Life On The Run Has Slowed For WVU’s Track Program
Like other student-athletes at West Virginia University, most of the members of the Mountaineer women’s track & field program scattered to their respective hometowns once the NCAA shutdown all athletic events this spring to try to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
WVU’s 33-member track roster features student-athletes from eight different states and five different countries, including Australia, Kenya, Jamaica and Canada. Some stayed in Morgantown, either because they were from the University City or their hometowns were virus hotspots, but most are now spread out to various locales.
WVU head coach Sean Cleary check in with his student-athletes regularly, no matter where they are.
“I would say the communication between our coaching staff and our student-athletes has been good,” he said. “I know me personally, I’m usually doing something daily, and at the very most I don’t go more than two days without chatting, at least a few words.
“We’re communicating using WhatsApp, Instant Messenger and things like that. They have subgroups going to help keep themselves motivated, and by that, I mean mainly in school.
“I think everyone’s big concern is how they’ll adjust to online classes. Some are made for it, and for others, they think it’s terrible. But the fact that the whole world is doing it makes it a little easier.”
Two of those Cleary has been staying in contact with are Candace Jones-Archer and Olivia Hill, who are the 2020 squad’s lone seniors. The NCAA has ruled that spring-sport student-athletes can get an additional year of eligibility since they missed most of the 2020 season. Thus WVU’s two senior runners will have an option to return next year.
“We don’t have many seniors,” noted Cleary, who has serves as not only West Virginia’s track & field coach but also its cross-country coach. “Candace got married last summer. She was one of our very best milers and had an incredible breakthrough last cross-country season (finishing a team-best seventh at the Big 12 championships). She had planned on leaving town (after graduation) to run with a professional group, but she has decided to stay and will use her last year of eligibility.
“Olivia, who is from Teays Valley (Christian High School, which is in Scott Depot, W.Va.), is undecided,” added Cleary, who is a 1992 WVU graduate himself. “She is premed, and she has numerous options in front of her, including possibly coming back. She has some thinking to do in terms of if she wants defer med school. I’d say the odds of Olivia coming back are 50-50.”
A native of Ontario, Canada, Cleary arrived at WVU in 1991 as a runner for the Mountaineer track and cross-country teams, and he has remained at West Virginia ever since. He served as an assistant coach from 1993-2006 and then took over as the head coach in 2007.
This is a spring unlike any other for he and everyone else. Normally he’d be working hands on with his athletes on a daily basis, but now he’s had to back off in many areas.
“The type of thing that isn’t allowed is, for instance, we can’t take a local pole vaulter out to a track and work with them. We can’t do that,” Cleary explained of the regulations during this social distancing time. “What we can do is send them a program in terms of running and strength and conditioning. The department has done a wonderful job in the last week or two in terms of putting together care packages for the kids. For our distance runners, we send them iron supplements and things like that. We’ve also sent them stretching bands and some other things.
“In regards to just getting out to run, it’s tricky,” added WVU’s coach. “Most tracks are closed, but you can still run on the roads and places like that. We probably have 10 runners who are still in Morgantown, but we don’t want to tell them to get together and go run. To me it would irresponsible to do that. What they’ve done is run in singles or in pairs. They’ve been pretty responsible about that.
“I’m able to facilitate training for five days a week, and I’ve told them these are the five days and this is what you should be doing. I’m assuming they are following through with that. Those girls want to run. My job for 90 percent of the team isn’t to push them but actually to hold them back when they’re doing too much. I think they’re in a good spot, all things considered.”