Link: Plasencia Named U.S. Junior Cross Country Coach
MINNEAPOLIS (GopherSports.com) – As the University of Minnesota men’s track & field program transitions from indoor to outdoor this weekend at the Baldy Castillo Invitational, GopherSports.com caught up with Minnesota Director of Men’s Track & Field and Cross Country Steve Plasencia to talk about all things Maroon & Gold.
First off, you closed out the indoor season with an All-America performance from the distance medley relay team at the NCAA championships. What did you think of their performance during the indoor campaign?
It was fun to be around, and it was great for the rest of the guys in our program to see individuals have that kind of success because that’s what we hope they aspire to themselves.
All those guys that were involved with the DMR -- even the alternates -- it’s a great thing for them to be able to go to the NCAA championships and see how great the competition was. Also in regard to the DMR , they did a great job at the Big Ten meet, they did a great job at Notre Dame. We were a little bit distraught at the national meet because it’s crowded on a 200-meter banked track, and none of our athletes had ever run on one before. So in a relay race like that, the exchange zone is super crowded, and we got into a situation where we actually had a failed exchange. And Jack ended up falling to the ground with the baton in his hand, and Mitch had to come back and pick the baton out of his hand on the ground. And we probably lost about 30 meters on that exchange. So I do think that team was probably capable of a few spots better than what it ended up at the meet. But that’s competition for you.
Not only was Derek Wiebke on the DMR squad, but he also won a Big Ten championship in the mile for you. How happy were you to see him accomplish that given the road he’s had to travel?
That was definitely a lot of fun. Sometimes you can feel the momentum growing with a guy, and he’s certainly worked hard to get to this point. He’s just been getting better and better as he has gone along. You can kind of see it coming with guys, and you could definitely see it coming with him. He was getting more confident and more capable. And the training he was doing, as a coach, you just feel like you’re in sync with the athlete at that time. Then they go out and perform on a track, and everybody feels good. There’s a good vibe going on in regard to that, so to have Derrick be able to do that and to have him experience that, I think has been very good for his self confidence and where he is as an athlete.
What is it about this time of year that the guys seem to really get excited about the transition from indoor to outdoor?
Well for one, it’s a lot easier to run on a 400-meter track than a 200-meter track. The guys get excited about being outdoors, sometimes you’re in these indoor halls, the air is foul, you know, it’s stinky and you get outside and you’re in the open spaces and I think that’s good for guys and particularly in certain events.
And then, there are a few events that we don’t compete in during the indoor season, especially with the field events. We took a couple of freshmen javelin throwers down to Arizona with us and they’re basically waiting, waiting, waiting all through the indoor season not competing, waiting for the outdoor season. The discus has not competed as well…neither has the steeplechase. And all those guys get a chance to really compete in an event that’s probably their specialty.
This is the first season with Assistant Coach Matt Conly and Director of Operations Zach Siegmeier on staff. Now that you’ve had a couple months together, how have they been doing?
They’re definitely a couple of young guys that have added a lot of enthusiasm to our staff.
Coach Conley has developed a terrific rapport with his athlete crew. Obviously, it takes some time to go through some transitional changes and for everyone to adjust to a new situation. I think it’s going really smoothly to this point. I know that those guys in the throws…that’s one of those areas where you only have two indoor events for them and they have five outdoor events. So it will really bring some guys into the mix to be able to do their specialty. I know that’s something Coach Conly is really looking forward to as well.
As far as Zach goes…he’s just been so great have around here because he’s got a great passion for Minnesota track & field. He’s a great alum, and he wants the program to do well. He’s willing to go the extra mile in terms of how he carries out his responsibilities and the tasks he does. I’ve just been extremely impressed with his work ethic and his willingness to go the extra mile to try to have the program be successful.
You’re heading to Uganda this month to coach the U.S. at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. What makes this opportunity so special for you?
In our college system, we’re building athletes and it’s always great when you have someone like a Hassan Mead, a Ben Blankenship or a Harun Abda come through your program – guys that can compete on that next level. That’s where most of the representation of the United States comes from. It’s great to really be on the front lines and see just how good we are in track & field and cross country – competing against the best in the world. Just to be there and be an observer of those events is fantastic really.
It’s fun to represent this country, the NCAA is where a lot of our international guys get their start. The commitment that we have and the system that we have that allows guys to compete in track and field and cross country at a college level, at a D-1 level. Our sport’s system is really great. Where else would you be? Kids all over the world want to flock to the NCAA system because of that.
You were a two-time Olympian as an athlete…what does it mean to you to wear the Red, White & Blue?
It means you’re representing home. From that standpoint, it’s a great honor to represent a nation of this size with our history. People take a lot of pride in having USA across your chest. I think you can see the desire of our athletes, even in the professional levels, to want to represent the country…it’s a big thing. It’s about being proud of your home.
What are you expecting heading into this international competition?
The IAAF World Cross Country Championships bring together the best distance runners in the world. With it being in the eastern part of Africa, which is very close to some very strong distance running countries in Kenya and Ethiopia and a few others as well, I expect the prescription for the race is going to be pain for the guys. It’s going to go out hard, and it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a relentless effort. I’ve never been to Uganda before, so it’ll be an experience I’m sure to see that part of the world again. I was in Kenya as an athlete over thirty years ago. So it’s been a long time since I’ve been over in that part of the world.
What does it mean to you to bring Gophers freshman Hamza Ali with you for this meet?
For Hamza…we’re very high on his athletic talents and on his abilities as a student-athlete here. To be able to take have one of the guys that we’re going to be working with very closely over the next five years and to allow him to get a good start in his career in a strong international competition like that, it’s a chance not many guys have. It’ll be a lot of fun. It’ll allow me to get to see Hamza in another environment, and I’ll only know him better as he moves on through his career. This gives us a chance to develop our relationship a little bit more.
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