More on track

I wasn’t able to include as many comments from the winning coach in Tuesday’s story about the Summit League indoor track meet as I would have wished, but I will relay along a little more of my conversation with USD coach Dave Gottsleben today….

In my time covering the men’s and women’s programs I’ve always been impressed with the quiet way he’s gone about his business. If you’re going to last as long as Gottsleben (29 years at USD) and women’s coach Lucky Huber (19 years as a coach at USD) have in the college coaching business at the same place, especially in a small town, you have to practice a certain grace in dealing with your responsibilities, otherwise you start wearing on folks.

 Winning is obviously a big deal, but winning humbly is almost as important. A little arrogance goes a very long way when you are, as Gottsleben and Huber have been, in for the long haul. Consistently recruiting good athletes who are good students is another high priority in building a program — and re-building it for Division I, as Gottsleben and Huber have. I would add that getting along with all the people who come and go up and down the line in the athletic and academic administrations, not over a period of years but over several decades, is most likely more difficult than the USD track coaches have made it look.

The other element, and this is basic coaching but maybe the most important thing coaches do, is that you have to build up a personal history of helping kids build confidence in themselves.

When the Division I talk got serious at USD and it looked like it was going to happen, I was very curious to hear what the people who’d been there a while would think about it. In Gottsleben and Huber, you had two coaches responsible for building the programs they led. Both have enough Division II NCAA plaques and trophies and awards – national awards – to put together a bonfire. Departing from such a stable situation would be trying for a lot of coaches, especially those have been hanging around for a while.

The thing is, the USD men’s and women’s programs got good at the Division II level precisely because the guys who built them up continued to bring energy to their tasks. And when the jump to Division I became a part of the school’s history they were all in.

“This was the first Summit League title in the history of South Dakota,” Gottsleben said in the moments after the final team scores were announced.  “I hope it shows everyone that the Division I move was right and that it can be done.”

When USD learned they’d landed the meet, it became a focal point of sorts both in terms of organization and competition. Injuries can easily unravel the best-laid plans in this sport, so there has to be some luck involved. The USD women were without hobbled Analisa Huschle, for instance. As a freshman she scored 30 team points at the outdoor meet last spring while winning three events.

The men avoided a knee-buckling set back, however, then delivered.

“Our team has been able to do that,” Gottsleben said. “It’s a coaching staff thing —  we have great support from our administration, we hosted the meet – we were more comfortable here, we’re very competitive here, this was about all those things. We knew when we were going to host this meet that this had to be a target for us and then it worked out.”