Weekly Coach Harkins Interview :: 11/08/11 Your team had a successful trip to Hawai'i with both of your teams finishing runner up.
Meaghan Harkins: We were very happy with the results of our performances. Obviously we had hoped to bring home a trophy on both sides, on both the men's and women's sides but it wasn't in the cards. Ultimately I think both the teams came together phenomenally well. They literally gave everything they had and you can never be unhappy with that. The men's performance was their strongest performance of the season.
MH: Yeah it definitely was. It was a sight to see. I've never been so proud of a team. Watching them come in just fighting so hard every step of the way. Fighting for every place. There were a lot of head-to-head competitions going into the finish line the last 400 meters and just about every time we ended up edging the other team out. Our men really understood that every single place was important. Likewise they understood that our one through seven pack needed to be extremely tight and they went out there and performed and did exactly what they needed to do. This was the last WAC race for a couple of the seniors on the men's side so for them to go out there and have that kind of performance had to be very satisfying for them.
MH: I didn't surprise me at all. We had the highest number of All-WAC award winners out of any school including Utah State who ended up winning overall. Honestly it didn't surprise me at all. I kind of figured that the way things were going to play out it was going to end up being a triangular meet between us, Utah State and Idaho and that's exactly how it played out. I was very pleased and very happy with all the men's performances. Victor Sanchez and Kevin Taft getting their All-WAC awards, I know Kevin Taft was really hoping to be First Team All-WAC. He was the first guy out in eighth place, top seven get First Team so he was a little disappointed with that. Victor, just talking to him directly after the race I was telling him what a fantastic job he did and he just looked at me and said, "We wanted to win coach." My heart kind of broke for them because of all the hard work they've put in and those two in particular have really worked their butts off this year and really gave everything they had in that race. So it was a tough loss in that respect but I was filled with pride for those two seniors as well as the entire team. Eric Fenton was named Freshman of the Year and obviously his future is bright at New Mexico State.
MH: Yeah it's looking bright. It definitely bodes very well for New Mexico State's future in the WAC. Obviously things are going to change around a lot with all the teams coming in, however, the men and I discussed the potential to go in next year and have our eye on the prize again, have our eye on that championship. I think it's going to be possible, it's definitely going to be doable. In terms of Eric, it was very very exciting for him. It's always difficult for freshmen when they come in. The transition to college is often a difficult one especially when it comes to adapting to the higher mileage, the harder workouts, even the competition. Every single competition that Eric was involved in this past cross country season was as competitive and usually moreso than his state meet. So just adjusting to that level of competition is always a big adjustment. Very proud of him and I think that he has transitioned very well and I know there's a lot more to come from Eric in the future. Talking about freshmen, we talked before the meet about Tamara Lementino and she goes out and earns herself a All-WAC spot as well.
MH: She did. I was so, so proud of her. She was tough as nails that day which was so exciting to see. Chelsa McDonnell who has been our number three was having a bit of an off day, was battling with some dehydration issues during the race and so Tamara stepped it up in a big way and picked up the slack and I don't think we ended up losing anything because some of our other runners weren't where they typically need to be. The other women really stepped it up in a big way and they did a great job. Courtney Schultz won the individual meet for the third consecutive year which is a very difficult thing to do.
MH: It is. This was definitely the hardest year. Both sisters, both Courtney and Camille, knew that they were going to have their work cut out for them against Hannah Kiser from Idaho if they were going to repeat their 1-2 finish that they'd had the previous two years. Basically what it came down to was toughness in the end and quite simply Courtney was tougher and stronger than Hannah Kiser. I'd say the last 1,000 meters was when Courtney pulled ahead. The entire race those two were battling back and forth, back and forth. One would be three steps ahead then the other would catch up and she'd be three steps ahead. It was an incredibly exciting race and I was watching them at the 4K mark and they were literally stride for stride and then they went out of sight for about maybe 600 meters or so which was an uphill 600 meters and both of them looked very very strong and I had no idea if Courtney was going to be able to pull it out. I had faith but both of them looked very very strong, I could easily have seen it coming right down to the wire. Then the next time I saw Courtney there was about 400 meters to go and she had put about 15 seconds on Hannah. So within that 600 meters that I couldn't see her, she basically broke her which I was pretty thrilled to see. This is the first year that the twins have really been challenged in this race. How much will that challenge from Kiser this year help them next year and as Courtney goes for the four-peat?
MH: Courtney really takes each race one at a time and I would be surprised if she's put much thought into winning a fourth consecutive WAC Championship. At this point in the season her main focus is doing well in the regional meet. She's been All-Region the last two years that she's run. She obviously wants to repeat that and definitely will be looking to get an individual spot onto the NCAA Championships. I'm sure it's in the back of her mind. She knows it's going to be difficult. Hannah Kiser, her main competition from this year, is going to be back next year. Hannah will be a junior next year and Courtney will be a senior. It's always going to get tougher but that's the nature of our sport. It gets harder and harder every year and as you progress as an athlete it becomes more and more difficult to continue progressing. You have to rededicate yourself even more each year to ensure you're making significant strides each year. If you get lazy in any way or you slack off in any way, our sport doesn't lie. You can't skate your way through. It's going to come down to making sure she's continuing to make the right sacrifices, continuing to put the miles in every single day and just continuing to work hard and take good care of herself. Her sister definitely helps her with that. They're both able to hold each other accountable. Making sure that they are getting their runs in when we don't have organized practice, making sure they're getting up to the training room and taking care of those aches and pains. It's good to have someone who's with you the whole time who's doing the exact things you are holding you accountable. That bodes well for Courtney as well as her sister Camille. This is the second straight year for the men getting a podium finish as well as for the women. When you guys took over the program, quite honestly New Mexico State was an afterthought in the conference and now you're competing for conference titles every year. That's quite an accomplishment for both you as a coach as well as for the athletes.
MH: What I think is probably most telling about the transition that the program has made over the past four or five years has been that the vast majority of our success is due a lot the in-state athletes. It's due to athletes coming from New Mexico. I think that speaks volumes to the athletes that are coming from in-state. We don't need to go to the east coast, we don't need to go to California, we don't need to go outside the state really to bring in athletes who are going to be very competitive at the Division I level. I think the times coming out of New Mexico in terms of the times coming out of high school aren't as fast as some of the other times in other areas of the country but it doesn't mean the talent isn't there and I think that's been a huge discovery for us. The talent and the work ethic. All the kids on our team, we give them the tools but it's up to them to as to what they do with the tools. Every single person on both the men's and the women's team, whether they're from New Mexico, Oregon, California, wherever they're coming from, they've been able to take those tools and really put them to work. It's funny coaching a sport like cross country and distance running because so much of their success is dependent on their every day decisions and just the amount they're willing to put into their sport. I think we've been very lucky in that we've had some great kids over the years. This weekend you head to the regional meet. What are your goals and expectations for that meet?
MH: We leave this Thursday for the regional meet in Provo, the NCAA regional competition. This is where teams will qualify on to the national meet. The top two teams will qualify. Right now our men are ranked 11th and our women are ranked 11th as well. A top ten finish is what we've got our eyes set on. There are some differences in this race than there have been. The men run an 8K all year long and the NCAA regional meet is the first meet where they're run a 10K. So it's over a mile longer than what they've been racing all season. The women, they typically run a 5K, this race will be a 6K. I think our training has been toward these longer races the entire season. Typically we've had the last couple of years, a bounce back effect after the WAC Championships, that being the culmination of our season. Sometimes we've struggled at the regional meet. Our goal going into the season was running strong throughout the entire season going into WAC, getting a podium finish at the WAC meet but then coming back strong for the regional meet as well. We've done a ton of strength work this year getting the athletes ready for that longer competition. Top ten is what we're hoping for. The Pre-National meet was also a 6K meet so is that any advantage for the women, particularly the freshmen who don't typically run a 6K?
MH: Yeah, for Tamara Lementino, she's our only freshman that we're taking to the regional meet. She did get a chance to run a 6K before and she had actually run a 6K prior to coming to college with her club team in high school so she's pretty experience. The longer distance doesn't intimidate her at all. She has her sights setting on potentially becoming a 10K runner in college so she's definitely open to the longer distances and isn't intimidated by them at all. For the Schultz sisters one of the their goals is to qualify for the national meet. What kind of performance would they have to have at regionals?
MH: They need to be top ten in the region in order to have a chance at going. The interesting thing about qualifying individually for nationals is that the number of individuals they take is directly dependent on the number of teams that get out to nationals. The top teams will automatically qualify for the women's race, however, there's an at-large process where any number of teams after the top two teams can qualify. We've had as many as five teams from the Mountain region get out to the national meet in years past. This year the Mountain region is not looking as strong from a team perspective. I could see us potentially getting only getting two teams out which creates more competition for those individual spots to qualify on to nationals. Those individual spots are taken from whatever teams aren't going on to nationals. It may be the toughest year ever to qualify individually but I believe that Courtney and Camille are the toughest they've ever been and very ready.