It’s become almost commonplace these days to see Richie Beene’s group of track girls, whatever the sport, finishing first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
The cross-country team did it again, finishing first in the SWAC Championships in Clinton, Miss., with an astounding six runners among the top nine finishers.
“Any time we go out and start a season, I always believe in the possibility,” Beene said. “Once they get in and we start practicing, it lets me know on the first day what type of season we’re going to have. Most everybody came back in shape this year, which was a good sign. The first week of practice went well, so I knew that would get us off to a good start.”
Beene’s team recently competed in the NCAA Regionals, where they didn’t have quite the same level of success, leaving him a goal for future teams. But to understand the special accomplishment of these cross-country runners, you have to understand the makeup of the team.
“The unique thing about the women’s cross-country team that most people don’t know is only two people were distance runners,” he said. “Everyone else is 400- and 800-meter runners. Two of my five first-team conference runners are 400-meter runners. They’re running faster than the 800-meter runners. I don’t know whether they’re mad at me because I’m having them run cross-country and they’re trying to get it over with. It works. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of pushing. I try to make workouts fun.”
Workouts? Most teams have their own cross-country courses, but Beene has to get innovative to give his conference champions a taste of what it takes to be a cross-country performer.
“They know every street in downtown Montgomery,” he said. “They know the Cloverdale area pretty good. You never know which house has the electric dog fence. I know where they are, but they don’t, so I send them on certain streets and when the big dog comes out, it makes them pick up the pace a little bit.”
Beene is joking, I think. But what isn’t a joking matter is his team’s performance at the 2013 championships, where Paige Rankin was second, Artrailia Lesane was third, Tatiana Etienne was fourth and Kim Wedderburn was fifth to earn first team all-conference honors. Shantia Wilson was seventh and Soyong Smith was ninth to earn second team all-conference honors.
“I don’t let man control my destination,” Beene explained. “The pressure builds the day of the championship because I want to make sure that everything that we prepared for is executed well. The outcome, I’m not really concerned about. Out of my years of coaching, we’ve had some strong finishes. I think this was the best, by far. They met the expectations and exceeded the expectations.”
The same couldn’t be said for the NCAA Regionals, which was a humbling experience by anyone’s standards. ASU finished 27th out of 27 teams, the only team in the event that didn’t have a runner finish in the top 100. At an event where some of the nation’s top cross-country performers were handed scholarships and trained on cross-country courses for this event, his dog-avoiding track stars were exposed.
I guess that’s to be expected, perhaps highlighting even more the exceptional job Beene and his girls have accomplished in winning the SWAC title three consecutive years. It also gives them something to shoot for in 2014. Lesane, for example, was the top Hornet finisher with a time of 22:06.84, good for 108th among the 194 runners. That’s more than two minutes behind the winner, Florida State’s Colleen Quigley (19:58.55), but only 30 seconds behind 73rd place.
“It’s always a good experience when you can come on a stage like this and compete against some of the best runners in the nation,” Beene said. “I am really proud of the girls. The South Region is very difficult and has some of the best girls coming out of this area. I’m a little disappointed about the final result but overall we ran well and will take this experience as we get ready for (the) indoor (season).”
He and the girls are already hard at work on that part of the season that starts in a couple of weeks. After all, there’s a conference championship to defend in that sport as well.