With the cross country season just finished, it is only fitting that the distance group is the first set of runners to be previewed. The group will be led by assistant coach Kevin Ondrasek, who joined the Sooners this past summer, and features many familiar faces from the cross country team.
Since joining the program, Ondrasek has had three main points of emphasis for his runners -- getting healthy, building strength and honing communication. “The primary focus has been to build strength and to get healthy. We had a lot of people hurt initially and we’ve got them all going now. I feel like we’ve succeeded in both of those areas. I’d also say communication was a primary focus as well. Learning how to communicate what I wanted from the group and them learning how to communicate with me about how they’re feeling.”
Even in a short time, there have been improvements in these areas and that should only strengthen as the season continues.
“I’ve seen improvements in team chemistry, their ability to run for each other,” says Ondrasek. “I’ve seen improvements in the weight room as far as approaching it with the right amount of intensity and purpose. I’ve also seen improvements in their race day composure. At the start, I was a little worried but, as it turns out, we have a bunch of crafty veterans on the team.”
Those veterans that Ondrasek is referring to include Eric Alldritt, Dylan Blankenbaker, Liam Meirow on the men’s side and Elena Arriaza, Brittany Tretbar, Sarah Scott and Belle Wallace on the women’s side. Helping the group will be Jacob Burcham and Dan Schubert, who will be back in action after missing the cross country season.
The distance group is comprised of 38 runners - 17 on the men’s side and 21 on the women’s. On the men’s side, there will be three freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, two sophomores, one redshirt sophomore, two juniors, three seniors, one redshirt senior, and one fifth-year senior, one sixth-year senior and one graduate student. For the women, there will be two freshmen, four redshirt freshmen, one sophomore, three redshirt sophomores, four juniors, two redshirt juniors and five seniors.
While the rosters include familiar, consistent and acclaimed runners, the impact of the numerous newcomers is the biggest question. The men will have five newcomers while the women will have two.
“That’s for them to decide. We have some newcomers who have the talent and the ability to make an impact. Until they do, I’m not going to call them out. That’s their decision.”
While Ondrasek may be reticent to name a newcomer who could make an immediate impact, he was more forthcoming about a returner who could make waves this season.
“I would say Isabella Rose is going to be someone to keep an eye on,” explained Ondrasek. “She’s a returner and has never really been a big impact runner for us. Some of the workouts she’s had over the break have shown that she’s ready to do some big things. As far as improvement goes, she’s been someone who has stood out the most in my mind.”
Rose didn’t compete in indoor or outdoor track last season but has been around the program for a year. She did compete in cross country the past two years, giving her ample experience and preparation for a breakout season.
For Rose and the rest of the group, the assistant coach’s early expectations are straightforward with some humor added in referencing a welcomed change in race day perspective.
“I just want to see people race. That’s it. I just want to see people get after it. On the track, I finally get to see the entire competition. They’re not disappearing back into the woods for 20 minutes at a time. I want to see some people fight and try to win races.”
Part of that expectation is based on an adjustment period that the cross country runners undergo while transitioning from the course to the track.
“There is an adjustment period and I think the adjustment period probably happens throughout January. The strength and base training that you go back to after cross country is over still feels very much like cross country. Until they get on the track to start racing and start getting a little more race specific in their workouts, which will usually happen in January, it still feels like cross country.”
He adds that, at the same time, “Cross country gives them an advantage because it gives them something to shoot for and keeps them motivated. The opportunity to race every once in a while keeps those competitive juices flowing. A track person has to wait half the year before they get to compete.”