Andrew Valmon is probably the most accomplished current Maryland head coach you've never heard of. He won Olympic gold not once, but twice. If that wasn't enough by itself, he was also the head coach of the U.S. track and field team for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. In his 13 years in College Park, he has completely rebuilt Maryland's track and field program.
I talked with Valmon as the team was leaving for the Big Ten Indoor Championships at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.
Is Big Ten track and field any different stylistically than the ACC?
Valmon said that the Big Ten conference is strong. In order to be successful, the team would need to get more points across the board. "We need to get out of the box early and build momentum from there." Peyton Wade, Lauren Ball and Jewel Smith will look to get Maryland started out strong in the women's pentathlon.
Who will excel and who might turn some heads?
Valmon said that there have been a variety of different young women that have stepped up this season. "I'm not asking one person to carry this team."
He said that Chioma Onyekwere has been consistent with both throws, the shot put and the weight throw. Valmon added that he is looking for Micha Powell, Alexandra Lucki, and Peyton Wade to be big contributors for this team at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Catherine Voelpel is a person that might surprise some people in the 600 meters. Valmon says she has been knocking on the door. Kayla Richardson and Lisa Meneau are two more names that Valmon said could turn some heads up in Ohio.
Have you been surprised that so many school records have fallen this season?
Micha Powell and Dan Trettel have put their names atop the Maryland record books this season. In fact, a week after setting a new school record, Powell broke it again.
Valmon said it came as no surprise to him. "Coming into the Big Ten, not many people expected a whole lot [from Maryland]. We have a sense of urgency going forward. No record is safe. That's what we preach to these kids."
One of the key things that Valmon tries to get his players to do is trust themselves. "Once you believe you're good, the sky is the limit. That's evident with the records that are being broken right now...The mindset needs to be that the record book is attainable. You came here to be relevant."
What has this team improved on in the indoor season?
Valmon talked about the buy-in from this group. He framed it to me in terms of a bus leaving a station. He said that the coaching staff wants as many passengers on that bus as possible. Valmon said that the kids are reaping the benefits of buying into the system. "What they've embraced is going out and earning it."
He said that it's all about everybody getting on the same page. "They are buying into this vision of "We can do this.""
What does Maryland need to do to win the Big Ten?
"We need to continue to take the steps of adding more bodies into the fold of being competitive. With the Big Ten, you need more bodies," Valmon said.
When we talked about recruiting, Valmon said that you need talent to win, and that the move to the Big Ten has been great for the program. "The way that everything is happening in College Park...The university is revitalizing the academic piece. They're upgrading the facilities. The development of the university overall...It's an attractive package that's going to get the best kids in the country to come here."
Valmon said that he has tried to coach his team with a simple, but effective mentality that he calls "The Four P's". Plan, prepare, practice and finally, perform. "You can't over-analyze with this generation of kids, or you'll lose them."
Valmon's stated goal is pretty simple. "I want more bodies in the position of scoring and being relevant in the conference." While the goal and plan itself are simple, the execution of that plan will undoubtedly be much more difficult.
Nevertheless, with the buy-in from his players and the potential for strong contributions from multiple people on both the women's and men's sides, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Maryland track and field as they take on the best in the Big Ten this weekend.