With 2nd year coach Mike Wilson at the helm, a new era of cross-country competition is dawning at Eastern University. Wilson, a 2010 EU graduate, has high hopes for a program, which to this point, has largely flown under the radar. The current Eastern cross-country program was launched in 2005.
Though some quality runners have passed through the program since that time, Wilson being chief among them, EU has yet to make a mark in the MAC Conference. But with a squad featuring 24 underclassmen out of a total of 32 runners (nearly double the size of last year’s team), better days may be on the horizon.
As the leader of one of Eastern’s youngest squads, perhaps it is fitting that Mike Wilson is Eastern’s youngest coach. Wilson joined the Cross-Country coaching staff directly out of college, serving as an assistant to then coach, Eric Mundy, in the fall of 2010. Even before graduation, Wilson got some on-the-job training, as he was forced to sit out his senior season with injuries. Wilson turned the unfortunate circumstance into a learning opportunity, focusing his energy on helping his teammates.
Following Mundy’s departure, Wilson assumed full leadership of the team last fall. Newly married this summer to Val Wilson (née Wrona), a former EU runner and current assistant coach, Wilson says he has learned some lessons from his first year as head coach. The biggest lesson – the intricacies of coaching women, Wilson noted blithely. Elaborating, Wilson explained that beyond just gender differences, he has learned that each runner must be evaluated on an individual basis. Learning each runner’s limits is key in developing personalized training routines.
As far as weekly mileage goes, returning men’s MVP, Junior Colin Gordon, has led the way. Gordon averaged around 85 miles a week during the summer. His personal best time in the 8K, thus far in his career, is 29:26, which comes out to about a 5:53 mile pace for a five-mile race.
Wilson is hopeful that Gordon will be able to cut his time by up to two minutes this year, putting him in the lead pack of the conference. On the women’s side, sophomore Josey Rupert leads the way. Rupert has already broken her personal best time in the 6K this year, with a time of 25:56. Wilson sees potential for Rupert to run in the 24’s this year.
Wilson also commended his 2012 captains, senior Jon Harris and junior Katrina Schmid, despite their role in a pre-season swimming venture, which led to a scolding from an overenthusiastic park ranger. With Schmid and Harris at the head of a lively bunch of underclassmen, Wilson has set his target at a top 5 finish in the MAC Conference this year, which would be a first for both the men’s and women’s teams.
But Wilson is quick to point out that cross-country is about more than competition and results. He sees it as an analogy for life. Through cross-country, Wilson hopes that his athletes will learn the value of discipline. Lessons learned as a member of the team will serve the athletes in all areas of their lives as they prepare for life post-college.
The Cross-country team’s next meet is at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 22nd at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA.