Behind the Winning Culture of Men’s Cross Country

Behind the Winning Culture of Men’s Cross Country

By Katie Meier, Director of Athletic Communications

If the Susquehanna men's cross country team is not considered a dynasty after winning its fifth Landmark Conference title in seven years, it is unclear what it would take for the team to earn that label.

On Nov. 2, the Crusaders clinched their fifth conference title – and first since 2010 – in record-setting fashion. The Crusaders boasted six of the top 14 runners including a pack that swept the two through five spots which essentially clinched the title for Susquehanna before a runner from another team had even crossed the finish. The final results saw SU win with a conference-record score of 22 points, surpassing the previous mark of 24 points set by a 2009 Crusader team that also won the conference title.

Susquehanna captured the first four titles in conference history (2007-10) and now finds itself back atop the conference. So just how rare is a stretch of dominance such as this one for a Susquehanna team? Pretty rare.

Over the seven-year history of the Landmark Conference, Susquehanna has brought home two women's cross country championships but still fall three titles short of the men. The Susquehanna women's swim team is approaching the dominance of the men's cross country team as the women's program owns three of six conference titles, including three-straight, but is still two titles short of the men's cross country team.

In short, the dominance of the men's cross country team within the Landmark Conference is a feat unique to that team. But it still begs the question, why is the team so successful year in and year out?

Senior captain Cory Edwards was on the 2010 championship team which, prior to 2013, had been the most recent team to win a title. Edwards noted the similarities that exist between the two championship teams which contributed to the two titles.

"This 2013 team is similar to the 2010 championship team because there is no individual runner that is out front winning races," he said. "Instead there is a tight pack of guys close to the top that make the difference and allow this team to be successful. With this team there is no number one guy day in and day out; these guys are constantly pushing each other to get better and strive for more."

Another commonality amongst all the championship teams, dating back to the first championship team in 2007, is solid leadership. Despite being injured for the second half of this season, Edwards' emphasis on leadership did not diminish and his guidance, as well as that of fellow captains Paul Crowe and Brandon Mash, propelled the team's younger teammates to live up to the championship standards set by earlier championship teams.

"I strived to lead like the seniors of my freshman year," Edwards said. "Those guys were incredible leaders, always leading with their actions, keeping the team close and working hard. I truly believe that this 2013 team is the closest team I have been a part of in my four years here. Our other captains, Paul and Brandon, have done a great job motivating and keeping this team disciplined."

If winning breeds winning, as the motto says, then there is no reason to expect this stretch of dominance to end, especially if five-time Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year Marty Owens remains at the helm.

Coaching cross country is different from coaching a lot of other sports – oftentimes runners are out on the roads by themselves, putting in the miles and workouts without a coach alongside them. And while strategy certainly comes into play on race day, there are no hours of watching film and scrimmages to help prep for the next opponent. So what qualities does Owens possess that make him able to have such a huge impact on his athletes?

"Marty is a great coach because he is one of the hardest working individuals I have ever met," Edwards said. "Each year he does not keep everything the same just because we were successful the year before. Each time I come back from summer break he surprises us with new ways to get better. He is constantly researching new training techniques and molding them toward what we want to achieve as individuals and as a team."

The leadership quality of leading by example preached by Edwards and his fellow captains is also a reflection of their coach who personifies leading by example.

Owens' head coaching job at Susquehanna, one he's held for 10-plus years, is actually his first collegiate head coaching job. Prior to being named head coach, Owens made a career out of being a professional endurance athlete. He competed at the famed Ironman Triathlon World Championships in both 1995 and 1997 and was named the 1999 Southern Nevada Male Runner of the Year. Owens also boasts an almost countless number of top-10 finishes at national and international marathons and half-marathons and is currently training to again qualify for the Ironman Triathlon World Championships.

Obviously he knows what he's doing when it comes to coaching endurance athletes but just as important is how he silently leads and motivates his team.

"Personally, whenever I am feeling lazy or do not feel like practicing, I begin to think of what Marty has probably already done that day," Edwards said. "He gets up at the crack of dawn to hop on his bike then mixes in either swimming and running throughout the day. Just knowing he is doing all that makes it a lot harder for us to complain about anything during practice and in return that pushes us harder. He is an incredible athlete and he makes us strive to follow in his footsteps."

The Susquehanna men's cross country program clearly has the right mix of talent, leadership and motivation to continue racking up conference titles for a very long time.