team unity.
“We just talk a lot about running with team discipline and commit to the plan.”
Butler’s Matt Rae is a big fan of Mark Wetmore
Several of the coaches said it was an honor just to be invited to the press conference. Butler’s Matt Rae said that, “Sitting next to Wetmore is personally very exciting for me.
Then when Rae talked about his program, it was clear he’s borrowed a lot from the Wetmore model.
He said they are a “ process” oriented versus “outcome” oriented program. “(Yes), there’s going to be a scoreboard but we stick to the process.”
Moneyball for XC?
As for his current team, Rae said there were a lot of diamonds in the rough. He says he recruits “ under-valued” and “under-trained” athletes and that one of his runners never even made the Indiana state meet in high school.
But Rae was quick to point out that just because they didn’t run fast in HS that that didn’t meant they weren’t talented.
“I’d be lying if I said they weren’t talented. They’ve done it together and there is a certain energy and synergy there.”
Florida State’s Karen Harvey: “If you go out there tomorrow and are fearful, you are going to get destroyed”
The last few year’s Harvey’s Seminoles have come in ranked #1 only to go home disappointed. Last year was a real debacle as the Seminoles ended up fourth. Harvey said the experience taught her and the team a lot:
“I actually believe that things happen for a reason and our top three ran out of their minds in Louisville and then we had some trouble after that. I’ve never seen a group of girls cry so hard.”
“I remember taking off all of my gear – all of my FSU gear and saying, ‘Karen, you are no longer their coach. They need you to be their friend.’ It was very hard to watch them deal with that but as a coach I think sometimes you have to see that, you have to see that they really cared.”
“Some of them got scared – they got scared and we’ve got the same thing to deal with tomorrow.”
“If you go out there tomorrow and are fearful, you are going to get destroyed as there are girls that are going to step up their game. That’s the name of the game. You have to run well under pressure and there’s pressure as this is the last race and most important race.”
“I think I learned a lot about how much my girls cared, no matter if they win or lose and I feel like I learned a lot about myself.”
As for this year’s team, Harvey was pleased with their health and their momentum.
“It takes a village to get our athletes healthy but I can say my trainers have worked very hard this year in keeping our girls healthy. For us to be healthy and ready to go, it’s a complete blessing I’d like to see my girls take full advantage of it 100% and peak at the right time.”
Harvey and Ed Eyestone felt like the strongest runners would excel on the wet course Saturday. But Eyestone talked more about aerobic strength whereas Harvey physical strength.
“I didn’t have an amazing career as an elite athlete but I did get to run several world cross country championships where it was extremely muddy, where you to duct tape your shoes because if you, you didn’t have any shoes,” said Harvey. “I remember running those races and being so sore in my core, my upper body, and my ankles from trying to stabilize. So when we left (Florida), I told my weight coach, ‘Thank you so much.’ “
“Honestly it’s going to take a beast to run that course (tomorrow). If you are going to do it, you have to focus. You can be physically prepared all you want, but are you going to be able to block out those distractions because there are so many. Physically, I’m excited about this team and we’ll work all the way to the end to make sure their focused.”
Arizona’s James Li is enjoying being in the team hunt race for the first time
“It has been a very, very exciting year for us. This year with a couple of very significant newcomers, it’s a little bit of surprise to see where we are. It’s been a great year but tomorrow you have to come through and do well. We are healthy and the top 7 are ready to do so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Li, like many of the other top contenders, is looking for a fifth. “Everyone says your 5th is as important as your first runner. It’s really more so with our case,” said Li. “We have 4 really, really competitive runners but how to get the next group through was a really big challenge, but it’s been exciting and rewarding to see how they’ve come through.”
As for tomorrow’s team battle, Li said, “I really believe 7 or 8 that can step up and win this whole thing. I don’t think anyone has any margin of error but I feel good about the team right now.”
As for the conditions, well Li got the most laughs on the day when he said 30 degree temperatures and a soggy field aren’t stuff his team is used to.
“I’ve been telling the team that we know we have the talent there with the team and we know we’ve trained really hard. We just have to be prepared (for the conditions and weather). Honestly, tomorrow’s conditions is not something we are used to seeing in Tucson, Arizona so we have to be prepared for all of the details.”
Lance Harter Is Thrilled To Be in The Title Hunt Just A Year Removed From The Worse Performance In His 24 Years At Arkansas
“Last year, there was lots of tears shed (after NCAAs) but unlike Karen, the only one crying was me. It was the worst performance in school history. We were 18th and we were feeling sorry for ourselves, but we had a meeting of the minds prior to track season and said we were going to correct that. We said we were going to take advantage of the opportunities the track could give us to get ready for this cross country season. Through a lot of hard work, determination and focus, we were able to do some really good things last track season and I think that momentum physically as well as mentally has put us where we are today.”
As for the team battle, Harter and many of the women’s coaches thought a whole slew of teams had a shot, “I think there are as many as 8 teams that could easily win this on the right day especially with the weather and conditions. “
Harter also said that he thought this year’s Chile Pepper race at home for Arkansas hopefully prepared them well for tomorrow’s wet conditions. The conditions were so wet in Arkansas after it rained six inches just hours before the race that he almost didn’t run his team in their own race. But they ran and did well.