Karen Shump and Ryann Krais have arrived at the doorstep of excellence

Editor's Note: Red-shirt freshman Karen Shump and true sophomore Ryann Krais begin their second collegiate seasons over the next several weeks - Shump on January 16th and Krais on February 6th. And both are in a better position to excel than they were a year ago.

Both athletes were gracious enough to share their first-year experiences with PennTrackXC in interviews this past August. The story seems most apropos now that track is beginning again.



Neither Karen Shump or Ryann Krais
expected the freshman years they got.
It's all good now, though.

Every freshman goes through a transition from high school to college – some more smoothly than others. The pressures can be enormous. New-found freedom. Challenging classes. New friends. And a new town with a different culture.


But add athletics to the mix, and you add a whole new level of change. Coaching. Training. Teammates, Expectations. Time management, and more.

WIth an elite athlete, transitioning from a world of mostly success, support and awards, these changes can have many unforeseen effects.

Two of Pennsylvania's all-time best female athletes are now entering their second years as college students and Division 1 athletes at top programs. Both had a few bumps in the road during their freshman years. But both had far more success than not.

The common thread is that each had to make some changes in the way they approached their athletic careers and used their talents. And because both have made those transitions with open minds to go with their competitive natures, do not be surprised to see new PRs this year, and for many years to come.

Karen Shump and Ryann Krais were each well coached in high school. Both have incredibly supportive families who did everything to help them at every turn (Shump's older brothers joke with her that she was spoiled. She doesn't believe it). And both athletes left the comfort zones of their Southeastern Pennsylvania homes to try their talents at faraway places.

Shump chose the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Krais, the sprawling campus of UCLA outside Los Angeles, California.

The Oklahoma throwers are coached by Brian Blutreich, who has guided three Olympians, and put the University of North Carolina on the throwing map with stars like 2003 Coughlin PA grad Justin Ryncavage, and Laura Gerraughty, plus numerous others. Blutreich joined the Sooners in 2007, and immediately had an impact for the school's thowers, including 2005 Northern PA grad Amy Backel. Backel became an All-American in the javelin in 2008, and captured 10th in that year's Olympic Trials. Backel would have an impact on Shump's adjustment to Division I athletics almost immediately upon her arrival in Norman.

Krais is coached by literally a cast of thousands (well, actually, only one per event, and sometimes two per event). She's a multis athlete and hurdler, so that is a lot of people. But the head coach is Olympic Gold Medalist (1984 4x100) Jeanette Bolden, now in her 17th year... and the multis and hurdles coach is Bob Kersee, now in his 28th year. Of course, his wife, Jackie Joyner Kersee, is always around as well.

And just as with Shump, it is another former PA high school star who has had an influence on Krais' early adjustment to college athletics in the person of 2005 West Catholic PA grad Nicole Leach. Leach was the 2007 NCAA Champ in the 400 hurdles for UCLA, and will be competitive at the world-class level in her event over the coming years.

So, if you're Karen or Ryann, you're probably in one of the best programs in the country for your events. And it's especially gratifying to start your careers with friends from Pennsylvania.

Meet Karen Shump - runner.

Yep, that's right. Not long after her arrival in Norman, Oklahoma in the fall of 2008, Shump was about to begin a transformation in the way she approached her sport.

Sure, she had done all the lifting, drills, and other things throwers do in high school to prepare to be the best they can be. She even quit softball her sophomore year – one of her favorite sports and she was on a team that usually qualified for the state meet – to concentrate all of her athletic energies on the shot put and discus.

And her coach most of her high school career – Barry Swanson – helped her with much more than learning the fundamentals of her events. According to Shump, he was just as concerned about teaching the importance of focus as he was about the drills and the lifting.

Shump credits Swanson with teaching her how to get into the right mindset for competition. To focus on the moment.

Anyone who has watched her compete knows the look. She is in her own world. Blocking out all distractions. And visualizing the throw that is so engrained in her mind and body by hours and hours of drills to build muscle memory.

But it's what happens when Shump uncorks a great throw that confounds some observers, and probably makes Swanson the proudest. Nothing changes. She collects the shot or the disc, and begins to prepare for the next throw.

There's no celebration. No fist pumps. (Well, maybe a little for a good one). But in events that often have showmen for athletes, Shump is all-business.

"I try to focus on the present," she says. "If you PR, it's just a good day."

And she means it.

"I don't get too caught up in what I have done. You never want to be satisfied," she adds. She says she saves her excitement for her teammates when they do well. 'I know how hard they have trained." 

But she does get a subdued thrill out of seeing the reactions of her teammates and coach when she does well.

Shump knows that her family played a big role in her ability to focus on the present, and to concentrate on the little things to get those PRs. She went to her brothers' football games and soccer matches. "It really helped to watch their success."

And it's that dedication to the here and now – the process – that has really impressed Sooners' Coach Blutreich.

"That is where we click," the coach offers. "This sport is all about process. She really gets the system. That is what makes people really good."

But it is Shump's patience with the process, and the learning that has most impressed her coach. "I haven't seen that in anyone I have coached. Nothing fazes her. Nothing."

Armed with a strong mind, athletic ability and a relentless work ethic, it would seem, on the surface, to be enough to transform this thrower from a 52' 4" PR in high school, to an astounding 57' 1.5" in her freshman year – a school record.  But it was her leap from a 154' discus PR in high school to a 178' 4" that most impressed Blutreich. (also a school record).

Shump had two other meets over 170'. "That is a bonus we were not expecting from her," Blutreich adds.

"One day my technique just came together" (in the discus), Shump offers in her self-effacing manner.

"The 57-footer surprised us," says Blutreich. "Our goal was a consistent 52-53, so we were 'whoa, OK, we're starting really well. But we were more shocked by the 178." 

So what about the running?"

Well, it was soon-to-graduate 2008 all-American javelin thrower Amy Backel who both Blutreich and Shump credit with helping Karen really refine the athlete that everyone knew she was.

"Amy is a fitness and nutrition freak" Bluereich says. "So Karen just did what Amy did. And you can see the results."

Shump considers it all a part of the process now. "The running is just the aerobic to help me with my endurance," she states matter of factly.

Does she ever get excited at a meet?

Not with her own performances. "In high school, my parents would get excited for me."

In college, Shump says it's even better. And it begins  – you guessed it – with a key part of the process... practice.

In high school, she was usually with a group of three to four throwers. Now it's 15. "We're all pretty close," Shump shares. "We really push each other, but we also have fun, doing little competitions here and there – lifting-wise, medicine ball. We make up little events."

"There are a variety of characters," Shump laughs to herself.

The other change the red-shirt freshman made wasn't a change at all. She simply found success with her old style. Shump had always been a glider, beginning at the back of the circle and harnessing the energy to explode with the implement at just the right moment.

Many throwers transition to the spin. The physics can't be denied. Get a faster set-up, and release, and it should go further. "It's mass times acceleration" Blutreich says. 

Shump spent last fall trying to learn the spin. "But she went back to the glide during a practice meet," says her coach, "and she did well, so we decided to stay with it."

Shump, ever the student of the event, offered, "I wasn't hitting the front. With the glide, there's a little more room for error."

Neither coach or athlete are ruling out the spin in the future.

Either way, expect the run of great throws to continue from Karen Shump.

And after redshirting her freshman year, she'll have four full seasons to see how good she can become.

But she'll take the 3rd at the USATF Indoor Championships last winter where she threw 56-07.50 (that put her on the IAAF world list as the 6th ranked American). And she was mostly pleased with the 10th place finish at the USATF Outdoor Championships in June, especially for the experience.

Plus, there were the two school records.

So what does the future hold?

Blutreich thinks Shump can be a 60 foot shot putter. That could put her in the hunt for a spot on a national team.

So Karen, would you like to make your parents travel oversees at some point? "Yeah, I'd like that."

Meet Ryan Krais, the former self-critic.

To understand what Ryann Krais went through in the 'what did I get myself into' department during her first year at UCLA, all you need to know is that at the end of the year she wrote a list – to herself–  of the 100 things she did wrong.

That's being pretty tough on oneself... and to be quite direct, that is exactly what happened to Ryann.

But as with any competitor with the grit of a Ryann Krais, she worked through it. The journey was not fun, though.

UCLA head coach Jeanette Bolden and Krais agree on two things. One, Ryann is intensely competitive, especially with herself. And two, Ryann had a great freshman year. It just wasn't the year that Krais had mapped out for herself.

While Shump exceeded her own expectations much of the year, Krais was under from the start.

It began during the summer between high school and college.

Krais was in the best shape of her life heading off to college. Under the direction of UCLA distance coach Eric Peterson in August, Krais described one workout. "I was doing ten 200's in under 36 seconds with a 35-second rest. I had never done anything like that before."

She was excited for the fall training to begin.

She began training with the sprint group. Some of the athletes had taken the summer off entirely. "Fall training was less than I was used to, so I was kinda doing some things on my own," says Krais. Then she sheepishly adds... "I probably shouldn't have done that. I should have gone right in and trusted the coaches."

Her confidence slipped a notch, although she really couldn't see it yet.

She went into the first indoor meet with unrealistic expectations. Expectations she had not shared with a coach. And her 8.6 in the 60 hurdles and 56 in the 400 meter dash were good. After all, she had never done that in high school this early. But hey, this was college, and Krais was less than thrilled with her performances.

So she set out to prove herself, and followed up her opening meet with a 57 400 in front of family at the New Balance T&F Center (the Armory), in New York.

"That's when it all started," Krais sighs. Confidence began to wane.

Her coaches told her that indoor is just to get some races in... get some experience, and whatever happens, happens. "They weren't concerned at all," says Krais. "They kept reassuring me."

She wasn't convinced.

She did some high jumps, 400's and in an event she had hit 20' in high school - the long jump - she was in the 17's.

By the last meet, she was thinking, 'Oh my goodness. It has never been like that before."

The one bright spot was she did have some highlights in the Pentathlon, getting PR's in the 800 and the shot put. But her premier events - the 100 hurdles and the long jump - just weren't there.

Krais admits now that coach Bolden would tell her the plan, and then she'd go on with her own thing.

The flood gates opened after indoor.

Krais isn't a crier. But when she sat down with Bolden after indoor, she says she just started bawling.

Krais showed her coach the goals she had set. Bolden took a look and said, "take a sec. Breathe." (she'd say that a few more times before NCAA's in the spring).

Bolden: "This is a long-term process Ryann."

Krais: But what about right now?"

Bolden explains that the freshman year is simply for getting used to the newness of everything. And learning to deal with stressors you never have had to endure before.

So coach and athlete made a deal. No more self-training by Krais, and better communication both ways.

However, there still was a philosophical difference at work here that needed to be resolved. Krais was used to being involved in her own training - the planning.

Bolden's experience tells her that the less the athlete knows about what they're going to be doing, the better it is. Jut worry about the workout, and everything will take care of itself.

Krais says she has always wanted to "understand why" she was doing something. "That way, if I get it, I can go 100%." Her high school coach, Rob Ronzano, would answer as many questions as Ryann threw his way. And they worked with each other to ensure that Krais got the most out of every workout. She wouldn't be happy any other way.

But now at UCLA, at least the lines of communication were open.

However, the journey was not quite over.

"Spring is always reviving."

The first 400 of the season didn't go so well. The second meet, Krais hit 5200 in the heptathlon with good performances in her weaker events - the javelin and the shot put. Krais wasn't super happy.

So she talked her coaches into letting her do the 400 hurdles on the following day. Krais broke a minute. The mark was an NCAA regional qualifier. Coach Kersee was happy. Coach Bolden was happy. At last, Ryann saw a bright spot..

The team, however, was not meeting Bolden's expectations, so plans were shelved for going to the Penn Relays. But after a few very strong practices, the coaches made the decision to take Ryann 'home' to Penn.

Coach Kersee told her her workouts indicated she was in 57 shape for the 400 hurdles. Krais was pumped.

But by the fourth hurdle she was out of her 15-steps – three hurdles short of normal – and Krais says she shut down mentally. "I ran the worst where I wanted to run the best."

(Editor's note: After the race, I started to go up to Ryann, who was standing by the brick wall near the start. For the only time I can ever remember, Ryann looked unapproachable.)

Krais says that is exactly how she felt, and that it was clear to everyone around her that she was not enjoying herself.

Coach Bolden pulled her into the stands. "Here it comes," Krais thought. "I'm gonna get yelled at."

But there was no yelling... just a calm "Breathe, Ryann" from her coach.

Krais says her coach told her that to bring her back to Penn, she had to put this race in perspective. She had travelled across the country. The weather was bad. It was a learning experience.

Coach Kersee suggested they stay another day and let Krais run the 100 hurdles.

That didn't go so well, either. "I was so thankful he asked. But it was not to my standards. I didn't even break 14."

What Krais took from the experience as a whole is that she came into a trap of sorts. "You're back in your comfort zone and the negatives about college start going through your head. It makes it harder to go back."

Krais decided maybe it was time she listened to her coaches. Completely.

All-American is not a bad finish to a rough year.

"After Penn, I finally let my guard down," says Krais. "I told myself to forget the past and do whatever they say."

By Regionals, Krais' confidence was finally approaching normal. She had really wanted to make NCAA's in her favorite event, the 400 hurdles, but her 58.81 did not get her into the national championship, although it was 6th place overall after prelims, semis and the finals. She was happy, because it was a season best. And she already had the auto-qualifer in the heptathlon.

At NCAA's, her 5549 was just 57 points off the PR of 5609 she had set a month earlier at the PAC-10 Championships. Either mark would have finished 11th.

Her goal had been to score a point for UCLA (top eight), but she was pleased with the two days. Her dad had made the trip, and after the 800 he have her a hug and whispered "there were three foreigners in front of you."

That would make her the eighth American. Top eight earn all-American honors.

Krais said something to Coach Bolden, who told her the UCLA Athletic Department folks would let them know soon enough. "I didn't bring it up for a day."

Later the next day she got the call. She had her first All-American certificate.

Krais didn't get much of a break, because she had made the US Juniors team for the Pan-American Games in Trinidad/Tobago in late July. Her 5454 in the hep earned her the silver medal.

While she wasn't entirely happy with the points, she was very happy with how she handled herself at the meet. "I stopped being so business-like, counting points. You can't do that. You have to have fun while you're doing your events. In Trinidad, I had fun."

Leave no doubt, Krais is still applying the pressure.

She has goals, including, but certainly not limited to, competing with the top US athletes in her signature event in the hep, the 100 hurdles. "That means getting under 13," she says.

And while her favorite event remains the 400 hurdles, it isn't leading the multis by much. "It's growing on me. I kinda know that is where I probably will be post-collegiate." Krais says... then quickly adds... "not saying pro. But that is my hope and dream."

Bolden doesn't disagree. "Ryann is someone who can be a world class heptathlete. She has the maturity and strength. We've just got to make her faster, more technically sound, more consistent."

Krais knows she has a lot to learn. And now she's ready to listen.

In a rare move, Coach Bolden has tentatively planned out Krais' competitions through outdoor - and shared the information with her.

Krais has also picked up valuable advice from former teammate and NCAA 400 hurdles champion Nicole Leach.

"She told me to have a notepad with me wherever I go, and after each practice and event, write down my thoughts."

"I will never get used to losing, but you have to take the right things out of a race. Writing it down helps me to take the good things out of each race."

Krais started doing that in the spring. And it quickly evolved into the top 100 things she did wrong her freshman year.

Here is a link to 25.

But suffice it to say, looking back, Krais would rather be on this side of her freshman year than the other. She PRed. She got an all-American award. She even got yelled at. "It's kinda funny," adds Bolden. "Not getting yelled at was bothering her."

Now Krais knows for sure; her coaches really do care.

"I needed to make these mistakes to know I don't want it to happen again."


Karen Shump opened Saturday, January 16 at the Texas A&M Invitational. The school record-holder in the event won the shot put with the 4th best throw in program history, 55-03.75 (16.86). Amy Backel was 2nd with a PR of 51-06.50. Both are NCAA Provisional marks.

Ryann Krais opens Friday, February 5 at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational at the Armory in NY. She'll run the 60 hurdles and do the long jump on Friday, probably followed by the high jump on Saturday.