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Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast Transcript: Mark Northuis

Alan Babbitt [00:00:28] Welcome to the Hope Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast. This is Alan Babbitt, sports information director at Hope College. I am looking forward each week to bringing you interviews with Hope College coaches and athletics administration staff, student-athletes, and others that make Hope Athletics an exciting place to be and an enriching place to be for our student-athletes and for everyone involved. Glad to have today. Mark Northuis, Hope College men's and women's cross country coach and assistant track and field coach who works with our distance runners. Mark, you've had a wonderful, rich career as a student-athlete and as a coach here, an educator here at Hope College. This fall is unusual, like any other. How have you led your teams during this pandemic, an obviously challenging time? Normally we'd be talking competitions right now.

Mark Northuis [00:01:27] Normally we would have been competing and most the way through our season, getting ready for the championships. This is a little different of the season for us. We're a goal-orientated team, so it makes a little tough when you don't have championships as goals. We had to come up with other aspects that we want to compete with. Most were personal development and also some team development ideas and how we want to go through that. So that's the approach we took once the kids got on campus or once we knew that the season was canceled. I think throughout the summer we were still hoping that we're going to have a competition, at least a late competition that we could work toward that. So once we got here, we needed to sit down and talk about it. What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths? How can we develop those and really turn this into a learning season and a developmental season? It's given us a great opportunity to bring the freshmen along slowly instead of having to rush them into competition. That's been helpful. But we've also thrown in some competitions in which we've been able to do virtual meets against two different groupings of schools. We're signed up with a group that's mostly the mid-east and East Coast schools in Division III. We're also involved with a group of schools that are primarily in the Midwest, but a few West Coast schools as well. We can run those meats. For instance, last week the guys did a 5K road race, then we just submit our times and compared it to other schools. We can score things out that way. We've also done repeat miles or 5Ks and a variety of other things with the women. So that's a lot of different things we could do. The kids get a little fired up for it, but it's not the same as throwing on the jersey and traveling 10 hours to go to a meet and have fun. 

Alan Babbitt [00:03:13] Those virtual meats. How did they come about? How do you find someone to go race against virtually?

Mark Northuis [00:03:20] Well, in the day and age that we're in now, electronics is pretty easy. When everybody hears is that your canceled, you say, 'Hey, anybody want to race us in a different capacity?' There's been a history of our swim team having to do a few meets because of bad weather. doing it virtually like last year, I think they did a meet, a quad meet was done that way. This has been done in the past. Oftentimes, you would mail in your times, back in the last millennium is when we would do that. But now it's pretty easy. We have a couple of days to do it. We can email in our results and it works out really well. So just with simple networking and the mail server that we have out there among coaches, it's pretty easy to compile some meets.

Alan Babbitt [00:04:04] Unfortunately. cross country is unique compared to other fall sports where because of the overlap with track and field, you can't just move the season to the spring and have a full season because you got those teams that as well that are hopefully going to be competing. How did you deal with that aspect? Was that talked about much? Because it just kind of breaks my heart because your season is actually not happening. There'll be maybe a possibility to run a race at MIAA Field Day, but it won't be like a season per se. How do you guys handle that emotionally? That I would imagine that had to be tough.

Mark Northuis [00:04:43] It is because these kids because, like you said, we have some that missed the indoor track nationals. They were at nationals who got canceled. Then we lose the whole track season and now we lose the whole cross-country season. The seniors won't get a chance to run cross country. Seniors in the other fall sports will have their ability to do that sport in the spring;; cross country will not. D-III has decided to cancel cross country championships. And so that makes it very difficult for us, for kids who really run cross-country and use track to get ready for cross country. That's one of things that we're having to work through. We're trying to give them the best opportunities we can and still have some of that team experience. But we miss out on it. We need to talk about there's some things in life you miss out on, and this is one of them. How can we make the best of each day that we have and the opportunities that we have when we when we know we have them? I think that's the approach we take and realize that. Life is going throw some curveballs. Now, the other part we talked about was and I tell every recruit when they come here that our goal is you need to choose a school, not just for the sport. You need to be happy at the school even if you can't do that sport. And this is a prime time to have to figure that one out and realize that can be a challenge sometimes. That's what we're working our way through and how can we do it? So we have most the kids here that are happy about. I mean, can can work their way through the educational process. That's what they're able to do. (The freshmen) can get settled in the academics first and have a good foundation to feel good about that part, because as a freshman, you really have a lot of stressors. And this removes one of the stressors from them that they can train but not have to worry about the travel stress and the competitive stress that goes with it. I might be helpful for them to adapt to college.

Alan Babbitt [00:06:37] What's a weekly training schedule like for you guys right now as you prepare and build that up?

Mark Northuis [00:06:47] We are still going through with these virtual meets. I've accepted meets for sort of what our normal schedule would be because my goal is to have them to get as close to it as possible. With the exception of being able to do a virtual national meet, the NCAA won't let us do that because we have to use our eligibility. But we'll continue to have meets on those similar weekends that we would throughout October and November. That's what we're planning to do, so we're training Monday through Saturday, given us opportunities to do that without the travel stress. We're trying to maintain everything as normal as possible.

Alan Babbitt [00:07:27] Talk about your teams and maybe some of the runners, some of the top runners and also some of your leadership. Obviously, that's critical for any team to have student-athletes participate in the leadership part of a team to help motivate, so it's not just the coach motivating. Who were some of the runners that helped you guys this fall?

Mark Northuis [00:07:50] On the men's side, we have our two captains are Zach Murphy from Coldwater, Michigan, and Nick Hoffman from Holland, Michigan, both excellent leaders. They've been really working with the young guys through this time, helping them understand what the whole process is. Just coming alongside, doing the extra things outside of a practice that we can do. So some of the team camaraderie type of things helping to lead some of the strength work and the core work and so on before and just leading in the workouts. We don't have to worry about quite as much about getting themselves ready. They can help to nurture the young guys along so they can help to understand what the whole process is. I think that's been an important component for that. We've got some good young guys that came in and just what needed to be able to increase their mileage and get ready for a five-mile race instead of a three-mile race. And so how do we do that? Those two guys, Zach and Nick, have been very helpful in working our way through that, then seeing how the other guys just really developed. They ran an awful lot of miles this summer. I think when we combine it together, we were well over 60 thousand miles as a team. That's a lot of miles a few times around the earth that we ran. And so they came and ready to go. It was is because of these two guys, a leadership that really helped to bring them along. On the women's side, Our three captains: Jacinda Cole, Claire Muckian, and Brooke Truszkowski, all very good leaders for us, are people who have been there and have developed throughout the program and been with us for four years. That's, again, someone who can help to develop. They were really looking forward to being captains and all that goes with leading a team. It gets a little difficult, especially on the women's side where we're restricted, where we can't have as many people together at one time. So missing out on team camp with those kind of things, we've had to have some creative ways of doing instituting some of the team culture. They've been very good at helping this team culture in that way.

Alan Babbitt [00:09:54] Last year, you continued your run on the women's side. another MIAA championship. What is it about the women's team that it's just really obviously elevated to elite status and continued that? It's maybe easy to have one team or two teams be really good, but then to maintain it over a longer period of time is more challenging. What have you seen from the women's team that that tradition has really, really started to hit its stride?

Mark Northuis [00:10:26] I think it's just the continual belief in what we're doing. Obviously, we're getting great athletes in and that's really helpful. Great student-athletes, they just believe that they can continue to help each other along. We really emphasize the team component of how can you encourage your teammate along? How can you help them to run faster? How can you allow your teammates to help you become faster? So that's really the big thing. It's challenging each other every day to become better in some capacity of their life. And that's really the secret to it, is they're continuing to grow and a lot of different aspects. They just come in believing and they really get nurtured into that program. So it's they come in expecting that as well. I think sometimes if you expect it and you believe in it, then you can make better things happen. That's what we're really trying to do.

Alan Babbitt [00:01:00 I know when you have large teams, it's helpful to have some great assistant coaches that help you so you can connect with everyone and work together. I know you you do with your staff, with Brian (VanZanten) and Phil (Jones). Talk about those two and what they bring to your team.

Mark Northuis [00:11:39] Brian's been with me for, I think, 23  years now. He was a runner for us for a few years. He works with kids on a daily basis. He's a teacher at a local high school and just really understands people. And that's really the big thing that he brings the programs. It's really helping that that team cohesiveness, understanding how to work together and just encouraging that side. He's very good with helping me with recruiting, identifying local talent. That's really what he was. He's just a good stalwart, just having the continuation, knowing, you know, we can do things and we don't have to worry about asking each other. We just know what has to be done and gets done. And that's what I think that's a secret to the longevity of a program is having coaches that can just do it and feel comfortable in that. Phil, who is in his own right, a very good head coach and left being the head coach to come in to help us as an assistant coach. Understanding that process this fall, I turned over the middle distance training to him. That's one of those areas of specialty. We took some of the kids, instead of training them for a four-mile race or a 6K race for the women's side. We said let's just really develop the middle distance runners because we graduated four our four scorers in the 800 last year on the women's side and some of our top guys. Let's really develop their legs speed and really develop the speed side.Phil's taken over that aspect this fall where some of that training and then we also brought in Avery Lowe, who some of you will remember, she just recently got the postgraduate scholarship from the NCAA She's still in town and she's helping us and really nurturing, helping to work with the younger women and helping them understand just that whole transition to what's going on to the program. It's nice to have a female around the program and to working with that crew.

Alan Babbitt [00:13:28] I forgot to mention their full names when I did, I', comfortable just talking about Brian and Phil. But Phil Jones and Bryan VanZanten are the assistant coaches that do a great job. And we're glad that glad to certainly have them on our team and grateful for all the work that they do. Mark, I talked to earlier in this podcast series to Becky Schmidt, a postgraduate scholarship winner herself, had a terrific student-athlete career and has spent the majority of her coaching career at Hope, a life full of hope. It's very similar for you. You were a very accomplished student-athlete here and then have been now a very accomplished educator and coach here at Hope. What is Hope College meant to Mark Northuis?

Mark Northuis [00:14:23] I go back to my days of choosing the college myself, an opportunity to run Division I, and I didn't think I could handle Ann Arbor as an 18 year old. Back in the day 70s, it was a pretty crazy time. I chose Hope because of what I could do academically, athletically and spiritually. That's the whole reason why I choose to come back to Hope to teach. That's really why I love being at Hope and what I want to pass on to the student-athletes for the next generations. It's neat. Now I get to coach second generations of people that I coach when I first got here. That says a little bit about my age. But on the other hand, I guess the longevity as well. But that's the reason why I love being here. It's just the opportunities, the mission that Hope has and then just the opportunity every day to be able to work with student-athletes of quality that we have and be able to interact with them in that way. So I love it.

Alan Babbitt [00:15:15] Obviously, the opportunities to work, not just on your athletics, but on your academic as well. None of that was more evident than your research this summer with Ana Tucker. A very accomplished freshman runner last year for Hope and was on at one of those that was on her way to run an indoor nationals when they were unfortunately canceled. Talk about your work with her this summer. She said, one of the reasons she picked Hope was that she was going to be able to have that and not maybe be pigeonholed into one thing. She could enjoy a variety of her interests snd we're seeing that flourish with here in her short time.

Mark Northuis [00:15:56] As I mentioned in the article with that Eva Dean (Folkert) wrote, Ana is a Renaissance type of woman. She has so many interests, things that I didn't even know that she had, but she's really allowed that to blossom. The one thing that we have here at Hope is the ability to do research with our students and our student-athletes. I think we had 25 on campus, or doing some research last summer, off our team. It flourishes on our team. We have many science majors, but even non science majors. With Ana, wee had hoped to do some more research work with our new boost treadmill and anti-gravity treadmill. But because of being limited to doing in-person participants, we end up doing more of a conglomeration of some research that I've done with students in the past and then looking at an analysis of that data toward running economy. I'm looking to see what helps to make runners faster and being able to improve over time, so that's the work that Ana and I did this summer, doing some review on that and then analyzing the data from previous research. She was able to write a paper on that. She'll do a presentation next spring. It was a great opportunity for her to learn and grow. She learned an awful lot about what goes into training and how to make someone faster. Another component that she did in research, she was also working with Dr. Kirk Brumels and Dr. Kevin Cole on helping to develop a lab manual for their human anatomy class. She was doing the drawings for that human anatomy class. She is a very (good) ability to draw the human body. That's one of her minors. Even though she's going to science major, she's going to go with an art minor. She can combine those two. she had an opportunity to both of those things this summer working and in conjunction with three different professors.

Alan Babbitt [00:17:53] From when you first started coaching to know, obviously, some of things we've learned has changed. Some of the resources that we have now has changed. Is being a coach and a teacher today the same core as it was when you first started or has it developed? What's different now or what's the same?

Mark Northuis [00:18:16] One, my family is older and I don't have five little ones running around where we're concerned about that. But I always had a fan club with me. So that was there was one side. But no, I think some things have changed in that we're no longer doing dual meets in the conference. We're down to just doing one meet to determine the whole conference championship, which, like it or not like it, that's just the way it is. So you have to adapt your training. You know, we used to race at least once a week, sometimes twice a week in the conference. And now we race at most once a week, usually five times, during a whole season. There's some of those adaptations we have to make that to adjust to on what the competition or league and competition nationally we're doing. The human body hasn't really changed. Some are a little bit of our knowledge of coaching is change, but not that much that we're changing change in our training that much. We tried to adapt it and work with it. But for the most part, I think the biggest thing that's affected our program would be instituting of the indoor track season. That now you have another conference championship thrown in the middle. How do you mix that in with people? How do you work three different championships throughout the whole school year? And that's, I think, the toughest challenge for us. t's become a we start in August and we finish at the end of May. We have a 10 month season essentially that's going on. How do we adapt it to the different races?

Alan Babbitt [00:19:53] Our student-athletes the same or are they different? Is it different? What were the differences with coaching now that you found?

Mark Northuis [00:20:06] We've always said we've always had outstanding student-athletes, scholar-athletes really wanting to go on to graduate school and so on. But I think the emphasis on doing research even during the school year is really ramped up at Hope College. And so some of those demands on the students has really made a difference. I think the other component that's come into play would be because we've become, as you mentioned, more of a national-level team. We travel a little bit more nationally. Instead of just traveling to Olivet or Alma, it's a little bit further to go to Kentucky, Wisconsin and so on. It makes a little bit more difficult than some of the traveling teams. How do we do it? Having nice travel buses, having the Internet on the bus, all those kinds of things have helped us to make that adaptation to missing classes and so on.

Alan Babbitt [00:20:57] It's been good to chat with you. Mark. Thank you very much. We're looking forward to hopefully fingers crossed, seeing some competitions here next semester with your runners, whether an indoor track and field, outdoor track and field and then looking forward to cross country season. The school year doesn't feel right unless the Vanderbilt Invitational is run. We're looking forward to having that seeing that race again. Thanks for visiting our Orange or Blue podcast today, Mark.

Mark Northuis [00:21:29] Thank you very much.

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