Coaching Champions: Niceville Girls

After falling short of a podium finish in 2015, the Niceville girls took home the 3A Cross Country Finals title this year. Coach Jamie LaFollette gives us an inside look at the Eagles journey from summer training to a 4th place finish at NXNSE.

What kind of training did your team get in over the summer months leading into the season?

I view the summer as the opportunity to make our bodies ready for the intense training of the season.  With that in mind the main goal is to build up our mileage while we also build up strength.  We started two weeks after the State Track meet and gradually built up mileage each week.  We also tried to get in the weight room twice a week in addition to lots of core work. I allow my athletes to run in road races (in  moderation) if they want to but we do not do any speed work.  I do encourage my athletes to bike and swim as well as run.  When July rolls around we add a weekly tempo run to our regimen.   The other emphasis we have is progressing our long run throughout the summer.

How did you train the team in the final weeks leading up to the state meet?

We had two goals for this season, win a State Championship and qualify for NXN.  With NXN SE two weeks after State we really didn't start to taper until the week of the state finals.  The week of state finals we had a pretty easy week in terms of mileage with just one workout.

What chances or belief did you have in your team's chance and ability to win the state title/make the podium?

Barring a rash of injuries, the expectation within the team was that we would be on the podium and we were confident that if we ran to our abilities we would be competing for the State title.  

What advice or points of emphasis did you give your team prior to the race or the week leading into the state meet?

Leading up to the state meet the emphasis was that if we ran smart and to our abilities that we should come out on top. It was important to me that we went into the finals confident and unafraid, even though we had some runners who weren't at 100%.   

What was the race plan for the state meet and how did you feel it was executed?

The race plan was to not get caught up in the excitement and to go out at a controlled pace and then try to hold pace.  Overall we did a pretty good job. 

What were your feelings and emotions when you realized your team had made the podium or during the awards?

It was a relief!  Chiles had run a great race and although I though we had won, I wasn't 100% sure until I saw the official results. 

What were the biggest challenges for this year's team?

We had two challenges. The first challenge was that we dealt with a number of injuries this season.  We lost Claire Crist to a stress fracture early on in the season, Hannah Schneidewind spent about 4 weeks in a boot at the start of the season, and Ally Woodard and Erin Eubanks both dealt with injuries early on.  

How would you best describe the group of kids that you coach?

They are hard workers, good students, and have incredible drive.  They are competitive, yet supportive and it's a great team to coach. 

What role do your assistant coaches play with the program?

My assistant coach, Lisa Lewis, is amazing!  She is passionate about running, very knowledgeable about nutrition, and has a general wealth of knowledge that only makes our program better. 

What role do your parents have with the program?

Parents are a huge part of our program.  We have great support as they travel en mass to our meets, help set up the tents, water, and gatorade prior to the meet, help clean up, and help drive. We have to travel a minimum of 75 minutes every weekend to race and most of the large invitationals are 4-5 hours away.  Without the help from parents we would not be able to sustain the large team that we have.

Who were the leaders on your team and what was the importance to the squad?

We had a core group of seniors, Claire Crist, Diana LaFollette, and Mackenzie Shinnick, who were four year varsity runners who helped anchor and lead the team.  Although they weren't in the top 7, their experience and leadership were essential in helping out team reach its potential.

Every podium team seems to have a special or unique makeup that makes them state champions/runners-up. What were some of those characteristics of this year's team?

I think that this team was determined to win state after falling short last season.  They trained all summer with that goal in mind. They believed in themselves and that was an essential part of their success.

What are your expectations for next year's team?

We expect to be right in the mix again. We are graduating 2 of our top 7 but have a deep team.  It should be another exciting season. 

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would just like to thank you for all of the great coverage and support that you provide to the running community in Florida. Articles like these help all programs get better.

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