Setting the Pace - By Joel Badzinski
One of Dan Schwamberger's biggest worries is that his athletes will run too much.
The Eau Claire women's cross country coach grew up with the idea of the more miles, the better. Now, he believes there's a time and place for hard training but also for rest, recovery and gradually building toward the end of the season.
Does it work? Three straight WIAC Championships and a 2009 NCAA Division III National Title say yes.
"I think we all know that Dan's favorite word is 'patience,'" Blugold senior Elly Prunty says. "It's been drilled into our heads since the first day we met him."
Eau Claire fell from No. 1 to No. 8 in the Sept. 29 coaches' poll after placing second behind Oshkosh (No. 6) at the 32-team Roy Griak Invitational Division III race in Minneapolis. Naturally, Schwamberger reminded his team to stay patient.
"Going into that race, we were ranked No. 1 and we finished second, which long term will be a good thing," Schwamberger says. "Oshkosh and La Crosse beat us at Griak last year, and I think we're ahead of where we were then. We really put no emphasis on the rankings. Now, we're like, 'OK, we're a little bit off the radar' and focus on our thing and be ready when it counts."
That means patience. At the beginning of each season, Schwamberger, who also coaches the Eau Claire men's team, takes his freshmen runners aside and tells them essentially that it's time to let off the accelerator.
It's a speech the sophomores, juniors and even seniors need to hear sometimes, too.
"I think the big thing with distance runners is, it's a great group of kids who tend to be overachievers," Schwamberger says. "They're the type of people who want to do more. Anything they can do to be the best. They equate being good with running a ton of miles and they get frustrated with me. My big keyword is patience."
Not that Eau Claire runners take it easy. Schwamberger said intense workouts are balanced by "plenty of recovery." There are also workout days in the pool or on stationary bikes. Schwamberger also emphasizes nutrition and training theories so his runners have as much information in front of them as possible.
When Schwamberger took over the Eau Claire men's and women's teams in 2007, he encountered plenty of skepticism. The runners wanted to go, go, go, and he wanted them to be smart.
"We had to buy into his philosophy of being patient and not running," Prunty says, "because we were used to running a lot of miles. Then we saw the results and said. 'Oh, maybe he is right.'"
The Eau Claire women placed eighth and fifth, respectively, at the 2007 and '08 national meets following WIAC titles. It all came together last November at the Division III meet in Highland Hills, Ohio as the Blugolds won their first NCAA Women's Cross Country Title. (The program had also won the 1984 NAIA Championship.)
"We were cooling down on a hill after the race and we all thought we'd finished fifth," Prunty says. "We were just bawling. Then we found out we won. It was just insane."
Prunty is one of five runners returning from the 2009 top seven. Junior Alyssa Sybilrud, who led Eau Claire's pack at the national meet (21st) and won this year's Griak, has emerged as the top runner. Seniors Margaret Ho and Beth Easker and junior Kacey Rindy are also national meet veterans.
The Blugolds have two regular-season meets to go before the WIAC Championship on Oct. 30.
Even Mr. Patience is looking forward to it.
"I'm really excited," Schwamberger says. "Each week kind of builds on itself. Conference is that first real race we're focused on."
News and Notes...
FOOTBALL: Talk about an immediate impact. Freshman Joel Sweeney has scored the final touchdown in all three of Eau Claire's wins this season, including two in overtime and one with four and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Sweeney scored a "walk-off" two-yard run as the Blugolds beat No. 9 St. John's (Minnesota) in overtime. On Saturday, he caught a 16-yard touchdown from Austin Neu in overtime, and the Eau Claire defense held on the next drive to beat Stevens Point. Sweeney, a Tomah native, has rushed for 408 yards and five touchdowns• Ripon senior Josh Pasek has been a headache for opponents and a big reason why the Red Hawks are 5-0. Pasek averages 190.2 all-purpose yards a game (11th NCAA Division III), with totals of 282 rushing, 243 receiving, 145 punt return and 281 kick return• Oshkosh beat La Crosse 28-17 on Saturday, the Titans' first win in the WIAC series since 1972. The Eagles owned a 35-0-2 streak and 24 straight wins• Whitewater remained No. 1 in the D3football.com poll after improving to 4-0 with a 49-17 win over Platteville on September 30.
VOLLEYBALL: No. 10 Oshkosh (10-2) and No. 11 Whitewater (9-3) will renew their WIAC rivalry on October 6 in Whitewater. Last season, Oshkosh won the regular-season title while Whitewater won the conference tournament; the teams have finished first and second three of the past five seasons• Viterbo ran its winning streak to 23 matches on Saturday. The V-Hawks' last loss was on August 21 to NAIA No. 3-ranked Biola (California). Viterbo is 26-3 overall and 7-0 in the Midwest Classic Conference• Concordia senior Stephanie Boehm is second in NCAA Division III with 1.53 blocks per set.
SOCCER: MSOE freshman forward Paula Bohl leads NCAA Division III in scoring with 38 points (17 goals, four assists).
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