The time is now
Veteran Wisconsin-La Crosse coach wants his first title
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Just a few more points. That’s all that separated head coach Pat Healy and the Wisconsin-La Crosse women’s track and field team from last year’s NCAA Division III indoor track and field national championship.
Two more and Wisconsin-La Crosse would have tied in-state rival Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Three would have given sole possession of the first national championship of his long and illustrious career. He was this close … and that far.
For 24 years now, he has been the women’s head coach at Wisconsin-La Crosse. Between indoor and outdoor competition, the Eagles have wound up second in the nationals. What does Healy want to accomplish this time around?
That’s an easy one.
“You mean besides winning the national title?” he asks, not really expecting an answer. He pauses a moment before continuing. “We’re going there with all intents and purposes of doing everything we can to try to win this thing. We were second last year by two points and we’re in the mix again this year. That’s about all you can really ask for, just having a shot.”
Ranked first in the USTFCCCA DIII national polls headed into the tournament, the time could be right. Truth is, the time could be right because time might be running out for Healy. With a total of 39 years of coaching under his belt -- thirty-two at the collegiate level -- Healy says he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll stick around. It may be a couple more years, three maybe.
He sounds as if he might have a bit of a firmer idea than that, but he’s not letting on just yet.
“I think any coach would give a lot to win at least one title,” Healy says. “We’ve been fortunate over the years that we’ve had some really good teams. If we trophy this year, it’ll be my 20th fourth-place or better. Making it a gold one would be kind of a dream come true, especially since I’m getting closer to the end of my career.”
On the flip side of the Wisconsin-La Crosse coin are an NCAA DIII-record 29 men’s indoor and outdoor titles. Healy knows he won’t duplicate that, but he takes it in stride just the same.
“I think it’s incentive to try to match the guys,” Healy says. “We’ve come close many times. If I had my druthers, I would love to see us win it this year and I’d like to see the men win it, too. There’s no animosity. The men’s team is the men’s team and the women’s is the women’s.
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That being said, Healy insists that he doesn’t necessarily concentrate on the national championship tournament. He can’t afford to, not while competing in the power-packed Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Competing there is a lot like competing here, on the biggest stage of all, on a regular basis.
“I try not to be focused on the national meet from the very get-go,” Healy continues. “That’s not to say we didn’t mention it or talk about it. We did a little bit, but not much. Most of our concentration throughout the season goes toward the conference. The national meet’s always in the back of my mind, obviously, and it’s always in the back of my athletes’ minds.”
A plus this year, Healy hopes, is the fact that eight or so of the 12 Wisconsin-La Crosse student-athletes competing here this week were involved in last year’s national meet. That kind of experience is invaluable.
“They’re almost all juniors and seniors,” Healy adds. “I’m hoping that’s what’s going to help, that we have experienced athletes so we don’t come in and fall on our face. I guess I’d be surprised. Whether we win it or not this year, I don’t know. But I think we’ll come in and the kids will be competitive.”