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Walt Drenth Becomes Director of MSU’s Cross-Country and Track & Field Programs

Michigan State University’s inter-county and athletics programs took a very positive step forward with the appointment of Walt Drenth as director.

Just as Tom Izzo brought the Spartan basketball program back to national prominence and new freshman coach Mark Dantonio has already dramatically improved Michigan State’s football fortunes with a bowl appearance, Walt Drenth will create a winning tradition among Spartan racers.

Drenth came to campus as a proven winner on the verge of becoming a more successful winner at Michigan State. He had spent 7 years as Arizona State’s cross country head coach, turning a failing team into one of the best performers in the West.

When he arrived at Arizona State, neither male nor female distance runner had ever made a national championship team appearance or earned a national ranking. Women had never even produced an All-American runner.

Under Drenth’s guidance, encouragement and motivation, the Arizona State Women have competed in the NCAA Championships 5 years in a row, including a school-record 6th place finish. They were also two-time regional finalists, three-time Pac 10 finalists, posted the program’s highest national No. 3 ranking, and produced a female All American 4 years in a row.

The Arizona State men made their first national championship appearance, were ranked nationally, and posted a school-record 3rd place finish at regional championships. Drenth also made a difference in coaching distance runners on the trail as they produced 12 school records in distance events and 14 became All-Americans.

Not too shabby considering there are 299 NCAA Division 1 men’s cross country programs at last count.

None of this was new to Walt Drenth, who led the College of William & Mary to 5 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) cross-country titles and 2 track and field titles in 6 years, and was named CAA Cross Country Coach of the Year. 5 times. William & Mary were also District II Cross Country Champions and Drenth was a two-time District II Coach of the Year. His William & Mary track teams have won 2 CAA titles and he has mentored 5 All-American racers.

Prior to coaching at William & Mary, Drenth was head cross country coach and assistant track and field coach at his alma mater, Central Michigan University. There, he won a District IV title and was named District IV Coach of the Year. Drenth has also won 2 Mid-American Conference titles and was twice named MAC Coach of the Year.

In short, Drenth has won tag team titles and produced individual champions with every coaching stop during his 20+ year career. It won’t intensify Michigan State as much as Michigan State’s running programs because winners win and losers don’t.

Looking at the 2007 list of Michigan State male and female runners, I see that 35 of the 45 runners (77%) are from Michigan. Rule 1 is to dominate recruiting in your state. Don’t let good runners go to other schools and beat you. This is doubly important for Drenth because of the 50 states, Michigan has the 8th largest population.

An insider told me that Drenth doesn’t play psychologist with his athletes. In other words, his program is performance-based. I really like Drenth’s approach. Apparently, he doesn’t give out scholarships like candy. Talking about a good game won’t get you anywhere; you must perform to reap the rewards of your efforts.

It doesn’t automatically follow that a state champion distance runner in high school will experience the same level of success in college. College races are longer, competition is much better, and academic and social adjustments at the college level are more difficult.

You must have talent to succeed at a higher level. You must be prepared to work hard by training consistently and effectively. You must have personal growth emotionally to withstand the ups and downs of performance and improvement. You must also develop mental toughness to separate yourself from the pack. A runner or an athlete who wants to be a champion must announce himself by separating from the leading peloton. There’s a reason Steve Prefontaine was a favorite. Believe me when I say it wasn’t because he was planning on losing the race.

Reaching the top is not so much about having the will to win – everyone wants to win – but about having the will to prepare to win. Preparation is all that is not. Having the will to win is a desire, but preparing to win is a need. What is an opportunity without preparation? Just a missed opportunity. It’s only when preparation meets opportunity that an explosion occurs and something exciting happens. Expect an explosion of racing success at Michigan State University as Walt Drenth is set to make it happen.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

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