Want to Run in College? This is What it Takes: Hakon DeVries of the University of Kentucky
By: Cait Chock
When the University of Kentucky’s women’s squad broke onto the National radar again after more than a decade-long dry-spell some were surprised, this journalist was not. Coach Hakon DeVries was a key player in a major coaching change for the University in an effort to breathe life back into a once dominate program. Though that NCAA Cross Country Team Championship title was dated 1988, DeVries was up to the challenge. He’s been used to wining in his own running career first as a standout high schooler and carried that onto Standard, a two-time All-American and a part of the their 2008 third-placing NCAA Cross Country Championships team.
DeVries also got his venture into coaching at Stanford. As assistant to Coach Floreal, the synchronicity between himself and Floreal was evident in school records there before the duo headed off to Kentucky to rebuild a powerhouse. DeVries, along with Floreal, touched down in 2012 and immediately a shift began. The University of Kentucky’s women’s team are back on a tear for the top.
Coach Devries opens up and shares what’s been fueling that blue wildcat success.
1) What catches your eye when it comes to recruiting high schoolers? And what year do you really start keeping a particular runner on your radar? (ie: soph, jr. sr.)
The biggest thing I tell people during the recruiting process is I’m looking for a distance runner. I know that sounds obvious, but what I mean is someone who can run a variety of races. I try to discourage kids from pigeonholing themselves as a “miler” for example. If you end up running the 5k at NCAA Outdoor, you may still run a 10k at the conference meet, likely a couple 3ks indoors, a couple miles or 1500s, as well as cross country. The thought of being a “5k runner” really puts limits on what a runner is able to achieve in other event areas. I want girls who aren’t afraid of challenging themselves in a longer or shorter distance. As far as when I really start putting girls firmly on my recruiting radar, I would have to say towards the championship portion of their junior cross country season.
2) What are some of the key traits you look for in an athlete outside of strictly fast times? Are there certain things about a particular runner that, even with great PRs, will stop you from recruiting them?
Two answers to that question.
1. Outside of fast times, I’m definitely paying attention to where they are finishing in races. Getting a feel for how competitive each kid is in different situations is definitely an important piece to what I’m looking for.
2. We’ve really made an effort to change the culture of Kentucky track and field and one of the most important things we’ve done is recruit athletes that fit well both athletically and socially with the group. We want people who can be a part of our Kentucky track and field family.
3) How do you factor performance times of a runner against their training volume? Do certain times carry more weight in your opinion if they’re run off of lower miles or less intensity?
I pay attention and ask questions about what kids are doing for training at their programs in high school. I definitely get encouraged and excited when I hear kids have been underdeveloped compared to a collegiate training volume. With that said, each kid is different and some thrive off higher volume and some thrive off higher intensity. Just because a kid is running more volume in high school doesn’t discourage me from recruiting them.
4) Throughout the recruiting process, what are some important tips you make sure to give the runner as they prepare for the upcoming transition to college?
The biggest thing I tell all the freshman girls when they get to college is: understanding the balance that they need to have in their college life. Between academics, athletics and social life, an 18 year old can be pulled in a lot of different directions and they have to learn to say “no” to things if they want to be a great student as well as a great runner.
5) How do you, if at all, individualize an incoming freshman’s training?
All our runner’s training is individualized, specifically freshmen mileage. Each of these kids have come from different high school systems and I make very certain to err on the side of caution until they’ve completely adjusted to college. I keep mileage at levels that they are comfortable with from high school because they are usually adjusting to faster paces on regular runs. I also structure days off either every week or every other week depending on that level of adjustment in the fall.
6) In your experience, what’s separated the runners who have successfully managed the transition to college and continued to improve from those who didn’t?
This is a tough question. I’ll go back to one of my earlier answers and that is: the most successful athletes learn very quickly how to balance their new life. Eating right in the dining hall, staying on top of school work ahead of travel trips, getting to bed early and taking care of the little things in the training room are just a few of the many things that the best collegiate athletes have figured out they need to do to be successful.
7) After freshman year, what is your formula for successfully progressing the athlete through to the end of their collegiate career?
Improving as a distance runner is very much attributed to the accumulation of training over time. Lots of times kids think they need to have dramatic jumps in their mileage or paces on distance runs while, in reality, the accumulation of the training is what will keep them progressing throughout their career. That’s not to say we don’t increase mileage or paces, but we do it gradually, understanding where we ultimately want to get to as a senior.
8) Finally, there’s been a dramatic rise in high school performances over the last decade. Running Times recently did a feature on the girls’ side (http://www.runnersworld.com/high-school-racing/why-are-these-teens-so-fast?cm_mmc=Twitter-_-RunningTimes-_-Content-HighSchool-_-FastTeens). Do you tend to agree with the major points made, do you have any personal opinions/theories about high schoolers (boys and girls) training more and getting faster? Do you see this trend as continuing?
I agree with the majority of that article from Running Times. I specifically agree with the shift in overall athleticism of high schoolers who are having breakout success. To be an elite distance runner you have to be athletic. The old stereotype is just not applicable to the likes of these girls breaking records in high school. The trend is only going to continue. Just as the Ritz/Webb/Hall trio raised the bar for high school boys in 2001. These girls are raising the bar for high school girls. The future is very bright for American Women’s distance running.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.