When Saint Leo University’s men’s cross-country team qualified for nationals, coach Kent Reiber was quick to do what successful coaches do: Spread the credit around.
“We have a really good coaching staff here, and everybody plays a part in making the program work together,” Reiber said. “It’s just about putting the right training together with the right athletes.”
But, that doesn’t tell the entire story.
It’s about the right coach as well.
This is Reiber’s first year as head coach after being on staff since 2011. It’s also the first year the team captured a regional title.
After making nationals the previous two years, the Lions will enter the 10K race on Nov. 21 in Joplin, Missouri, this year as NCAA Division II South Region champions.
While he won’t take much credit for himself (Reiber was also named both Sunshine State Conference and South Region coach of the year), he does admit to having a specific coaching style.
“My belief is running for the team. With our sport, it’s hard to have that team atmosphere, but I really encourage our kids to run for each other and find that reason within the team to run,” he said.
That team spirit can affect the results on the course, Reiber said. If a runner passes a teammate, they’re encouraged to pull them to their faster level so Saint Leo can run more as a pack. And, when a pack runs up to and past an opponent, it can be mentally intimidating to the competition.
That philosophy also means running less during the week than other programs. While some schools have their runners put in 100 miles or more each week, Saint Leo prefers a more-targeted running schedule to keep everyone focused.
“We’re more of a program where we do a lot more quality as opposed to quantity, so we tend not to have many of our runners running the high mileage. We stick to a lower mileage, but we make those shorter runs a little more quality based, and just putting in the right workouts at the right time,” Reiber said.
Saint Leo’s team trip to nationals is even more impressive, considering the entire team didn’t finish the race at the regional championship.
Junior Rafal Matuszczak, one of the team’s top runners, fell and was unable to finish the race due to the heat. Normally, that would grant the title to another team with a full complement of finishers, but the Lions’ other runners stepped up and finished fast enough to garner the lowest score (a lower score is better in cross country). As a result, they edged past Lee University for the school’s first regional crown.
They’ll have their full slate of runners for Missouri (Matuszczak is expected to be ready for nationals), but they won’t have home-field advantage they enjoyed at regionals.
That competition was at Saint Leo this year, and the race was at The Abbey, the university’s golf course.
Hundreds came to show their support, and their cheers and excitement made a difference to the athletes, Reiber said.
“It’s a huge confidence booster, being able to run a race on your home course and know that the people who are cheering are cheering for you,” the coach said. “It kind of gives you a little more motivation to push when you’re not feeling so good, or pass one more person at the end.”
Still, he feels that his teams can accomplish a lot in Missouri.
Besides coaching the men’s cross-country team, Reiber also coaches the women’s cross-country team, and they also qualified for their national tournament. They finished second in their regional competition and are headed to the national competition, too.
If things go their way, his teams have a shot at top-15 finishes in the country, he said.
While the Lions are looking forward and working hard toward a good showing at nationals, Reiber acknowledged that the school’s first regional title is an impressive accomplishment for the men’s cross country squad, and their first-year coach.
“Words can barely describe the feeling I had after finding out that we won the regional title,” Reiber said. “The regional title kind of solidifies everything that we’ve been doing and all the hard work we’ve been putting in.”
Published November 18, 2015