A Tale Of Two Runners: WSU Cross Country

By Bob Keyser

There are many ways to build successful teams in the Pac-10 Conference, whatever the sport. It is one part art and one part science, with a lot of hard work required and, ideally, a little luck sprinkled in for posterity's sake.

As a coach, you spend countless hours combing the high school ranks for blue chip recruits, and you hone your myriad sales pitches, convincing prospects that your program is the perfect fit. You learn that there is no such thing as a prototypical team member - valued contributors come in all shapes and sizes, from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Some have had success for years running, and others are powder kegs of untapped potential. And perhaps most intriguing of all, you come to realize - sometimes you find them, and sometimes they find you.

Washington State cross country coach Pete Julian is no stranger to this formula. In fact, Julian himself became head coach at Washington State due to an interesting confluence of circumstances, some of his making and others that were purely serendipitous. After experiencing success as a professional athlete and a coach on many levels, Julian joined the WSU track and field program as the cross country coach in 2009. After one year, in the fall of 2010, Julian was named head coach for cross country, a role that he was more than willing to take on.

Now it is his responsibility to build the Cougar cross country program, to recruit student athletes, and to mold the talent he has into a competitive, cohesive unit. To better understand the nuances of this challenge, it is enlightening to get a unique perspective from two diverse, yet somehow similar, members of his team - to get a sense of what makes each of them tick, and to learn how they each made the choice to attend WSU.

Think of it as A Tale of Two Runners … each on the path to Pullman. Click below to learn more about two of Washington State's most accomplished runners.

A Steadfast Force: Justin Englund - READ MORE
Meet junior Justin Englund, who has become one of Coach Julian's most consistent and dependable runners. Englund was a three-time MVP of his cross country team at Decatur High in Federal Way, Wash., (tucked away between Seattle and Tacoma), but as his senior year neared an end, he was still searching for the right college home.

A Serendipitous Beginning: Ruby Roberts - READ MORE
Meet freshman Ruby Roberts, who this time last year was a strong distance-running prospect from Kingston, Wash., a nice little suburb across the Sound from Seattle.

With runners like Englund and Roberts, it's only sensible to wonder how Coach Julian handles a team of over 30 student athletes with such a diversity of backgrounds, experience, and skills. But as you might expect, he plays no favorites, and he focuses on the common ground much more than individual differences as he watches his team come together.

"Pac-10 student-athletes all want to win," he said. "That's the common denominator. You don't get to this level if you don't have that desire. Sometimes they want it almost too much, and it's my job to manage that. They badly want to succeed, but they need help to get there. They need a plan. It's up to us to give them those guiding lights, like you see on an airport runway, but believe me, they all have that drive."

Julian recognizes the impact of pressure on his student-athletes, and embraces the opportunity to help them handle it.

"Don't forget," he said, "There are different pressures on all of these athletes to perform, whether it is the weight of being on scholarship and the expectations that brings, or the pressure of having to continue to excel to simply keep your spot on the team."

And there is pressure on coaches too, probably more so than ever before. Pressure to recruit, pressure to compete, pressure to win. And given all that, it's important to be able to find the right runners. Or sometimes, if you're lucky, to have the right runners find you.

Advice for aspiring young runners

Justin Englund: "Run. Run every day. And set goals for yourself, so you're always striving to improve. And when you're looking for a school, don't be afraid to call coaches, let them know you are interested in their program. That way they'll be more likely to notice what you're doing in the spring, and they'll be more likely to find a spot for you on their team."

Ruby Roberts: "If you want to do it, there's nothing stopping you except yourself. Do your training, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, and you can definitely succeed."