By: Steven Chmielash

Elias Koech and Laura Clarke, former NCAA competitive runners, will be coaching the new cross country team.

Algonquin will welcome a new cross country team this coming fall semester. Coaching the team will be current students, Laura Clarke and Elias Koech whom prior to studying at the college both ran at the NCAA level in El Paso, Texas.

In an effort to deter students from going to another school with an established cross country team, Director of Athletics Operations Ron Port has decided to fund a new team.

“A number of the Ottawa area athletes…have gone elsewhere just because of the cross country run. So I’m trying to get those types of programs that interest the student body,” said Port.

The decision to start the team came last year when Port was approached by a student to have a cross country team. Port looked into the idea, and started an online campaign to see if it generated interest around the college.

Port had to decide, before the athletic director meeting on Dec. 4, 2012, whether a new cross country team would be established for next year.

It was at that point when the team was officially given the green light that the search for the head coaches began.

Laura Clarke, a paralegal student finishing her degree came to Port and asked if they had any names in mind for the head coach. Since the interviewing process hadn’t begun, Clarke applied, and was given the job. Her husband Elia Koech, a competitive runner who is also an Algonquin powerline technician student, assists.

Clarke’s background includes competing in both cross country and track and field at St-Lawrence University in Canton, NY and she competed at the NCAA level with the University of Texas at El Paso.

Koech was a gold medalist in the 800m race during the 1988 Summer Olympics, and signed to a one-year Nike sponsorship contract out of high school in Kenya. Koech competed at the NCAA level with the University of Texas at El Paso on a full scholarship. He was also a four-time All-American runner.

“I think they’re pretty highly motivated and they were very very happy to get involved,” said Port about Clarke and Koech coaching the team.

Clarke worked as a high school assistant teacher and coached the cross country, track and distance team but besides that she doesn’t have much head coaching experience. Koech has never coached competitively but that doesn’t worry him, or Clarke.

“I think the first year should be a lot of emphasis on having fun, getting the good basics of training and getting experience racing, “said Clarke in regards to first-year expectations.

After being on scholarship in the NCAA, Koech knows all too well the stress associated with being a full-time student and runner. He compares it to being a professional athlete.

As such, Koech just wants his team to have fun and not stress about the results. He doesn’t want his runners to go through the same pressure that he went through – to the point where he almost quit.

“People put pressure on themselves, naturally anyways. I don’t think we need to put a ton of pressure on people. I think it should be pretty easy going and we’ll see what happens,” said Clarke.

With Algonquin slated to start the program next semester, they will become the 21st OCAA cross country team in the league.

If you’re interested in joining the team, don’t hesitate to contact Laura Clarke and Elias Koech themselves, they are excited to hear from you.