DELAWARE, Ohio – After nearly a quarter of a century on the job or just one year, it’s still the very same NCAA Division III women’s outdoor track and field national championship that Pat Healy and Ben Dorsey are after.
Healy is finishing up his 23rd season as head coach at Wisconsin-La Crosse, and a title here at Ohio Wesleyan would be his first after six runner-up finishes in both indoor and outdoor competition. He has a slew of conference coach of the year awards –- nine outdoor honors, including the past three; and 11 for indoor competition.
After putting in a year as a co-interim head coach at Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 2013, Dorsey moved into the position full time this year. Dorsey, who actually played football and ran track at Wisconsin-La Crosse, had worked at his alma mater’s conference rival as an assistant since 2006.
“We do have a legacy to a certain extent, but as any coach will tell you, every team you have every year is always a little bit different,” Healy said. “But we pride ourselves on those athletes who came before us to continue doing the things that have been happening here for a long time.
“We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve been fairly successful over the years. That certainly doesn’t hurt to have that kind of background when you’re trying to get ready for a national championship.”
Dorsey, on the other hand, might seem to be a fresh-faced rookie in comparison despite his experience at Wisconsin-Oshkosh as an assistant. The spot at the top opened up when Patrick Ebel was hired as throws coach at Penn State in August 2012.
Less than two years later, Dorsey has the Titans in contention for a national championship. Nothing to it.
“Who I have to give credit to is Pat Ebel, the former head coach,” Dorsey said with a laugh. “When he left for Penn State, he left the cupboards pretty full. So we’re still kind of riding his coattails, as well as Deb Vercauteren, who was here before Ebel. I’m just trying to hold on and trying not to burn the place down. That’s what it amounts to.”
Both men point to the other as having the team to beat for the women’s track and field crown, and both say that Wartburg could be the spoiler in it all. That’s the fun part – and the nerve-wracking part, too – about competition at this level.
Right now, everybody has a shot.
“We’re going to score some pretty good points if everything goes well,” Healy said. “Wartburg should be able to score some pretty good points. It’s a national meet, and who knows? Pretty much anything can happen. I’ve pretty much seen it all over the last twenty-some-odd years. We’ll go to the meet with the intentions of doing everything we can to see if we can end up first.”
Wisconsin-La Crosse and Wisconsin-Oshkosh are different teams with different strengths. Healy expects many of his points to come in sprints and jumps – both long and triple, while Dorsey’s squad has almost always been strong in throws of the discus, hammer and shot put.
The one commonality between the teams is training in the temperamental Wisconsin weather. That’s obviously not a problem in indoor competition, but this is outdoor and that means dealing with conditions that are sometimes – often times – not the best.
“We really haven’t had a meet where the weather’s been really nice,” Healy said. “Our typical deal is 50 degrees and windy. That’s not really ideal, especially for anybody that’s trying to go around the track … or any of the short sprinters who are trying to sprint fast … or the jumpers who are trying to jump far.
“It’s been interesting just trying to keep kids excited about track. Early in the season, they expect the weather to be not so great. It’s pretty easy to get them motivated. As the season goes along, it just becomes harder and harder when every time they step out the door they’re kind of freezing.”
The past two springs in particular have been a challenge, according to Dorsey.
“You kind of have to stay inside until you compete, and then bundle back up,” he concluded. “I think the kids have handled it. They’re used to it. They grew up here, so it’s not as big a shock.”