Dedicated coaches lead VCXC to continued improvement

The Vassar Cross Country coaching staff oversees both men’s and women’s programs as well as coaching the track team. With their guidance, cross country has reached unprecedented success. Photo By: Jacob Gorski
The Vassar Cross Country coaching staff oversees both men’s and women’s programs as well as coaching the track team. With their guidance, cross country has reached unprecedented success. Photo By: Jacob Gorski
The Vassar Cross Country coaching staff oversees both men’s and women’s programs as well as coaching the track team. With their guidance, cross country has reached unprecedented success. Photo By: Jacob Gorski

James McCowan is the backbone of Vassar’s cross country and track programs. He is the head coach of both Men’s and Women’s Cross Country (VCXC) and of Men’s and Women’s Track and his versatility and leadership have brought about good beginnings for all of his teams. Women’s XC is proving one of the fastest in VC’s history and men’s cross country is right on the edge of beginning its competition in earnest. McCowan explained the strategy needed with the fall schedule, “The fall has been off to a great start. For cross country, the main competitive season doesn’t get rolling until the last weekend of September and carries through the end of October. November is Championship season, where we absolutely need to be in top form. This means August and September are more about laying the foundation and preparing for the later half of the season.” Senior Captain, Andrew Terenzi concurred, “The season has been great so far. We’re about to transition into a more competitive phase from the season and I think we are going in well prepared.”

VCXC has already participated in three meets. They finished fourth of four in the 6K Marist Invitational in late August. They improved with a ranking of third of six at the Ron Stonitsch Invitational in early September and ended nine of fourteen at the Saratoga Invitational on Sept. 13. McCowan analyzed the men’s performance thus far, “In our early season races we used the Marist meet as a tempo workout, and the Vassar Ron Stonitsch Invitational and RPI Saratoga Invitational were short races where we could practice competitive skills.”

This team has been putting in the work for a very long time now, having started to prepare before the close of the 2013 season. For the VCXC men, thinking forward is key, “We always encourage the team to have a progressive mindset as well as a degree of competitive urgency. To race well this weekend you need to have the desire and focus to pour everything you have into it, but the big picture has to include a developmental focus” said McCowan. But that responsibility for improvement and reevaluation does not only rest upon the athletes, McCowan works hard to uphold these values in his coaching decisions as well. “At the close of the season, there is an extensive review of what was effective and where we could improve,” he explained, “We are always evolving the way we do things to maximize the success of the students, the team, and the program.”

“The bottom line is the coaching staff just knows what they’re doing. They have coached many athletes who have been very successful, and I think those results carry a lot of weight,” said Terenzi, “I like that James has a very structured, thought out training plan that has both a long term vision and short term vision.” McCowan has had some impressive coaching experience. In a volunteer position at Brandeis University in 2001, he assisted in helping their female runners qualify for NCAAs that fall and he also coached at Springfield University while simultaneously getting his MEd in sports performance. But what had the largest effect on his coaching experience was his time as a student athlete, “I ran here as a college student in the ‘90s with Coach Stonitsch, back before we had a full varsity track program, and had some success. I did always feel like Vassar had the potential to sponsor some truly excellent XC/Track programs, and it has been really rewarding to help build those programs” he said. “That experience was very valuable to me, very formative and a very vital part of my college education. It feels natural to be on the other side of the stopwatch helping foster that experience for others now.”

McCowan’s assistant coach, Ron Stonitsch, was an employee of the New York State Department of Labor for 33 years before he stumbled upon his coaching career, “A friend saw an ad in the newspaper and I was hired” he said. While their paths were vastly different, the cross country coaching staff landed in the same place: Vassar. “Being able to come back to your alma mater and give back is a hard opportunity to pass by,” said McCowan, “I enjoy working at Vassar for the same reasons I chose to come study here as a student: It is a personal place, a place you can really explore and create, a place you can be comfortable enough to take risks and be challenged.” Stonitsch values, “Vassar also has tremendous name recognition and a reputation second to none academically. That is something to be proud of when wearing a Vassar uniform.”

The coaching staff also is taken by the student body. For McCowan, it’s the importance placed on individuality, “I really enjoy working with intelligent and dedicated students. Vassar students often like to know why, not just how, and that curiosity makes for a dynamic coach-athlete relationship. I also love that the team can be so close knit, friendly, like a real family, while being gritty and competitive. Vassar isn’t a cookie cutter place, and Vassar Student-Athletes aren’t cookie cutter people. That variety is what makes it all so fun and new, season after season.”

The coaching staff believes that these intelligent, unique athletes will put on an impressive showing this season. “The men’s team is looking to improve upon a disappointing 12th place finish at Regionals last season. With nearly half the team being freshmen, my main focus is on setting a solid foundation with them so they know what kind of work it will take for use to be successful in the future as well as in the next meet. As a whole, the guys have done an exceptional job setting their own goals and taking charge of the opportunity we have this season. As the season unfolds, we will see some big things from them – I know when the big races come these guys will be ready.” Said Assistant Coach Ron Stonitsch, “Our goals are to be the best that we can be, which, if achieved individually will guarantee a successful and record setting team effort too.”

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