Moreno ties up with Huskies as new runners coach

Jamie Moreno showed flexibility and competitiveness in his freshman year at NIU, but he’s not a gymnast. Moreno is the newest Cross Country Head Coach and Distance Coach for NIU track and field.

Moreno has established himself as a father figure within his team after just over eight months of work.

Rushing through the hiring process

Moreno was named head coach of NIU’s cross country program on August 18, 2021. The timing of Moreno’s hire was unique after Adrian Myers, Moreno’s predecessor, left the program on July 6, 2021 to accept the position of cross director. country/athletics at Tulane University.

“Sometimes with the process of hiring coaches at colleges, it can take six to eight weeks,” Moreno said. “In this case, they were in a bit of a rush because of the departure of the former coach and the cross season which starts in the fall in August.”

Moreno’s journey to becoming the next Huskies coach has not been without competition. Director of Athletics and Cross Country Connie Teaberry said at least 75 applications have been submitted for the position. 20 of them did not have the required qualifications.

His opportunity at the fifth head coaching gig of his college coaching career came the first week of August, when he was officially offered the job. Moreno’s decision to accept the position was based on NIU’s previous success and its recruiting opportunities.

“I had seen the success the cross country program had had over the past four or five years, including winning a MAC title,” Moreno said. “It showed me that one, there was potential to get some really good recruits here and two, there was some support for the program.”

Get off on the right foot

The hiring of Moreno on Aug. 18 and the first meet of the 2021 cross-country fall schedule on Sept. 3 left the new hire just over two weeks to build rapport with his team.

“It’s always difficult when you’re a new coach and you find yourself in a new environment with new athletes who don’t know you,” Teaberry said. “They followed the previous coach’s training plan and your plan may be totally different from theirs. It takes a little time for these athletes to be bought.

It was crucial for Moreno to establish trust with the team early with a short window until the start of the fall competition schedule. The first impression of Moreno was positive for freshman Emma Vorpagel.

Junior cross country runner Kaitlin Miller (left) talks to coach Jamie Moreno during the 2021 fall season. (Courtesy Jamie Moreno)

“The first meeting was good,” Vorpagel said. “We felt like he was just some kind of goofball and he totally grew into that. He has such a good sense of humor.”

Build trust and be tactful

Coupled with his sense of humor, Teaberry described Moreno’s relationship with his student-athletes as positive.

“He’s extremely positive and open-minded when it comes to student-athletes,” Teaberry said. “When you’re dealing with a program that had a previous coach, you have to be prepared to listen.”

Moreno’s approach to coaching is to maximize the potential of each of the student-athletes on an individual basis, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.

“We’re talking about coaching the individual and trying to put together a plan that’s not a cookie-cutter plan when it comes to mileage and workouts and such,” Moreno said. “I try to adapt that to every student-athlete we have on the team. I’m letting it be known that we’re going to do what’s best for the individual and try to figure out how we can get the best out of each person and not just do the same with everyone.

Moreno has also been tactful when preparing his athletes for competition. The 27-year coaching veteran has relied on his experience coaching at various levels and as a student-athlete himself to support his team.

“He’s been really good at helping me get through the pre-race nerves and anxiety that I had before every race,” Vorpagel said. “Before races, a lot of people usually get quite anxious. We have this connection where it will completely distract me from racing and allow me to focus on other things.

Deliver results from the first year

Many of Moreno’s athletes broke personal bests during his first year as cross country head coach and distance coach for the track team. Four Huskie distance runners recently set personal bests while competing at the Jim Duncan Invitational on April 15.

Junior Kaitlin Miller and rookie Joy Jackson each set personal bests in the 5,000 meters with times of 17:50.06 and 18:38.33 respectively. Senior Grace Louis broke a personal best 3000 meter steeplechase with a time of 11:27.01. Vorpagel clocked a personal time of 2:18.24 in the 800 meters.

“He’s doing a great job of shaping the program with what he received when he arrived,” Vorpagel said. “I’m excited to see where he’s taking the team because he’s got a lot of signings coming.”

Planning for the future at NIU

One of Moreno’s goals during his time at DeKalb is to pick up more talent in upcoming recruiting classes.

“You can’t be successful unless you recruit fast people,” Moreno said. “I’ve always taken great pride in developing riders.”

Moreno is also working to bring the Huskies back to their glory days of years past. The previous cross-country training regimen saw four top-4 finishes at the MAC Championships from 2015-2020 and sported the school’s first individual conference champion in 2019.

“I’m definitely competitive,” Moreno said. “I don’t just go middle of the road or down the road in the MAC. I want to be a team that is consistently in the top three or four and hopefully win that MAC title again here soon.

Moreno will return to coaching on Thursday when the track team begins competition in the three-day Drake Relays hosted by Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Garland K. Long