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Cross country adjusts to new era

By Jake Knabel on Sep. 9, 2016 in Cross Country

“Wow, end of an era,” Matt Beisel remembered thinking when he first heard the news that Kregg Einspahr had stepped away from his post as head coach for Concordia cross country and track and field. Both programs had taken the shape crafted and molded by Einspahr over a 24-year period.

Replacing a man who won a combined 16 conference titles and two national championships is no easy task. But Beisel, a 1992 graduate, is off to a good start. Most recently the track and cross country coach at Valley Lutheran High School in Phoenix, Ariz., Beisel has brought an approach centered upon team and faith building.

He insists that his No. 1 priority is to know his athletes. How much can he push them? What is their class load like? What is their greatest potential? Beisel’s athletes have responded well to their new leader.

“He teaches and coaches differently than Coach Einspahr did,” senior Chris Shelton said. “It’s been great so far getting to know him. A lot of us didn’t meet him until the first day on campus, which was also our first day of practice. All of our practices have gone really well. We’re having a great preseason.”

Now in week three of practice, both cross country squads are progressing and working towards goals of top-three GPAC team finishes. Everyone’s becoming more accustomed to life with a new head coach. The athletes have gotten over the shockwaves that hit them this past April.

Junior Emily Sievert, a 2015 national qualifier, followed in the footsteps of her older brother Ben in coming to Concordia to run. She expected to be coached by Einspahr for her entire career, but she and her teammates had another thing coming.

“That was kind of hard because it was something new to all of us,” Emily Seivert said. “We had been talking about the next seasons and everything. It was hard now envisioning those seasons with a coach we didn’t even know yet. We were bummed about it. We all loved Coach Einspahr. We were disappointed but also we knew had to keep on going. We had to give the new coach the benefit of the doubt and keep giving it our all.”

One way Beisel has attempted to bring his athletes closer together is through the implementation of more team gatherings. Athletes are strongly encouraged to attend “team time” on Monday nights and to engage in team prayer and group cheers.

In addition, Beisel is a proponent of consistent one-on-one communication. This past summer he spent hours upon hours talking to individuals on the phone. Beisel is undoubtedly a people person focused on building relationships that will be mutually beneficial.

“Whether you’re an All-American, a national champion or what we call a developmental athlete, it’s my intention to sit down and have goal meetings with everybody,” Beisel said. “I want to learn what your motivation is and what contributions you can make to the team. We want to do everything we can as coaches to help them grow and to be there for them.”

Beisel is also a meticulous planner and one keenly aware of what the stopwatch is saying. The stopwatch is a guide used to design training workouts catered to each individual.

“One difference is that Coach Beisel likes to lay everything out for us the week before and have everything scheduled out,” Shelton said. “Coach Einspahr just kind of felt things out and went with the flow of things as we went. I think both strategies definitely work. We’ve already gotten some quality speed workouts in and some long runs that everybody’s really benefiting from. You can already see people getting better.”

Still, it’s a work in progress as Concordia preps for Saturday’s (Sept. 10) Blue-White run on campus. But there’s a healthy attitude on both sides of the coin and the type of optimism and anxiousness that comes with the dawning of a new season. Beisel is bursting with excitement. You know that if you’ve paid attention to his Facebook page.

While it’s going to be strange not to see Einspahr hollering encouragement at Concordia runners, it’s time for a new era to begin.

“Coach Einspahr had been here for so long,” Shelton said. “We had gotten to know him so well, and I think everybody had a pretty close relationship with him. That was kind of hard. Then we had to trust the athletic department that they would find somebody good to replace him to fill his big shoes. I think everybody is pretty happy with Coach Beisel.”

Added Sievert, “The way Coach Beisel has nurtured the team atmosphere has been great to see. The individual attention he gives to us as students and athletes has been really cool.”

Beisel’s caring approach in regards to each individual athlete was influenced in part by longtime University of Arkansas cross country and track coach John McDonnell.

“I sat down and just picked John McDonnell’s mind,” Beisel said. “What he said over and over was, ‘know your boys’ in that Irish accent of his. That really stuck with me. The trust that needs to develop between me and the athletes is the most important thing.”