A Q&A with the head coaches for the men's and women's cross country teams following their first season at the helm of the Demon Deacons
Dec. 16, 2016
Dec. 16, 2016
Following the first season of cross country under the direction of John Hayes, Director of Track & Field and Cross Country, and Michelle Chewens, Head Women's Cross Country / Assistant Track & Field Coach, Wake Forest Athletics sat down with the two to reflect on the season while also highlighting some of the achievements over the fall semester.
What was your mindset going into the season as you took over the title of Director of Track & Field and Cross Country?
(Hayes) - When any coach comes in, they have to establish their own level of culture and expectations. We have to redefine what hard work is and what consistently hard work is. I felt like in some ways, we succeeded, but we have work to do. The group we ran at the regional meet was a completely different group than a year before. None of the guys had run at the Southeast Regional before. When you look on paper at what we did this season, it looks like we improved only one place at Conference, but we held out a lot of runners and ran with a relatively new lineup so we had a lot of inexperience. The guys we did have showed some improvement, but we have a long way to go. It's great to be able to reboot. We are starting from scratch and rebuilding from here, so by outdoors our team should be running significantly better.
What were your goals for the team considering you arrived after the season had started? (Chewens) - My focus was to change as much as I could without getting anyone hurt in training. I knew that if we changed certain things, we would be better than the year before, but I was more looking ahead to the future and increasing volume more than they were doing previously.
What would you attribute the successful season to?
(Chewens) - The biggest thing is the women learned how to run as a team, and that is something that I tried to implement as soon as I got here. They picked it up really quickly. They were better at every race they ran. If you look, our spread 1-to-4 at the regional meet was 18 seconds and from a better starting point, which is very good.
What was the importance of the new guys getting a chance to run this season?
(Hayes) - It's really important because we are talking about a lot of guys that have never really competed in college cross country. One of our top five had never competed in cross country until this year. His mother was at the regional meet and had never seen a cross country meet until then. We had a freshman from Greece who had never really run cross country before. He ran the 800 and 1,500 but not cross country. So many things they have experienced are new, so our expectation as a team next year will be completely different than it was this year. With that, I think we are taking steps, and I think the next eight months are critical in the development of the program.
Moving forward, what is the biggest thing you are looking to focus on?
(Chewens) - One of the big things is to develop the team, and especially the younger girls. They have only been working with me for 11-12 weeks now. Outside of the girls that raced at the ACC Championships and ran at the regional meet, there was a lot of improvement made by the younger runners on our team back home. We had a time trial on the track with the girls that weren't running at regionals, and we had a freshman set a PR by 18 seconds in a two-mile run. That is where my focus is going to be through this track season. There are a few individuals that have a shot at going to NCAA regionals in track, but outside of that, we are focusing on continuing to build, getting them used to training and the workload. Another big part of it is recruiting. We have to try to bring in girls that have similar views on where I want the program to go and where, as a team, they want the program to go.
What are your thoughts on the strong end of the season that your team showed?
(Chewens) - Outside of qualifying for NCAAs, I don't think it could have gone any better than it did - especially because we had 11 girls healthy throughout the season which is the first time that's happened in a very long time. We were 23 points out of qualifying for NCAAs, and I think it took them a good hour after the race to really understand that. They were happy, but a majority were disappointed, which I think shows where their expectation is. It made them see what they need to do to get to that step. I think it was great, but it was also good how they handled it, because as happy as they were, they were dissatisfied with the result.
Looking forward, what are some key pieces returning and what is your hope for the team? (Chewens) - Out of our top five we only lost one girl, and we have our best runner, Mimi Smith, returning. Samantha Halvorsen had a great season, but I know that she can be a lot better, especially with a year of good training. The same can be said about our other three freshmen. We have one that redshirted that I think will be able to come back, really step up for us and lead our top seven. Even though we are losing one of our top five, we are a very young team.
What was your message to keep morale up during the season?
(Hayes) - Day one at our team meeting, I really laid out that there was going to be a level of frustration because you can't just do good, hard work for eight weeks and expect everything to turn around. The human body doesn't work like that. With that, we still jumped seven places at the regional meet with a completely inexperienced group. So, I think there was excitement amongst those guys because it was all new to them. There's no feeling of content, however, for the team when you finish towards the bottom of the conference. A majority of the guys, right now see the team, see the guys we have coming in and see that their attitudes are changing. Their mindset is changing, and they are slowly redefining their goals of what we are going to be in the future. That's exciting. It started to build throughout cross country, and obviously, there was frustration at the end of the year but I think some of them are starting to learn and appreciate this reboot period that we have. Throughout indoor, there will be some adjustments, and then by outdoor season we should really be starting to click.