Losing its coach a week before the season started could have been disastrous for the Charlotte 49ers men’s and women’s cross country teams. But it didn’t take head track and field coach Bob Olesen very long to hire a replacement whose resume was more than adequate.
On Aug. 21, Charlotte hired Alex Gibby to replace Ed Schlichter, who resigned two weeks earlier to pursue employment opportunities outside of coaching.
Gibby had been head cross country coach and assistant track and field coach at University of Michigan the previous four years and has a long list of credentials and honors in his 14 years of guiding cross country teams.
Olesen and assistant cross country coach Ashley Vaughn ran the program in the interim before Gibby was hired.
Charlotte ran in its first meet on Aug. 29 in Boone and was scheduled to compete Sept. 13 at William and Mary, where Gibby coached from 2003-10 and competed as a student-athlete.
The 49ers’ next meet will be the Charlotte Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 26 at Charlotte’s McAlpine Creek Park.
Gibby is charged with turning Charlotte’s cross country program into conference championship contenders and more.
“We’re young and relatively unaccomplished,” said Gibby. “I think there’s some kids with some real ability in this program. It just hasn’t been extracted.”
Gibby hopes to see some improvement by the end of the season but realistically it will take more than a year to see real changes. Distance runners don’t shave significant time off their personal bests overnight.
But Gibby has a track record of success. In 2003, after three years at Stephen F. Austin, Gibby returned to William and Mary, his alma mater. Gibby led the team to conference championships in each of his seven years there and in 2009 William and Mary finished fifth at the NCAA championship meet.
Gibby and his wife, Kathy Newberry, who is a world-class long distance runner, were the men’s and women’s coaches at William and Mary until 2010 when Gibby resigned to take a job at Michigan. Last season, the Wolverines won the Great Lakes Region team title and Gibby was named the region’s coach of the year.
“We’ve been very fortunate to pick up coach Gibby,” said Zach Greth, a senior who is redshirting this year. “His accolades speak for themselves. Hopefully we can add to his tradition of successful coaching.”
It may take some time. Charlotte’s cross country teams have fallen down the conference rankings in recent years.
In 2013, the women’s team placed fifth out of 13 teams at the Conference USA meet while the men finished sixth. In 2012, the 49ers last in the Atlantic 10, the women placed ninth and the men finished 14th out of 16 teams.
The 49ers’ new coach did not have the luxury of helping his runners plan their summer workouts. But in his first couple weeks Gibby has implemented new training techniques that have caught his runners’ attention.
“I think we’ll definitely put in a lot more mileage,” said junior Morgan Richards, who placed 27th at last year’s C-USA meet. “We’re running harder every day. We’re not taking miles easy.
“I think this year is going to be a little rough with the transition and all the mileage. I think next year everyone will benefit from his training and I think everyone looks forward to that.”
The volleyball team has gotten off to a solid start under first-year coach Gokhan Yilmaz. After winning two of three matches at the Temple Invitational Sept. 5-6, the 49ers’ overall record is 5-3 (through Sept. 8).
Freshman outside hitter Sarah Adams and junior setter Britney Leigh Held were named all-tournament at Temple.
The women’s soccer team is playing through some oddities in its early-season schedule.
The 49ers first five games were on the road, the fifth a 1-1 tie with Clemson on Sept. 7. Charlotte (1-3-1) is now in the middle of a 10-day layoff.
Its next game, which will be the home opener, will be Sept. 17 against Winthrop. That’s nearly a month after it opened the season at UNC Greensboro on Aug. 22.