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Cross country coach Dunn applies new strategy

New assistant cross country coach Jason Dunn has brought to his team a new strategy, as well as a new attitude. Dunn was formerly an assistant for Arizona State, where he helped those teams to rank 12th (women) and 14th (men) nationally. He is hoping to bring some of that same success to Virginia.

Dunn replaced Evan "Buz" Male, Jr. in August, and has brought a remarkably fresh, new style. Unlike previous Cav assistants, Dunn directs his training to the three biggest races of the year -- Pre-Nationals, ACC Regionals and Nationals -- while more or less ignoring the other events along the way.

"We're spending more time training as opposed to trying to race so that we can avoid the injuries we've had in the past," Dunn said.

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    Dunn keeps his top runners out of every other race in the early season and gives his younger, inexperienced athletes a chance to race. So far, the young runners have responded well. For example, freshman Walton Kingsberry has placed best among the Cav runners in two meets this year, including the Colonial Invitational meet in Williamsburg last weekend, where he finished second overall.

    "We want to put our young runners in a situation where they are not overwhelmed and have a chance to compete," Dunn said.

    At the same time, by spending less time racing, Dunn has helped all of the runners on the team stay healthier.

    "Last year I raced in every single meet," junior Megan Schwartz said. "By the end of the year I wasn't burned out, but I was tired, and don't feel I did as well as I could have."

    For almost two years, redshirt sophomore Ellen Dwyer was plagued by injuries caused from overtraining and even had to miss a season because of a stress fracture in her left hip. But under Dunn, she said she is as healthy as ever. Two weekends ago at N.C. State, Dwyer scored her first points of the year by finishing fifth amongst her teammates, 13th overall.

    "It's great he has us racing every other weekend," Dwyer said. "Last year, we would work really hard in practice and then racing on top of that was twice as hard."

    Dwyer and Schwartz agreed that Dunn's practices are more direct and purposeful than those the team had gotten used to in previous years.

    "He gets to the point," Schwartz said. "While practice used to be three-and-a-half to four hours long, now our practices are only two hours but are far more intense than anything we did before."

    In addition to improving the team physically, Dunn also has made dramatic improvements in the Cavaliers' mental condition by focusing them on the season's last race. Dunn said Nationals is an achievement "U.Va. should be able to get to every year."

    "Our last coach didn't even mention Nationals to us," junior Dawn Cleary said. "Maybe the top runners could get there, but the whole team? No."

    Apparently, it's a matter of attitude.

    "We keep having to correct ourselves," Cleary said. "We start talking about if we go to Nationals, and then we stop. We say 'Wait a second, it's not if, it's when."


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