The TCA cross country team was thrown a curveball the night before the 2020 state championships: top girls’ runner and contender for the 3A title, and a boys’ team qualifier, had to enter quarantine due to a possible COVID-19 exposure. They could not compete in the championship meet. But led by Alan Versaw for the last 21 years, the Titans have more experience than most at the state level. The girls’ pulled off a 3A team win without their top runner, and the boys’ team took home a second-place trophy.

Versaw is the Gazette Preps 2020 Cross Country Coach of the Year.

Q: How many years have you been coaching, any level?

Well I coached junior high football for three years and promised myself I would never coach again. But 12 years later I got into coaching cross country and it’s been 21 years now.

What inspired you to become a coach?

What got me back into coaching is I just had a lot of cross country kids in my math classes over the years, and I always seemed to resonate with those kids. So I said to myself I really ought to try coaching cross country.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your 21 years as a coach?

I think what makes the most impact in our program is at the beginning of every year I ask my kids to smile and say thank you. That sets an atmosphere that makes a whole lot of other things possible. It’s not particularly to me that they say thank you, but to anybody who does an act of kindness. And to smile at the people on the team, smile at them and make it a pleasure to be there.

Most memorable moment from the 2020 season?

The night before state when we found out Sawyer Wilson was quanantiend, I just breathed in hard. I had no idea what was coming next, and I’m still very saddened that Sawyer didn’t get to physically be a part of that win, but the way the girls rallied and just delivered a convincing statement is a memory I’ll never be able to forget. It’s in my top five memories of coaching, that’s for sure. It was a special moment when you realize everything is hanging by a thin thread, and you have no idea what is going to happen, and it comes together.

Q: What is some advice for underclassmen coming through your program?

Be open to the idea of shared hard work. That’s really what cross country is. A lot of us don’t like hard work when we’re doing it by ourselves, but when we are together with people of like minds, it becomes fun. The kids who come in with an open mind and work hard together end up being very successful.

What is your coaching cliche?

Don’t go out with the crazies. That’s a phrase that comes out of my mouth a lot. When you’re young and excited and you want to go do something you want to go out fast. But a big part of endurance is being patient. And if they can keep themselves from going out with the crazies they have a better chance of being successful.