NXN Finalists Q&A: Olivia Young and Unionville head coach Mark Lacianca

Olivia Young and her Unionville teammates successfully defended their NXN Northeast Regional title this past Saturday to earn a return trip to the NXN Finals in Portland, Oregon this coming weekend. Young and her coach Mark Lacianca have been a part of a big resurgence at Unionville, which has brought them four straight podium appearance at the state meet, a state championship, and two NXN Regional titles. As they prepare for their return to the biggest high school cross country team competition, Olivia and Coach Lacianca reflected on the big victory with PennTrack!


How was your training following the state meet?

Olivia Young: Overall, training went well. We have been training continuously for almost six months at this point, so we had some bumps and definitely felt the length of the season, but we persevered and went into the race confident with the work we had put in.

Coach Mark Lacianca: The experience of last year and the outdoor national meet in 2013 have really helped the athletes know that we will be ready to race with our post states training.  The big change in this year’s plan was the limited racing we did this fall.  Last fall (2013) we did a lot more base work and pushed our workouts back, but raced at some big time meets.  This year we have done the more traditional fall workouts, but we did not race all out in a 5K until LGS – and that wasn’t pretty.  Give the athletes on the team a lot of credit for believing in the system and continuing to improve.


Did you alter your preparations for this year’s NXN regional meet compared to the past two years?

Young: No, we followed almost the same training schedule as last year. It had worked before, so we didn’t want to change anything. The only thing that was different was our mindset going into the race. Last year, we were more focused on not messing up because we knew that we would qualify if we ran a decent race. This year, we had to run our best race of the season and even then we might not qualify for NXN.

Coach: No - -see above


What were your thoughts on the course? Having run it in the past, is it a course you are a fan of?

Young: Overall, I think we all liked the course because it played to our advantages. We are a really strong team aerobically so the hills and the course conditions played to our strengths. Personally, I am a fan of this course because it is hilly, but it is not as brutal as the state meet because the uphill is over by the halfway point.

Coach: The only approach one can have to be successful is to be positive about every course you run on, you have no other choice that will help the team.  I knew we were ready to race well on Friday based on the attitude our team had on the pre-meet.


What was the strategy heading into the race Saturday? What did you have to do in order to be successful?

Young: The strategy was the same as always for our team: to run an even race and really make our moves in the last mile. We knew we had to get out a little faster than usual because the course narrows early in the race. Once we saw the course conditions, all time goals went out the window. We all knew where we had to be place-wise in order to have a shot at qualifying.

Coach: Nothing in life beats experience and the experience of running it last year really helped us.   The runners also knew that the only thing that mattered on Saturday was place; we gave them places to be at different points in the race and the plan was executed!


Was this the best race you have run all season? Why did it go so well?

Young: Yes, I think this was the best race of the season, both individually and as a team. Since we did not race many 5ks early season, each race has been a learning experience and each race we have improved. I also think a big part of the success was the positive attitude our team had going into the race – we all saw the weather and the course conditions as an opportunity to help us.

Coach: As a team this was our best race of the season.  States was a close second.  The great thing about being a team is that we still haven’t had all of our runners put together their best race of the year on the same day; however, when you add up the individual races it makes a great team.  I am really proud of the way our athletes balance their individual goals vs the team goals and I know that putting the team goals first makes everyone better.

I was not surprised we ran well, we always run hard.  I thought the places I gave them going into the race based off of our practices were fair and I knew we had a great chance to move on to Portland with some good racing.  I was surprised by how much we won by.  I was disappointed for Pennsbury, they have really made us better the last 3 years (in 2011 we were just happy to be back on the map and 2nd in the state) and I would have liked to see PA represented with two teams.


What does it mean to win the meet for the 2nd consecutive season after graduating the stars that helped put the program on top a year ago?

Young: For me, this year’s victory was even more special because it was so unexpected compared to the year before. Coach Lac talked all year about “defending our state championship” and even though we missed out on that, we were able to defend our Regional title which is almost as good.

Coach: It says a lot about our leaders – Gretchen Mills and Olivia Young – they have kept our team on the right path every day.  The experience they have cannot be diminished – they have 13 XC state medals between them – and they really helped put our team in a position to be a top team in the state and region again.  The difference between a program and a season is that you learn from the past and Anne Birkenmaier is still a part of our success and Courtney Smith and Emily Fisher certainly helped put us in position to be great again this year.  The 2015 team will reap the benefits of Gretchen and Olivia’s work.


Did waiting until October to start running 5k races benefit the whole team in the end?

Young: After Regionals, we are all glad that we postponed racing 5ks until later in the season. However, after leagues and districts, there were some doubts that we didn’t have enough racing experience, but this plan has definitely paid off in the post season. As a team, we feel a lot stronger and healthier heading into NXN this year.

Coach: Yes, you cannot race well if you are not on the starting line.  I decided that we had to limit the pounding so we had a very conservative schedule this year.  Again, we have tremendous veteran leadership and they have trusted the process.


What are you most looking forward to about the trip to Portland?

Young: We have talked about last years’ trip so much that I am looking forward to sharing the experience with my new teammates who weren’t able to attend last year. I don’t think we could choose one part we are most excited about, because we are really excited for it all.

Coach: A combination of the experience (Nike treats every athlete as a professional athlete) and competing, which is why we are there.  If there is a major race, we are going to show up and run!


Having gone to this meet last year, what have you learned from that experience that can help you have a good experience at this meet?

Young: I think it is important to enjoy the experience, but also know when it is time to focus on the race.

Coach: Very similar to the NXN Regional meet, the experience of racing and knowing how good the competition is will really help.  You could have a great first mile and you will be further behind than you have ever been before in a race and it is just not as easy to move up because everyone is so good.


What is the team’s goal for NXN finals?

Young: We have steadily improved every single race since our first 5k at Leagues, so we are hoping to continue that momentum and have our best race of the year at Nationals. We would love to improve on last year’s finish.

Coach: The goal is always the same regardless of the level of the team and that is to compete.   Our plan will be to put us in the top 5 in the nation and I know if we run well we have a real opportunity to do that.