October 23, 2003
From The Beginning to Now: The Continuing Success of Hoosier Cross Country
Bloomington, Ind.-Throughout the six-year tenure of Indiana head women's cross country coach Judy Wilson, the team has enjoyed a steady stream of success. This growth has been an on-going process.
Her goals as a first year head coach in 1988 were simply to get a strong group of committed women, and have since escalated to Big Ten titles and NCAA qualifications.
"When I first got here, we just didn't have people who were committed, enthusiastic, and focused about cross country. I think that was due to the fact that there were a couple of outstanding 800 m runners, but cross country hadn't seen much success," said Wilson.
The goals of coach Wilson started out simple, but they have progressed with the team's success.
"My first goal was to make it through the season with people healthy and running in the Big Ten and Regional. I know that might sound like a simple thing, but at the time, I had a senior who had never done that," Wilson said. So we did that, and I recruited like crazy and tried to get people to look at the team that finished 20th in the regional and 9th in the Big Ten."
"Now the goals can be more specific. Last year, it was to win the Big Ten, and we got really close. We not only qualified for NCAA's, but finished higher than any season ranking that we had received all season. Each year is different and the short term goals change a little, but my long term goals for the program are to be consistently one of the top 25 teams in the country each year and top three in the Big Ten."
It was not until September 2002 that Wilson saw her program turn the corner.
"When we went to Minnesota last year (Roy Griak Invitational), we finished 5th, where we had finished 26th the year before," said Wilson. "After the meet we talked about the race and our top five really didn't feel that they had a great race. That is when I knew things were coming together."
The success of the Hoosier team can be seen with their All-American accolades, NCAA qualifications, top 25 rankings, and the list goes on and on. The question is how does coach Wilson gauge the success of her program?
"I look at each individual and how they are improving. We've had some pretty impressive improvement with some people," Wilson said. "The thing that I think is really important at this level is to get people to be consistent with their training. You see freshman come in every year and every other workout goes well, but the others are a struggle. So I think you first have to get people to be consistent with what they are doing in practice and outside of practice."
Recruiting is a key aspect of any program, and Wilson has selling points she stresses to any potential athlete.
"First I emphasize the school, the quality education, the town of Bloomington and the setting that we have here," Wilson said. "Second, I talk about the program as a whole, our success in cross country and track, our facilities, academic support, etc. Third I talk about the current team and what I forsee for the future."
"Many people don't realize that cross country is a year-round commitment when you consider indoor and outdoor track," said Wilson.
For some student IU athletes, cross country was not their primary sport throughout high school. You have to ask, how does one see cross country potential in a student athlete that is not a current cross country competitor?
"Distance running at the collegiate level is grueling. We have to be careful we don't overextend people, and we have to be somewhat lucky that people don't get injured," Wilson said.
"People like Kelly (Siefker) are athletic to begin with and that's what I want to have when it comes to recruiting women to run cross country and indoor and outdoor track. They have to be pretty durable to withstand a lot of stress. We were pretty careful last year not to put too many miles on Kelly as a freshman and then go from there. She is doing really well with cross country, and it will help her a great deal in track."
Wilson was a very successful collegiate runner herself as she still holds one of the fourth fastest times on the IU Course (4th). Her own competitive running experience has been an advantage to Wilson as she searches for her recruiting classes.
"On the women's side, there is just a lot more scholarship opportunities than there were when I was in school. The internet has obviously impacted how people recruit, who they recruit, and how recruits get information," Wilson said.
"As for my running experiences, I hope it gives our athletes and recruits the idea that they will improve. I have been where they are right now, and they should have determination to do things better than I did. I think that when a girl walks in and hears that I ran a 5:26 mile in high school and a 4:48 before I graduated, she gets the idea that, although it didn't happen overnight, it did happen. And it can happen again."