With the recent hiring of Vin Lananna as Director of Track and Field and Cross Country — one of the biggest names in U.S. track and field — Virginia adds a reputable coach and administrator to the team.
Lananna formerly coached at Dartmouth, Stanford and Oregon where he won a combined 11 national championships and 42 conference championships. He was also named NCAA Cross Country Coach of the Year five times. Outside of collegiate athletics, Lananna has coached on the national and international stages with U.S. Track and Field.
Most recently, as an administrator, he has served as the president of U.S. Track and Field and TrackTown USA, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting the worldwide track and field community. Before joining Virginia, Lananna was put on temporary leave by USATF to avoid a conflict of interest in relation to a government investigation into the awarding of the 2021 World Championships. While the investigation is ongoing, Lananna has now turned his attention to Virginia.
“A long-term vision is what all of those experiences provide,” Lananna said. “I think I can find a broader perspective of where Virginia’s role can be in the relevance quotient and what’s going to end up happening here … Our hope is to provide the student athletes at Virginia an unparalleled experience in track and field.”
After leaving collegiate coaching in 2012, the long-time coach has chosen to return to NCAA track and field with Virginia. After Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams presented him with the opportunity, Lananna saw a “perfect match.” In fact, for Lannana, the appeal of Virginia track and field began a while back — 1987 to be exact.
“In 1987, I was at Dartmouth and NCAAs were here at Virginia,” Lananna said. “I remember being in Charlottesville and noticing that it was one of the best attended and exciting cross country meets I had been to at the national level … We can do some pretty cool things here because of the support of the community.”
Removed from the collegiate scene for so long, Lananna said he missed interacting with driven and motivated student athletes. At Virginia, Lananna was able to match place with personnel.
“As I walk around Grounds here and I look at the history, this is the ultimate collegiate environment,” Lananna said. “That’s what is really inspiring here.”
Having been in his new position for almost two months, Lananna has had a chance to interact with the coaching staff, student athletes and the Charlottesville community. Arriving in the middle of the cross country season, the director began working immediately with both teams to make a positive impact on this season’s outcome.
“I came back into this role to be a hands-on coach,” Lananna said. “I am involved in really working with athletes on day-to-day basis as it relates to workouts and competition preparation.”
Lananna’s impact is already being felt by the runners. The active role he hopes to play in daily workouts and competition preparation seems to be making a difference thus far.
“Coach Lananna has made a great impression so far,” senior cross country runner Ari Klau said. “He has been patient and keeps things light at practice, so it has been all positive since he stepped on Grounds.”
Most recently, the men’s and women’s teams competed in their first postseason meet — ACC Championships. The men finished 4th place overall last Friday, and the women followed with 11th place overall. While the conference championship only has ACC implications, it provides a useful test against many of the competitors that they will see in two weeks at the NCAA Southeast Regional — the NCAA Championship qualifier.
Lananna is shifting the focus to the postseason. For Lananna, the entire season should be a gradual progression and build up to the elimination rounds. Regular season results are important benchmarks, but quality and consistent training that prepares the runners for postseason competition takes precedence, he said.
“We hope to be our best when we get towards the championship portion of the season — ACC Championships, NCAA Southeast Regional and NCAA Championships,” Lananna said.
Historically, Virginia has never won a track and field national championship — only two NCAA titles by women’s cross country in 1981 and 1982. The majority of the Cavaliers’ point-scorers have come from throwers and jumpers. Last year, elite jumper Jordan Scott and thrower Hilmar Jonsson finished their Virginia careers with top three finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Lananna said he aims to elevate track’s contribution to the field’s point total, which will help establish Virginia as a perennial contender. Building off a promising cross country season, the Cavaliers’ track athletes are positioned well to be more successful in their events. From leveraging high-performing middle-distance and distance runners to having strong relay teams on both the men’s and women’s side, there are tangible steps to be made to help Virginia thrive.
With a good model, a good history and a student-athlete directed program, Lananna has high aspirations to create a more balanced team, leading to better results in the future.
“On a conference level, [my vision for Virginia is] always being a contender and being in a position where we are a nationally relevant track and field and cross country program,” Lananna said.
Lananna’s vision, strategy and experience will be paramount to the advancement of the program. While Virginia won’t become a national powerhouse overnight, the program’s athletes — including cross country standout Klau — are confident in Lananna.
“Coach Lananna has been at the helm of multiple dominant teams that competed for and won championships year in and year out,” Klau said. “Having someone with his experience in not only building championship-caliber programs but also community involvement and outreach is invaluable for our team’s future.”
With the hiring of Lananna, the excitement and expectation around the track and field and cross country programs have been lifted. Empowered by the recent success across Virginia sports, Lananna is inspired to transform the program into yet another title contender for Virginia.
“It’s clear to me that the current student-athletes at Virginia will establish the foundation for the future,” Lananna said. “I am eager to play a role in that process.”