Q&A on Rebel Cross Country with Ryan Vanhoy
Oct. 26, 2017
ATHENS, Ga. – With one day to go until the SEC Cross Country Championships at the University of Georgia on Friday morning, Ole Miss associate head coach for cross country Ryan Vanhoy took part in a Q&A to preview the upcoming championship races.
Q: How are you feeling about the season the Rebel men have had so far?
“I think on the men’s side we’re following a sort of similar trend to last season. There was a point last season where we competed against Oklahoma State in a similar-sized race in the middle of the season and we lost by two points, which is the same exact result as this year. But obviously, we did that this year with a much different team than we had a year ago.
“I definitely think we’re trending in the right direction. What I’ve seen in practice and just the vibe from the guys is that we’re definitely in a good spot. I think there’s not a lot of pressure on this team because, to be honest, I think a lot of people thought it would be a really big rebuilding year for us because we lost four guys last year that were All-American at some point in their careers. Any time that happens, your team is going to be much different the next year. But, I think our guys have really responded to that challenge. We’ve had a lot of guys really step up because they’re being counted on for the first time in their careers. I think the result of having a new team has been very positive in a lot of ways and it’s been a very exciting season to work with this group.”
Q: Despite losing All-Americans like Craig Engels and MJ Erb, you still return a seasoned veteran in Sean Tobin. Has he embraced being a leader of the team this year?
“He certainly has, and Sean has always been that sort of leadership rock for our program. He’s been here basically from the beginning. Certainly for him, this being his last cross country season, the one thing that’s eluded his grasp, as well as ours, is winning an SEC title in cross country as a team. That’s something that they’ve talked about doing since Day One. This week will have a special meaning to him being his last year and last opportunity to challenge for something like that. I know it means a lot to him, but he’s done a very nice job this season kind of mentoring the other guys and kind of setting our program up to continue to be successful once he and some of our other seniors move on.”
Q: Conversely, freshman Parker Scott has into his first cross season strong after an NCAA Regional trip during the outdoor season. Has that surprised you, or is this about where you thought he would be?
“Nothing surprises me with Parker after last year. There was a moment last fall when he was redshirted in cross country, but we knew this guy was going to be a major contributor for us down the road. Now obviously, he had a great track season as a true freshman. But now he’s even taken it up another level from last spring until now. And Parker was not someone in high school who qualified for a national championship in cross country, he had just missed out his senior year. He wasn’t All-State in Texas in cross country, so he had better track credentials coming out of high school. But we kind of saw right away that the track skills were going to translate to cross country for him at this level and it has.”
Q: Is that something that is hard for a lot of distance runners who are more adept on the track?
“I think it’s program-specific. For us, it’s a mentality. If you look at our top-five this year, they’re all middle-distance milers that have either learned to run cross country or were milers that ran good cross country when they got here and have been able to do both. It’s a mentality that you’re not just wanting to be a 1500 guy. If you’re a runner, you’re able to do multiple things well. Here, that’s just the standard that some of our older guys set pretty early on. We’ve always had a pretty heavy middle-distance base in our cross country program. When those guys showed that you can do it here, you can be a podium-level cross country program while also winning a middle-distance relay at the national level. You can do both and be good at both if you want to be. Some of our older guys from last year have set that standard for that, and this group is trying to live up to that as well.”
Q: As for the Rebel women, they have also had a very strong season. What are your thoughts on their progression this year and their chances this weekend?
“We’re having a good year on the women’s side. We made a tactical mistake at Pre-Nationals. It was my fault. I instructed them to go out aggressively, just because we don’t have a lot of experience in races with really big fields, so I wanted them to see what it was like to be out hard and in the front of a race and see how we would respond to that. We just weren’t ready for it, but looking back it was a good thing that we did that. Now we know some things we need to adjust heading into the final stage of the season.
Obviously, Arkansas is always very strong. Georgia is a great program and it’s on their home course. We’re not really focused so much on our chances to win, we’re just trying to go out and run our race and do the best we can and see where it stacks up with the other teams when it’s all said and done. I think this team has been more focused on trying to put together a complete race on runners one-through-seven. Even when we did win at Oklahoma State, I think we had a couple who didn’t run as well as they could have, so I think if this team has a day where all five scorers run to their potential, then it could get interesting. But for the time being, we’re just focused on putting our best foot forward and hoping it’s good enough when we stack up against the other teams.”
Q: The women’s team has had several different runners step up into that top position throughout the season. Are you happy with the depth you have?
“It’s good that we have a lot of athletes that are at that same level. They are interchangeable to some degree. Obviously we need a couple of them to develop into a front-runner type of athlete to be able to the best type of team we can be. But on the other hand, if somebody is having a tough day, someone else has always been there to step in and pick each other up. At Pre-Nationals, for instance, Clio (Ozanne-Jaques) did not have as aggressive of a start and was really able to run strong in the last half of the race where a lot of our team was fading because they went out too fast. It’s been good to have a couple freshmen, too, who have been able to step in and contribute.”
Q: Who has impressed you the most on the women’s team this season?
“To be honest, the two freshmen: Clio and Nicole (Rice). They have really come in and they didn’t have any sort of preconceived notion being a freshman and unable to contribute. They really just attacked the season, and every time we’ve raced they’ve done a little bit better. I’ve been impressed with how quickly they’ve transitioned into our scoring group.”
Q: As far as upper classmen you have four seniors: Emily Bean, Hannah Christen, Kat MacNeal and Shelby Brown – the latter of whom earned a trip to nationals outdoor in the steeplechase. How have you seen her translate that success into her final cross season?
“She’s always had pretty good performances in cross country, but she’s someone I’m hoping can improve even more these last couple meets of the year to close out her cross career. She’s someone who is certainly capable of taking a big step and being one of our top front runners.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the rest of the SEC this season?
“I certainly think it should be very close. But for us, our men’s team was picked third in the preseason poll. On paper, we’re not supposed to win, so we don’t really feel the pressure of going in there and feeling like we have to knock somebody off. It’s kind of similar to the women’s team, too. We’re going to go in and run our race, and if it’s good enough, it’s good enough. And if it’s not, we’re going to pick up and move forward to NCAAs just like we did last year. I think last year, going into the meet we really thought this team could be the one that finally does it. I think we just put too much pressure on ourselves and it was on Arkansas’ home course, so it was very much their race. I think this year we prefer just going in with the mentality that we’re not supposed to win, it’s their race to lose.”
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