In late May of 2022, Virginia Wesleyan University announced the new Head Coach of Cross Country as Ryan Purrington, marking its third coach in four years. He is also the assistant director of Track and Field. Prior to coming to VWU, he was the director of Cross Country and Track and Field at Randolph College.
His love of running came in part from his high school cross country coach. “I was dragged kicking and screaming to my first cross country practice, [but] I fell in love with it and had phenomenal teammates,” Purrington said. “I went to Randolph and ran there for four years and started the track and field program there.”
After Purrington graduated, he coached for three-and-a-half years at the high school level before going back to Randolph and leading their program for four years. When Purrington returned to Randolph he coached Prince Charles, VWU Assistant Men’s Lacrosse Coach.
Purrington said he coaches to help athletes be the best they can be. “You know, for me, it’s much more important for folks to be happy, successful individuals coming out of college and I try to embody that,” Purrington said.
He said that the big draw for him to come to VWU was him seeing it as one of the top programs in the area when he was running for Randolph. “Where cross country has been in the past isn’t necessarily up to our potential. I know track and field with Geni, Jaylyn and Landry have shown what our potential is,” he said. Purrington also mentioned how he wants to replicate that with Cross Country and he is excited to help foster that and become one of the best teams in Division III.
The training Purrington has brought is different from last season. “It’s more relaxed and a lot more friendly than last year,” senior Colton Spence said.
Spence also described Purrington’s coaching style. “Everything is planned out and he’s pretty professional with it. We know what we are doing for the whole week,” Spence said.
Junior Cecelia Aten mentioned how intense the training has been. “Coach P has definitely brought immense amounts of knowledge to the team, and has led us all to higher levels of training,” Aten said.
With this season being Aten’s first season running cross country, she did not know how it was going to go. “I have surpassed most of the goals that I had set for myself, with the guidance of Coach P. I am really excited for the rest of the season, just based on how the first few weeks of training is going,” Aten said.
Both Purrington and Spence mentioned how exciting it is to have a full team for ODACs for the men’s team, which is something they did not have last season.
“If we can keep working hard and progressing and staying healthy, we can contend for the top half of the conference,” Purrington said. “If everything goes perfectly, I think this team could be a top three team on the men’s side.”
For the women, the goals are similar. After having enough runners to score at the conference meet last season, Purrington mentioned how it is all about building off of that. With a big group of runners close together, they have been pushing each other which can lead to what Purrington hopes is a team result in the top half of the conference.
Both Aten and Purrington had positive thoughts on the results of their first meet of the season, which was the Blue Marlin Invitational held on Sept. 3.
Purrington mentioned how this meet was sort of a workout just so they could move onto campus when they did. “It’s kind of like NFL preseason where it’s really good to get the win and I think we raced really, really well,” Purrington said.
Both teams won the meet with competition from NCAA Division II schools and a NCCA school. This was the first time the meet had been held since 2006 and Purrington mentioned how he hopes he can make this an annual tradition and host some more meets in the future.
Two juniors, James Johnson and Jason Golub, have stepped into leadership roles as upperclassmen for the men’s teams which Purrington highlighted. “James and Jason have really taken the freshman under their wing,” Purrington said. Whether it’s helping with homework or just reaching out, he praised Johnson and Golub for team spirit, along with sophomore Landon Crooks.
On the women’s side, Purrington mentioned senior Marranda Hansford and Aten and the leadership they have brought to the team. “Cece invited everyone to a pasta night just as a team which I think is really cool, they have done a really good job welcoming a team half of which are freshmen and newcomers,” Purrington said.
Both teams race again Friday, Sept. 16, when they travel up to Christopher Newport University. Stay tuned for the next few issues of the Chronicle where we will introduce the other new coaches.