PAULA CAPUTO — Staff Writer
Going into the 2011 season, the Southern Connecticut State University women’s cross country team thought their biggest obstacle would be winning the Northeast 10 Championships. They had no idea that after only two meets, head coach Chris Covert would be stepping down.
“We kind of knew what was going to happen, it was just a matter of when,” said Kiara Bonilla, a junior cross country member. “It was surprising because I didn’t know it was going to be that soon. He was just there and then he was gone.”
Bonilla said it was hard on her, because she had Covert as a coach for three years, but it also
meant a new start with men’s cross-country coach, John Wallin.
“I’m excited,” Bonilla said. “He brings good energy to the team, and he’s always positive. He’ll give you more criticism, but it’s for you to do better, which is good for us.”
Overall, the transition shouldn’t be difficult, Bonilla said. The team has grown a lot stronger and a lot closer and with the tough training regimen, they’ll be ready for regionals.
Assistant coach Nick Lara has designed a new training program that sophomore cross country member Nicole Strauss said will help the women’s team grow.
“Lara knows more about cross country and distance,” Strauss said. “He’s focusing the training on each of us individually.”
Strauss said the volume has increased along with the mileage, but it’s a way of building up the team’s endurance.
“It’s more difficult,” Strauss said. “Being with Lara and Wallin, they’re more strict, but that’s a good thing.”
At the start of the season, the Owls came in fifth at the Blue Devil Invitational and sixth in the Division II Cross Country Challenge. Shortly after, Covert resigned to pursue other career opportunities, leaving Wallin in charge.
Wallin said there is no pressure in filling another coach’s shoes, and he can guarantee that he
and his staff can lead these women to more success throughout the year that will carry over.
“The last two years, pretty much our entire men’s staff has been helping with the women’s team,” Wallin said, “so for a lot of girls, it’s business as usual. Except now Coach Wallin is running the actual day-to-day structure of the women’s team, so the transition is going to be very smooth.”
Last season, the Owls finished third in regionals, leaving them five points short of nationals. Wallin said he’s excited and ready to take over the women’s program, and with the positive energy the men’s team and staff is bringing, he sees great potential in building them to the same level as the men.
“They’re a lot tougher than the guys are,” Wallin said. “As long as you can get them to do what you’re asking them to do and they end up believing what you’re saying, they’ll run through brick walls for you.”
Wallin said there is no question that this change will help the team and come with many benefits. The objective is clear and they know exactly what they want to get out of this women’s team: progress.
“We’d like to get the women to win the New England’s, like the men,” said Wallin, “and then we’d like to win conference in cross country. Those are certainly goals.”