How Bradley cross-country built a dynasty – The Bradley Scout

Bradley’s cross country runners Matt Aho and Nicola Jansen hold the team championship trophies beside their teammates. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

Darren Gauson’s office at the Renaissance Coliseum is unlike any other in the building.

The cross-country head coach has seven championship trophies displayed along the windows, with one more taking up a shelf behind his desk and two others relegated to the floor. He lacks space for his riches, a good problem for any coach to have.

“I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great athletes here,” Gauson said. “Second place makes me feel like I’m letting the team or the department down, and [I’m] really pushing me to win every year.

In just eight years on the Hilltop, Gauson has won 10 MVC cross-country championships, including two in races this year. Totaling six with the men and four with the women, he coached at least one team to a title every year from 2015-2019 and hit double digits with the sweep in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 28. He also coached the men’s team to their first NCAA championship appearance in school history in 2018, when they finished 24th in the nation.

Of all of Bradley’s current track coaches, none have been more successful than Gauson. With a plethora of titles, honors and awards over the past eight years, Bradley flirts with one of Division I’s top cross country programs.

“We are always looking for a regional and national level and we feel like we are competing with the best teams in the country. [and] in the region, we’re going to win conference championships because we’ve set our standard extremely high, Gauson said.

While the first five years of the Gauson era were filled with joy, the next two were more like sorrow. Both teams have finished runners-up in the MVC Championship in 2020 and 2021 and the women have earned three consecutive second-place finishes, with their last victory being in 2018.

However, with four top-five finalists for women and five top-20 for men, this year’s MVC Championship was very different.

“It’s so special because it shows our hard work and everything we’ve been through,” said senior Tyler Schwartz. “Things we do every day to put online so everyone can see and show off what we are capable of.”

Schwartz, one of only two women on the roster to make that 2018 squad, finished third in this year’s championship after sitting out last season with injury. With her and race winner Nicola Jansen, Bradley’s women were able to earn the second highest score in MVC history with 22 points.

The Bradley women’s cross country team poses for photos after winning the 2022 MVC Championship. Photo courtesy of the Missouri Valley Conference.

“It’s just awesome to see all the girls wanting to do the same thing and doing it together, it’s pretty cool,” Schwartz said.

Jansen’s success as a sophomore is also something to marvel at. She won MVC Cross Country Freshman of the Year last season and followed that up by winning Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year this time around. Even in an individual sport, she knows how important it is to have a good support system – something that has helped guide her and the other Braves to their success.

“My keys to success are honestly the team [and] team spirit and everything that carries me through everything and positivity and just team spirit in general, Jansen said. “The coaches too, who take care of us… I don’t think I would have achieved all these things without them.”

Graduate student Alec Danner, who won third place on the men’s side at this year’s championship and was Bradley’s top male runner-up in last year’s competition, is acutely aware of the history he and his teammates are creating.

“It’s a winning tradition that’s been built from alumni,” Danner said. “Once you raise the bar, you don’t want to fall below those expectations. I think that’s what keeps us going. »

As with any good program, success starts with recruitment. Born and raised in Scotland, Gauson has connections that land him international names like South African native Jansen or England-born senior George Watson. Paired with Americans like Schwartz and Danner, the team’s mix of talent leads to some exciting results.

“You have to recruit really well and find out who will do well at Bradley and who will be a good fit academically and who you can coach,” Gauson said. “We put a lot of time and effort into the recruiting process and we really put a lot of time into showcasing our team, our energy, our camaraderie, our success and people buy into it.”

With many other top programs vying for rider commitments, beating the top schools is something essential for Bradley to compete at the national level. Schwartz, state champion and Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year, was watched by the likes of Michigan, Georgetown and Indiana.

In addition to bringing athletes to Peoria, it’s important for runners to develop once they arrive. According to Gauson, Jansen’s times were modest before coming to Bradley, but now she is one of the top runners in the country. He also says that Watson, Danner and Schwartz were all in the same boat as the second.

“You have to be able to incorporate great athletes, but you also have to develop them well and keep them healthy,” Gauson said.

Bradley’s two cross country teams were recognized at halftime of the men’s basketball game on Nov. 7. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

The key to staying healthy starts with preparation. In any sport, training is essential for continued success, and training for cross-country is drudgery. Workouts, weightlifting and dieting abound, but that commitment is what separates Bradley from the rest.

“The frustrating thing about running and a lot of athletics is that you can put in the work but you might not see the results right away,” Danner said. “Consistency is key and you can lose fitness very quickly, so making sure you build your life almost around being a successful runner is the way to success.”

With the team competing in the Midwest Regionals on Nov. 11, expectations are high for the best team in the Valley. Playing against Kansas, Oklahoma State and Illinois, among others, Gauson knows a lot has to go right for either team to qualify for the NCAA Championship; the Braves must finish first or second out of the top 30 teams in the competition to automatically qualify. However, he still thinks they will look good.

“It would be nice to have a year where both teams are in the top five,” Gauson said. “It’s pretty good when you think about the teams in our region.

After his victory in Indiana, Jansen will be the name to watch for the Braves. While her head coach believes she will qualify as an individual on the fourth-placed women’s team, she is already looking ahead to the bright future of the team which includes all of their current riders.

“I think we’re getting so much stronger now,” Jansen said. “We have a lot of faster rookies coming in next year and we’re only going to get faster from here. I’m excited.”

As for Gauson, he has long been aiming for the top of the mountain.

“My big goal is to have both teams [in the] National cross country championships the same year, both finished in the top 25,” Gauson said. “That’s why I get up at 6 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m. It’s an obsession.”

If Jansen has anything to say about it, Gauson will have to make room on his windowsills.

“This is just the beginning.”

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