Sometimes a transfer in power from a highly successful and decorated coach can hinder a program’s future and development. Other times the strength in both the talent of the athletes and the coaching staff can carry a squad to maintain high performance.
That high performance level is what Slippery Rock Cross Country was looking to achieve when the torch was handed down from former head coach John Papa to new head coach Bill Jordan, and so far the results yielded have only looked up.
Former SRU Cross Country head coach John Papa was decorated to say the least. The 2021-22 season was his 35th year at the helm. His tenure was decades long for a reason. Papa garnered a stunning 25 PSAC team championships, an equally unbelievable 21 PSAC Coach of the Year awards, and 16 regional coach of the year awards during his time here.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was during the 2007-08 academic year, as he coached his way to all four of the women’s indoor, men’s indoor, women’s outdoor, and men’s outdoor PSAC Championships. First year head coach Bill Jordan shared what it meant to work with coach Papa, both when Jordan was an athlete at SRU and while serving as an assistant coach to Papa for 17 years.
“I’ve known him since grade school… [Coach Papa] was a great mentor and friend,” Jordan said.
Of course, new head coach Bill Jordan has had cross country running through his veins for the majority of his life. If anyone has been prepared with the experience necessary to take over for a figure as legendary as coach Papa, it is coach Jordan.
“I was coach Papa’s assistant for 17 years, he was a great mentor and boss… I was a student athlete here… taking over your alma mater’s program is just a dream come true,” Jordan said.
Early on in his tenure, coach Jordan has already continued to foster a culture of winning. The Rock has competed in five meets since September 3rd. These contests have resulted in two first place finishes at the Allegheny Classic and the CMU Invitational and two second place finishes at the Bill Lennox Invitational and the Doug Watts open.
Even with the success, coach Jordan has his sights set on the PSAC Championship this Saturday, November 5th. Everyone at SRU is going in with confidence.
“The real test is gonna come this Saturday… The girls’ and boys’ team have been running fantastic… “We got a lot of faith in them,” Jordan said.
The path to continued triumph for The Rock has been simple. Follow former coach Papa’s outline while pushing the athletes to be the best they can be. No one at SRU would have it any other way. After all, coach Jordan replicating coach Papa’s championship culture even partially would be a massive accomplishment, and he is proving to be very capable.
“We’re continuing to kinda push the word and the same mentality we had under coach Papa now with me just driving the boat,” Jordan said.
Just as important as exceptional coaching is the athletes responding and developing accordingly. The new regime could hardly be happier with how their students have accepted them.
“The kids have really responded and taken to the change really well,” Jordan said.
As for individual players successes, there have been plenty. Ethan Brentham finished the 4-mile course at the Allegheny Classic in 20:52 which was good for first place. Troy Hart wasn’t far behind, finishing in second with a time of 20:57.
Brentham also paved the way for SRU at the Carnegie Mellon invitational by finishing the 8,000-meter course in 25:51. Brentham was the first collegiate finisher in both listed races.
The Rock would go on to place first overall in both of these competitions including a 21-point victory over second place host Carnegia Mellon at the Carnegie Mellon invitational.
On the side of women’s cross country, their first-place finish at the Allegheny Classic came down to the wire. The Rock’s triumph was highlighted by a pair of freshmen- Ruthie Hughes and Jennifer Cichra.
Hughes finished the 3-mile course in 18:59, taking home her first collegiate victory with Cichra 10 seconds behind, placing third. The team ended up claiming the win with 31 points which was three points better than second place host Allegheny.
The teams’ accomplishments have earned them well deserved praise from coach Jordan. He expressed how he feels his athletes are locked in heading into the most important competition so far.
“What the kids were able to do throughout the regular season has lined them up mentally,” Jordan said.
While no one is overlooking the challenge ahead, it is certainly nice to imagine the feelings that would be shared throughout Slippery Rock cross country if they should secure a PSAC championship in coach Jordan’s first year.
Coach Jordan, humble as always despite his early achievements, made sure to express how positively the win would impact everyone as opposed to just himself.
“It would mean a lot, I think it would mean a lot more to the kids,” Jordan said.