John Papa, head coach of the cross-county and both indoor and outdoor track teams, was awarded his 21st Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Coach of the Year award after the women’s indoor track team won the PSAC championship for the sixth time.
Papa won his 25th career PSAC championship earlier this year as the women’s team won the indoor championship at Edinboro University on Feb. 29-March 1. The team was ranked third coming into the meet and Papa said it is easier to come in as an underdog as it takes the pressure off of them.
“Cause we’ve been favored many times a lot of times, a lot of times we’ve won those meets,” Papa said. “There’s been a few where we go in favored and it doesn’t come out so great.”
Papa was confident that the reputation of Slippery Rock has been key in all the success he has had.
“My staff and myself work very hard to put the best product out there. The best team possible,” Papa said. “I think a lot of it is Slippery Rock University itself is a great place to be and a lot of our great athletes come here because Slippery Rock’s a great place.”
Papa said that he is lucky to be the coach at Slippery Rock and is not sure that if he was coaching somewhere else if he would have any awards or championships.
Both the men’s and women’s teams finished inside the top three of the PSAC indoor championship, as the women’s team won the championship for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Papa said that the team is typically geared around the outdoor season and with it being cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“All of our training is focused towards being at our very best in May for the PSAC,” Papa said. “I would say that probably as the season would have evolved our women would have surged ahead to be probably the team to beat.”
Papa added that the men’s team probably could not have beat the Shippensburg’s men’s team, but would have probably finished second ahead of East Stroudsburg.
As the season is now officially over for Papa and the outdoor track team, he said that there is a “mixed bag” of what athletes are going to do, including those who’ve been granted more eligibility.
“Well, I know some of our seniors are going to other schools and competing there and doing grad work,” Papa said. “Some of our seniors that are doing grad work are done, they aren’t going to compete. We have some that are going to come back and do grad work and compete.”
Papa said that the coaching staff are excited about next year and they think that the teams are going to be really competitive, similar to this year.
“We have a lot of great athletes,” Papa said. “A lot of incoming athletes plus a lot of really good returners.”