Besides the sun rising and falling each day, there are not many things in life you can count on happening consistently. However, over the last four plus years Pioneer cross-country has almost been as consistent as the sun, particularly on the men’s side.
Seemingly each year they were winning and winning big. From 2007-2009 the men won three straight NAIA National Championships while being under the microscope of being ranked number one most of the time.
Last year wasn’t too shabby either as the men finished third and the women fourth in another pressure packed year of distance racing.
This year, though, the Pioneers may have an even greater challenge to succeed then in years past as they adjust to changes in their coaching staff, training program and roster.
“It is definitely a lot different now that we have new assistant coach helping us out with our workouts,” said sophomore Tina Oprean. “The training has been a lot different, but I think it has been really good for us because we are getting better each race.”
Maybe the biggest change for the Pioneers from last year is the changing of assistant coaches from Matt Woods to Matthew Reneker.
For the last five years, during some of the most successful year in cross-country history, Woods served as legendary head coach Jack Hazen’s right hand man as an expert on athletic training and the body. An enthusiastic Reneker now fills a similar position.
“He’s very knowledgeable in athletic training principles and physiology,” Hazen said. “He kind of does what Matt (Woods) did for us. He tests for us, physiologically, VO2 max and lactate. He is very personable and really a good fit for us.”
Reneker has made several impressions and changes from Woods’ regime to the team so far. The biggest change has to be to the training program, which emphasizes progressive running instead of running hard early and tapering off miles at the end.
“I feel like the training is more conservative,” said Oprean. “We don’t have practices every week now that are like 100%. We are no longer running our bodies into the ground as early. I think it is just more progression, each week is harder and harder.”
The hope through this different method of training would be to peak at the end instead of peaking early and then losing steam as fatigue sets in. Oprean believes this way will prove to be more effective.
“I think the outcome is going to be better this year because I think we will have a lot more in the end than we did last year,” Oprean said.
This new progressive training might explain why the team has gotten off to a slow start by their incredible standards. So far in two meets, at the Akron Invitational and Navy Invitational, the men have only beaten 5 out of a possible 13 teams and the women have beaten 10 of 14 teams.
Along with bringing a different method of training, Reneker also brings a different attitude as well.
“He’s really more open to suggestions and to his faith to us, which I think really helps us to be more open with our faith to our team,” Oprean said. “He’s really upbeat and brings a positive light to the team.”
Along with having a new coach, a new training regime and losing some runners via graduation or red-shirting like junior Mitch Williams, the Pioneers must also deal with a tough schedule.
The team will continue to run against tough NCAA Division I and II opponents along with NAIA teams as they build their way up to the last meet, the Independent National Championships meet in November, which will be a meet for programs without a conference like Malone.
The next test for the Pioneers to will be Friday, September 30th as they travel to Cedarville, OH for the All-Ohio Intercollegiate Championships.