Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Underdogs become Top Dogs at NSIC Championships

NSIC champs UMD with their trophy and T-shirts.
Photo courtesy of Augustana
It was the type of performance coaches hope to get from their teams.  Each member of the NSIC champion University of Minnesota Duluth women ran a personal best as the Bulldogs won the NSIC title on Saturday.  Mix that with the fact that one of the team's top runners did not compete because of a stress reaction in her leg and another that did was fighting a nasty cold and you realize these women are not underachievers.

"I always dream and aim really high," said NSIC women's XC coach of the year, Joanna Warmington of UMD.  "(I told the team) You can win this race.  (I told our top four) you all belong in the top ten...Our whole team did it."

On the awards stand after being given their first place placque, the announcer told Warmington "to show a little excitement"  By then, however, she was already thinking ahead.  To Regions.  To Nationals.  Her mentor, retired UMD coaching legend John Fulkrod, advised her that: "you can't get too high and you can't get too low."  She also didn't want to show disrespect for the teams UMD had beaten with any excessive celebration.

The Central Region Championships would be in two weeks on the same course.  The other teams would be ready to get one of the top two spots in order to advance to the NCAA DII finals.  The goal for the season was to be one of those two teams.  The conference meet win was a great effort and a confidence builder, but the job they set out to do at the beginning of the season wasn't finished.

And the other teams were, no doubt, thinking the same thing.  Augustana's coach, Tracy Hellman, said in a post race video interview that his women's team had learned from the experience.  They hadn't been as "aggressive" as they should have been at the beginning of the race, but the Regions would be in two weeks and they could adjust using what they had learned.

Warmington's women would have to rise to the occasion again. Unlike Augustana, who Warmington notes, has great senior leadership, UMD's squad is composed of underclassmen(women).  Warmington recruited them because she believes they have the mental toughness, the work ethic to succeed.  The room to grow as athletes and individuals.  They've made great progress already.  Ssophomore Hannah Olson, who finished fifth at NSIC's, was a 5:22 miler in high school.  In her freshman year Olson dropped her time down to 4:58.

Warmington says treating each athlete individually is one thing that helps make her program work.  For example, she has some team members who are primarily middle distance runners and they have to be trained differently than the distance-specialists.  Then they all have to come together as a team.  Compete as a pack instead of as an individual.

On Saturday the team did that.  Came in as underdogs and emerged as champions.  They'll face the same challenge in the weeks ahead.  The expectation will be that Augustana will pick up their game, defend their wounded pride.  UMD will have to crank up theirs as well, not be content with merely being conference champions.

When Warmington was facing a challenge some years ago, the person advising her tried to aid her in coping with the issue by lowering expectations.  "Why is it so bad to be average?" she was asked.  "I wasn't raised that way," she answered.  "That's not in my make up."

Early in her running career, a coach tried to "let her down gently," suggesting that maybe running was not "in the cards" for her.  She responded by dropping her 800 time from 2:17 to 2:10 and demonstrated that running was indeed in her "deck of cards."

Having demonstrated that the team is made of that same ability and aggressiveness, it now remains for the newly crowned champions to discover more about their capabilities, Warmington says.  A time for the "underdogs" to perhaps redefine themselves, to prove themselves again on another "stage."


Unknown said...

In the second portion of the article, you mention "Waterman" several times. I think you meant "Warminton". Could you please edit this to ensure clarity?
Thank you so much!

jdf said...

Thanks. That is bizzare. I don't know where the various misspellings came from. There was more than one spelling that was not near correct. Apologies for that. Should be correct now.

jdf said...

Tracking down the spelling issues, discovered that was only part of the problem. Article was a total mess. Sincere apologies. Updated version.