November 21, 2014
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — This afternoon, the pre-race press conference for tomorrow’s 2014 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships was held at the Holiday Inn. Athletes Emma Bates, Courtney Frerichs, Crystal Nelson, and Leah O’Connor were there as were women’s coaches Michael Smith (Georgetown), Andrea Grove-McDonough (Iowa State), Lance Harter (Arkansas), and Walt Drenth (Michigan State). Invited athletes Kate Avery of Iona and Colleen Quigley of Florida State were no-shows as was coach Robert Johnson of Oregon.
We present to you the 10 highlights from the women’s portion of the press conference.
1) Leah O’Connor said Michigan State being ranked #1 for much of the season hasn’t changed much
“I don’t think [he #1 ranking] changed much of anything. It doesn’t mean that much. What matters is how we perform,” said the reigning NCAA steeple champ.
“We (all of the seniors) never really thought, ‘Ok we want to win a national title.’ We just new if we worked together we could do amazing things. These are my best friends. This is a really special year. We’re having a lot of fun with it.”
O’Connor also added that much of the Michigan State track team is going to make the five-hour drive from East Lansing to Terre Haute to cheer the team on. O’Connor was far from surprised by such a move as she said the team gets a ton of support from the entire athletic community in East Lansing.
“You can just feel the love. That’s something that’s awesome at Michigan State – everyone supports all of the sports.”
O’Connor said concern for the team title wouldn’t inhibit her from going for it in the individual race.
When asked if a fear of blowup which would be costly in the team battle might prevent the Big 10 and Great Lakes champ from going for the individual title, O’Connor said no.
“I think I know myself well enough as a runner at this point that I’m not gong to blow up,” said O’Connor who was quite pleased that the weather forecast for Saturday is good. Last year, O’Connor said the conditions were ‘crazy’ and said she couldn’t feel her legs after the 4k mark.
2) Crystal Nelson likes a long kick from home and credits the coaching staff for her huge improvement
Nelson, who has never even qualified for NCAAs on the track but was 32nd last year in cross, became an individual contender after winning the adidas Wisconsin Invite. On that win, it was clear that Nelson, who has a 4:23 1500 pb, likes a long kick home.
“I figured if I took it with about 2k to go I might have a chance to win it. I got a lot of confidence from that race,” said Nelson, who attributes her improvement to herself doing smarter training than in the past. “I attribute a lot [of my improvement] to the coaching staff. I’m also in a better place mentally. Sometimes I’d get into my head and take my runs too fast. I’ve listened to my body and learned discipline.”
3) Emma Bates doesn’t think she’s had a poor season.
Bates, who was the runner-up here last year and then went on to win the NCAA 10,000 title in the spring, is well aware that some view her 2014 fall campaign as a disappointment so far as she was sixth at both Roy Griak and Wisconsin. Bates doesn’t see it that way.
“Everyone keeps [bringing the losses up]. I think the progression has been just the same as last year,” said Bates. “Last year, my confidence was always a bit shaky just because of that [loss to HSer Alexa Efraimson]. My goal was to win then and it’s the same tomorrow,” said Bates who said it was an “absolute thrill” to be here with the rest of her team – the first Broncos team to qualify for NCAAs.
4) University of Missouri-Kansas City runner Courtney Frerichs was thrilled to be at the press conference, putting UMKC on the map
Frerichs, who only has a 16:19 5000 pb, (Arkansas, for example, has three sub-16 women on the team), was proud to be bringing UMKC some publicity.
“I’m excited to put UMKC on the map and improve upon on last year,” said Frerichs, who was 38th in 2013. Frerichs, the Midwest champ this year, attributes her improvement in large part to the fact a male graduate of UMKC has stuck around and trains with her on a regular basis.
Highlights From The Coach Portion of The Press Conference
5) Walt Drenth was far from overwhelmed at the concept of winning his and Michigan State’s first NCAA women’s cross country team title
Drenth, who has been coaching collegiately since 1985, seemed very much at ease with the fact that his program might win its and his first NCAA title.
“I’m not sure about any pressure. We’ve had a chance to race [several times] all year. And we haven’t talked about the outcome of any race and we won’t do that this time either. It’s been a cool ride,” said Drenth near the start of the press conference.
The pressure certainly didn’t seem to be too much for Drenth to handle, and for good reason. Drenth refuses to be defined by the success or failure of his team.
“I’m not running so this isn’t my national championship. I represent and coach a group of young women who are special group of people. I haven’t gone to a point where I think this is going to define me as a human being or coach, but it would mean a lot to the university.”
“[Win or lose, next week] from a personal standpoint, I get to cook dinner for a bunch of family.”
Drenth said the Spartans try to focus on the process at each and every meet. “If we start to worry about who does what [we’ll get into trouble]. We have enough to worry about. Control what you can control – that’s sort of been our mantra.”
6) Both Arkansas and Iowa State are well aware that Michigan State trounced them earlier this year – Georgetown doesn’t have this negative mental baggage
The Spartans have already twice trounced Iowa State (66 to 102 at Roy Griak and then 87 to 212 at Wisconsin) and once Arkansas (87 to 191 at Wisconsin) and coaches Harter and Grove-McDonough were well aware of that fact.
“This is my 25th NCAA (cross country championships),” Harter said. “We’re real excited. This started last year at this time. We thought we had a really good team and didn’t take care of business and got spanked pretty [badly] by the competition. Ever since then we’ve been focused on what we don’t want to do and making sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes – except we made the mistake of going to Wisconsin and getting trounced by Michigan State).”
“Michigan State has already killed us twice,” said Iowa State coach Andrea Grove-McDonough.
The Hoyas of Georgetown are lucky in the sense that they haven’t faced Michigan State so far this year. If the Hoyas pull off the upset, it will be because they are coming into form at the right time of year. “My kids are just psyched,” Smith said. “I feel like the group I’m fortunate enough to coach is getting better and better and not tired at this time of year.”
7) Grove-McDonough was the most forthright of all the coaches at the press conference and said, “I don’t know if there is anything we can do [to beat Michigan State]” and admitted that star Katy Moen has “a bit of a niggle.”
When asked how the Cyclones could flip the script and beat Michigan State, she started by saying, “Wipeouts. I don’t know if there is anything we can do. They are running so great and have so much depth and have a great coach.”
If Iowa State does win, Grove-McDonough described exactly how she thinks it would happen. She said her top two of Crystal Nelson and Katy Moen are her “pocket aces” and should be two very low sticks as the duo could both finish in the top 10, assuming that “a bit of a niggle” doesn’t hamper Moen. After those two, Brown graduate Margaret Connelly, who was 4th at Big 12s, “has been looking great – she’s ready for a big finish – I’d like to see her in the top 20.”
Expected #4 runner Bethanie Brown, who hasnt’ raced since Roy Griak but was 37th last year, is the key to the Cyclones having a chance.
“Bethanie Brown is a big boost for us. She’s fit. I think that makes us more competitive than the earlier [races against Michigan State],” said Grove-McDonough about Brown. “What that means, I don’t know as she hasn’t raced. She’s a kid that’s shown she can run above her fitness level. I think it takes a lot pressure off my fifth. But we are just weaker at the 5 spot – that’s a fact. We’ll just run as hard as we can up front and maybe get a bit of cushion.”
8) Lance Harter said the awful weather doomed Arkansas last year
Last year, Arkansas came in ranked third and went home devastated after finishing 15th.
Harter said the cold and wet weather doomed Arkansas. In 2013, the fall was wonderful weather-wise in Fayettevill and the Razorbacks were totally unprepared for the conditions in Terre Haute.
“Last year we had a very wonderful fall. I think it got down to 50. When it was minus 5 windchill [on one of our runs before the race], I think we tried to stay positive, but one of the girls said, ‘Oh my God it’s so cold’ and I kind of knew that [we were doomed],” said Harter. He added that this year the weather in Fayetteville has been colder (the high temperature was below 40 degrees for five straight days recently) so his team will be ready for anything on Saturday. “Ever since last year, this group knew they’d be returning and vowed not to let it repeat.”
9) Michigan State won’t be running an All-Michigan top 7
The Spartans’ seven runners at the Great Lakes Regional are all Michigan natives, but it looks like they’ll have to settle for six of seven tomorrow. The teams’ #7 at Big 10s, Katie Landwehr, is from Ohio (Drenth joked that “she’s like a foreigner for us”) and was sick after the conference meet, causing him to sub in Sara Stassen. Stassen has developed a hip problem, so Drenth said he is leaning toward reinserting Landwehre tomorrow in her place. He did add that it is “pretty cool” that MSU has had so much success this year with a team of almost-exclusively Michigan runners.
10) The Coaches explained their varying rationale for having their teams attend or skip the banquet and movie premiere on Thursday night.
i) Grove-McDonough thought the event was a great distraction.
“For me, I don’t think they need to be reminded they are here for business. I think they will be keenly aware of that fact. [The event] was a cool, fun thing. I coach women, so they like getting dressed up. I think it gives them something to focus on.
“The more time they aren’t confined to their hotel room and sitting around thinking about why they are here, the better off
they are going to be. I believe the looser I can keep them the better. At the end of the day, it’s a fun thing [to attend]. I just try to keep it as loose as possible.”
ii) Georgetown coach Michael Smith said his team doesn’t go to movie premieres at other meets so why change thing up here?
“It’s not a policy to attend or not attend. We talked to the kids [and asked them]. My feeling is that [it’s good to] tell an athlete this is just the same as any other race, and we don’t go to banquets before any other races,” said Smith.
iii) The Michigan State women went but Drenth, a self-described ‘social recluse’ said if it was just him, he wouldn’t have gone
“We went, but if they were complete reflection of me, I’d have a team of social recluses. I had to kind of go along for the ride,” said Drenth.