An Equally Important Role

  • By Daniel Whitehead
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  • October 18, 2010 07:27 PM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Looking over his cross country and track rosters, West Virginia University cross country coach Sean Cleary faces an annual dilemma: how to most effectively utilize his runners over their respective four-year collegiate athletic careers.

When evaluating seniors Jessica O’Connell, Kate Harrison and Kaylyn Christopher, he noticed a discrepancy between their cross country eligibility and their indoor/outdoor track eligibility and decided he needed to close the gap to best utilize the talents of each runner.

The result? A redshirt year for the trio to allow other runners to progress during the 2010 cross country season and to have everyone more prepared for track and cross country for both 2010 and future seasons.

It makes sense to more than just Coach Cleary.

“This will give more people an opportunity to get experience for next year,” O’Connell said. ”I think it will raise everyone’s confidence to see more competition and build toward the next couple of years. I know we’ll give it everything we possibly can - it gives us an extra push. This will make everyone stronger and help everyone out. It will help everyone become fit this season and next year. The girls on the team this year are the hardest-working girls I have ever seen.”

Christopher agrees that the decision to redshirt the three will pay dividends for themselves and the rest of the team.

“I think that the fact of the three of us redshirting will mean a lot of good things for the younger girls,” she said. “They’re going to get the big-meet experience that maybe they wouldn’t have had before. They’ll get to go to the BIG EAST and regionals, see the competition and start acclimating themselves to it. That’s where they’re going to be the next couple of years. It will give them great experience to add to the older girls’ experience as well.”

While their racing schedule has been changed for the next few months, their ability to support the other members of the team has not been altered.

“I just need to be really supportive of everyone else because they have been so supportive of us in the past,” O’Connell said. “We’ll just do whatever we can because we know how helpful it’s been to us.”

“The biggest thing is to be there to support them and encourage them,” Christopher said. “We can let them know that, even though we’re not with them racing, we’ll still be there. We’ll travel to the races with them giving them that kind of support or being at workouts and setting examples just to keep working hard.”

Harrison points out that the upcoming championship races are crucial for the development of the younger runners.

“It will be important for us to be there to cheer them on, especially in these championship races,” she said. “It will be good for them to have more opportunities to compete and get experience from the races. All of us will have bigger roles for next year with the training we’ll receive.”

Although they will continue to run and train with the team, all three indicated that the motivation for training will need to be kept at a high level if the plan is to be successful.

“I’m trying to stay as motivated as I can, even though there’s not an immediate race to look toward,” O’Connell said. “I’m trying to keep the big picture in mind and keep reminding myself that this will help me with indoor and outdoor track. There’s still more to come. I go from workout to workout thinking, ‘Okay, that was a good one – I can’t wait for the next one.’ Instead of thinking from race to race, it’s now practice to practice."

“We’ll still train on the same schedule,” Harrison adds. "The challenge will be to push ourselves harder knowing we won’t be competing in an upcoming race. The focus has changed a bit now that we won’t be racing. Our main concern right now is to not taper off or give a so-so effort. We need to focus more on training that will help us build into the track season in the spring.”

Nursing a tender foot, Christopher acknowledges that while training will be affected, all three will need to have a greater resolve to help both themselves and the team by staying healthy and maintaining a consistent effort level.

“Knowing that there isn’t all the pressure to get back quickly for the championship meets, I’ll take things slowly to get back into it and make sure that I’m totally recovered from any injuries,” she said. “It’s nice that there isn’t the pressure of racing to get it healed more quickly. One of the biggest pros to redshirting is that I’ll be able to focus on track season, which is my stronger area.”

With a redshirt season in store for the group, Cleary will look to seniors Maria Dalzot and Jamie Cokeley to lead the team as well as juniors Sarah-Anne Brault and Ahna Lewis, sophomores Katie Gillespie and Hallie Portner and multiple others.

Competing in the races or not, the three have discovered a new way to accomplish what has always been an overall goal for the team: support one another no matter what role you are asked to perform.

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