Track & field: Cross country teams announce staffing and program changes

Carly Davis

Aug. 11, David Thompson, former Augustana women’s cross country coach, announced his resignation from the position to team members via email. Thompson also said he would start as NYU’s head coach of men’s and women’s track & field and assistant coach of the cross country team for their 2021-22 season.

Team members were told they would have news of a new head coach by Sep. 9. Augustana athletics named Colin Young, women’s cross country & track and field assistant coach, to be acting head coach for the women’s 2021-22 fall season on Aug. 25.

“Students from the women’s cross country team sent emails to Mike Zapolski recommending Colin Young for the head coach position,” sophomore Audre Lewis said. “Colin was perfect for the role. He did most of the work of a head coach and cares so much about everyone on the team.”

In early October, Mike Zapolski, director of athletics, announced the combination of the men’s and women’s cross country and track & field programs.

Thompson’s leaving, in conjunction with the merging of Augustana’s men’s and women’s cross country and track & field programs, allowed for the promotion of Jake Shaver, former men’s cross country coach, to Augustana’s first Director of the Augustana cross country and track & field program immediately.

Zapolski announced the changes to the team in person at practice on Oct. 12 before sending student-athletes an email with the attached press release.

In the in-person announcement, Zapolski announced the merge alongside the news that Young would be let go from his position as both acting head coach and assistant coach at the end of the fall season, a little over three weeks after the announcement was made.

Young was told Oct. 11 that the 2021-22 fall season would be his last at Augustana, one day before the Oct. 12 announcement to students.

“We all love him a lot, and we’re disappointed,” Lewis said. “If you ask anyone on the team, they will tell you that Colin was one of their main reasons for choosing Augie cross country because it’s so easy to see what a wonderful environment he creates.”

Zapolski also said the school was looking to hire two additional assistant coaches for the track & field program as well as two graduate assistant coaches. This way, all four areas of track & field will receive individual coaching.

“I fully understand that for some student-athletes, this new structure will be seen as a positive improvement while others will disagree with this decision,” Zapolski said. “Change is always a challenge, but I am confident this new structure will have lasting benefits for Augustana cross country and track and field.”

Zapolski cited the improvement of the “student-athlete experience” and benefits to the program’s “overall level of competitiveness” as reasons to merge the problems. Combining men’s and women’s athletics is fairly common in DIII schools, especially for track & field and cross country programs.

Merging the two creates a singular team culture for student-athletics in the sport and ideally unifies athletes. Recruitment processes supposedly benefit from the combination, as recruitment efforts can market the team unilaterally rather than by men’s or women’s.

Changes to the coaching staff will begin immediately after the fall season concludes, with official practices for the indoor track & field season beginning on Oct. 25 for the first meet at St. Ambrose on Dec. 4.