The USC women's cross country team finished in 7th place last weekend out of 14 schools at the UC Irvine Invitational. So, for our last Fall Q&A, we sat down with the Women of Troy's head coach Tom Walsh, who touched on everything from last year's up-and-down season to what it's like coaching for his alma mater.
Dave Dulberg (DD): Obviously, last season was a tough one for you, as the team finished last in the Pac-10. But in spite of the disappointing record, what was the biggest lesson you took out of that experience?
Tom Walsh (TW): I think the biggest thing I took away from last year was the tremendous leadership by our two seniors, Zsofia Erdelyi (pictured right with Walsh) and Christina Cortez. They were not only our two best runners, but the heart and soul of this team.
(DD): How do you go about replacing them, given what they meant to this team both from a contribution and leadership standpoint?
(TW): It's very difficult because in cross country there are no scholarships. Because USC is such a balanced program across the board in track and field, the distance events are just one of many areas receiving funding. So it's hard to build up a program without a ton of money or full-ride scholarships. Redshirt junior Shelby Buckley transferred from UCLA last year and she has sort of assumed that leadership role for us. Also, freshman Erica Capellino has really impressed me so far.
(DD): Speaking of this year's squad, you have several new faces, whether it be freshmen student-athletes or transfer students. What's your biggest goal for them during the early stages of this season?
(TW): You're right. This is probably our youngest team in years with six new freshmen coming in. It's a slow process but we are going to get them in the right direction starting with our first few races. The goal right now for them is just to get their feet wet in the Pac-12 and to experience what collegiate competition is all about.
(DD): How does the addition of two new member institutions to the conference change the dynamic in a sport like women's cross country?
(TW): The biggest effect for us is the addition of Colorado to the Pac-12. Colorado is a really good distance program with a rich tradition in cross country. It makes the competition even more difficult, but we certainly don't mind the challenge. Utah isn't quite at the same level as a Colorado, but overall it just adds more excitement to the conference championships.
(DD): Right now, it's safe to say you are in the process of rebuilding this program. With that said, what is the most exciting part about the job for you?
(TW): I think the most exciting part is seeing progress from these athletes. Not just the top athletes, but some of the athletes who are considered middle-of-the-pack runners. Some of them make huge breakthroughs that most people don't even realize. We run 60-65 miles per week, so it's nice to see all of our athletes continue to work to get better.
(DD): Finally, you are now entering your 18th season as the head coach of this program. As an alum of the school, what is like to work at USC for as long as you have?
(TW): It's very special for me (pictured above) to be a part of this university. To come here as a student and graduate in the journalism school meant a lot to me at the time. But then to come back and coach has been surreal. I thought if I came back it would be for two or three years, but now I am on my eighteenth year. It's still very exciting after all these years.