College track coaches have decisions to make on how they build their programs, similar to how coaches in other sports decide what kind of offense and defense they’re going to run.
In track, coaches make decisions about how they’re going to build their program that determine how they use their resources.
For the Nebraska track team, it’s all about winning the team championship at the conference indoor and outdoor meets. Last year, the Huskers didn’t win any team titles, so coach Gary Pepin says it was a disappointing season in 2018.
The men finished as runner-up at the Big Ten indoor meet and were third outdoors. The women were ninth indoors and fifth at the outdoor meet.
“Normally when we go into a season, unless the handwriting on the wall tells us that for whatever the reason that we don’t have the talent, we’re striving to win a conference championship,” Pepin said. “We’re not going into the meet to get third place or fourth place or be in the top half, or something. And if we don’t have the talent, that’s not the athletes’ fault, that’s the coaches’ fault. They didn’t do a good enough job recruiting, including myself.”
Nebraska will get back to work on trying to win conference titles when the indoor season begins this week, with Nebraska hosting the 14-team Graduate Classic on Friday and Saturday at the Devaney Sports Center.
In recent years Pepin said some programs have conceded that they won’t be able to win conference team championships, but they want to be good at something, so they devote more scholarships to cross country. Some schools want to be good at the NCAA track championships, a meet where you can do well with a few elite athletes, so they give larger scholarships to a smaller number of athletes.
Men’s programs are limited to 12½ scholarship combined for track and cross country that can be split among many athletes, while women’s track has 18 scholarships.
At Nebraska, Pepin wants to be a complete team with many athletes capable of scoring at the conference meet.
“I’ve always wanted to have a complete program,” Pepin said. “In other words, it represents all of the events of the Olympic Games, which to me is the most important thing in track and field. It’s a bigger deal to win the gold medal in the Olympic Games than to set a world record, because in the Olympic Games it’s head-to-head competition on that given day.”
And while most track events are done individually, it’s better to be on a good team, Pepin said.
“Even though you may be good, it’s way more fun to be competing for a team championship and have all of these people yelling for you like a football game or whatever else, than if you’re the lone dog out there,” he said.
Nebraska’s last conference title came when the men swept the indoor and outdoor titles in 2016. In 38 seasons at Nebraska Pepin has coached 72 teams that won a conference title.
The men finished second at the Big Ten indoor meet last year with 93½ points, but only 29½ of those points came from Huskers currently on the roster. Nebraska graduated several of its top athletes, including Kaiwan Culmer, Antoine Lloyd and Nick Percy.
Still, Pepin thinks the men can contend for a conference title.
“It could be a pretty doggone good team,” he said.
Among the top returners is Elijah Lucy in the long jump and Ty Moss in the 600 meters.
George Kusche, a freshman from South Africa, won finished third at the Big Ten cross country meet, should help in the distance events.
“This guy is a tremendous talent,” said Pepin of Kusche.