New coach, same focus for Bulls

Conference championships and NCAA appearances have become a trend for USF?s men?s and women?s cross country teams.

In recent years, another trend has become apparent as well. Each of the last two seasons has seen a new cross country coach in charge, and that trend will continue in the 2001 season.

Bob Braman coached the last of his 17 years at USF in 1999, and Kelly Phillips led the Bulls in 2000. Now, former USF cross country runner Heather Curtiss replaces Phillips, who resigned in June to devote more time to her family.

?The transition has been very smooth so far,? said Curtiss, who had previously worked as an administrative assistant in the track and field & cross country office.

?Fortunately for me, I was here to work with Kelly and with Greg (Thiel, head coach) so we still have the tight unit we had before.?

Curtiss inherits a program that posted impressive results last season. The men?s and women?s teams qualified for the 2000 NCAA Championships, both finishing 30th out of 31 teams. The women booked their place in the NCAAs by winning the South Region meet, after earlier finishing second to Marquette at the Conference USA Championships.

Five women return from the team that participated at the NCAAs last season: Kristy Fuller, Cori Kill, Tiffany Quinn, Tara Quinn and Jen Walczuk. Tara Quinn also competed in the 10,000-meter run at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field meet in June.

?We?ve also signed several very talented athletes that will come in and be freshmen, and probably have an immediate impact on the team,? Curtiss said. ?So on the women?s side, I can see us staying right on that path and following the same steps that we did last year.?

One of those freshmen is Christa Benton, a standout athlete at Keswick Christian High in St. Petersburg. Benton placed 12th at the Foot Locker Championships, a meet involving the top high school cross country runners in the nation. Curtiss expects her to be one of the top five runners on the team in her first year.

Another freshman projected to be in the top seven is Lissy Leigh, who mostly ran the mile in high school. Christin Chandler will make the move from the USF women?s soccer team to run cross country for the Bulls this season.

Curtiss has set her sights on a conference title for the women, but her expectations for the men are more modest. Though the men?s team won the C-USA title and ran in the NCAAs last year, the Bulls will be in a rebuilding mode in 2001. Gone from last season?s team are Andy Carling, Barry Egan, Kyle Fenton, Russ Gerbers, Matt Johnson, Richard Jones, Jan Erik Salo, Matt Whaley and Mike Whaley, unlike the women?s team that only lost Rita Arndt and Jen Dorna.

Sophomore Adam Chumbley and senior Andrew Smith are the only returnees with cross country experience, while Anthony Griech, who ran in the 800-meters at the C-USA Outdoor Track and Field meet in May, will join the cross country team. Freshmen Jim Vitale and George Palmerola are projected to make the top seven.

?We?re only returning two of our athletes from last year, so we?re going to be in a developmental phase,? Curtiss said.

?That will have an effect on how we do. It doesn?t mean that the freshmen coming in aren?t going to be good and be solid athletes, but they are going to be young and inexperienced.?

Nevertheless, Curtiss remains optimistic about both teams, and she looks forward to a season that begins with a meet at Appalachian State. Other meets include the Wolfpack Invitational at N.C. State, the C-USA Championships at East Carolina, as well as the Pre-NCAAs and NCAA Championships to be held at Furman.

Competition within the conference should come from Marquette on the women?s side, Cincinnati for the men and Tulane for both the men and women. First-year C-USA programs ECU and Texas Christian both sent individual runners to the 2000 NCAA Championships and could prove dangerous this season.

To keep the Bulls in peak condition, Curtiss will utilize many of the same training techniques used by Phillips. These include circuit training twice weekly, interval or tempo runs to add variety to the workouts, Fartlick runs which simulate a race by running at different speeds and a cut down on unnecessary ?junk miles.?

If the formula works, the Bulls might make an appearance in yet another NCAA Championship meet ? a feat accomplished by the women?s team in the last three seasons and by the men in the last two. The architects of that success, Braman and Phillips, both won numerous conference and regional Coach of the Year awards, setting the bar high for Curtiss.However, the first-year coach refuses to feel pressured by the achievements of her former mentors.?I?m not Kelly, and I?m not Bob, and they both have far more experience than I do,? Curtiss said. ?I?m going to do the best that I can to be the best coach I can be for the athletes that I have, and just be confident that they will be able to do well and that we?ll be a good program.?

Contact Khari Williams at