Senior distance runner Leah O'Connor has built quite a resume, winning 10 Big Ten titles and two NCAA Championships.
Leah O'Connor becomes first MSU women's athlete to win Big Ten outdoor track awards.
Four Spartans make it on the podium on day two of competition.
Spartans add six medals to close out the final day of competition at the conference meet.
Julia Otwell races to a bronze-medal win in the 10,000-meter on Friday night at Purdue.
Walt Drenth by the Numbers:
Two-time Pac-10 Women's Coach of the Year (1999, 2000, Cross Country)
West Region Women's Coach of the Year (2000, Cross Country)
Two-time MAC Coach of the Year (1988, 1989, Cross Country)
Three-time Central Collegiate Coach of the Year (1987, 1988, 1989, Cross Country)
Five-time CAA Coach of the Year (1990, 1992-95, Cross Country)
Two-time District II Coach of the Year (1990, 1995, Cross Country)
District IV Coach of the Year (1989, Cross Country)
Four-time Great Lakes Coach of the Year (2006, 2007, 2010, 2014 Women's Cross Country)
Four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 Women's Cross Country)
2014 USTFCCCA Women's National Coach of the Year
382 Academic All-Big Ten honorees (Cross Country, Track)
113 All-Americans (Cross Country, Track)
41 NCAA Championships Berths (Cross Country, Track)
61 Academic All-Americans (Cross Country, Track)
72 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar honorees
31 Conference Championships (Cross Country, Track)
20 NCAA Top-20 Finishes (Cross Country, Track)
14 Academic All-American Teams (Cross Country, Track)
Four Great Lakes Regional Championships (Cross Country)
Four Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year (Cross Country)
One District IV Title (1989, Cross Country)
Walt Drenth was appointed as the director of the men's and women's track & field and cross country programs at Michigan State on June 2, 2006. He joined the Michigan State program as head men's cross country coach and assistant men's track & field coach in 2004.
The 2014 cross country season was one for the ages for Drenth and the Spartans. The Michigan State women's squad began the year with a victory over No. 2-ranked Oregon at the Bill Dellinger Invitational in Eugene. The Spartans continued to dominate from there with decisive victories in Minnesota and Wisconsin as they ascended to No. 1 in the national coaches poll for the first time in program history on Oct. 21. That was just the beginning for the MSU women, who went on to claim the fourth Big Ten Championship in five seasons and the sixth Great Lakes Regional title in program history. That set the stage for another historic performance at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, where the Spartans placed four individuals in the top-21 and recorded 85 points to capture the first national championship in women's program history. The 85 team points were also the lowest NCAA Championships total since 2008 (Washington, 79). In addition, the Michigan State men's group was the runner-up at the regional meet before finishing 24th at the NCAAs.
The Spartans had a number of outstanding individual performances in 2014 as well, highlighted by four All-Americans on the women's national championship team - Rachele Schulist, Lindsay Clark, Leah O'Connor and Julia Otwell. O'Connor was also named the Big Ten and Great Lakes Region Athlete of the Year. Schulist, Clark, O'Connor and Otwell were also joined on the All-Region team by Alexis Wiersma, Sara Kroll and Sara Stassen. On the men's side, MSU had four individuals take home all-region honors as Caleb Rhynard placed fourth overall to lead the squad along with top-25 finishers Ben Miller (11th), Alex Wilson (16th) and Sherod Hardt (25th).
In more than 25 years of collegiate coaching, Drenth has amassed a wealth of coaching honors. Since 1985, he has led 41 teams to NCAA Championship appearances and has coached 113 All-Americans and 61 Academic All-Americans in both track and cross country. Additionally, Drenth has been recognized by his conference and regional peers as Coach of the Year on 23 occasions.
In just his ninth year as the director of track & field and cross country, Drenth has helped elevate the Spartan track & field program to a new level of success. In the past eight years, MSU has had 163 regional qualifiers, 44 school-record holders, 61 national qualifiers, 26 All-Big Ten finishers and 61 All-Americans (cross country/track).
The 2014 track & field season saw Michigan State send 11 individuals to the NCAA Championships (six indoor, five outdoor). Antonio James broke his own school record in the indoor weight throw and received first-team All-American honors for the second straight year. Tori Franklin and Leah O'Connor also earned first team honors in the triple jump and mile run, respectively. O'Connor highlighted the outdoor campaign for the Spartans, winning the 3,000m steeplechase at the Big Ten and NCAA Championship meets. The redshirt junior became the first steeplechase champion in MSU history with a school-record time of 9:36.43.
In 2013, Drenth received his third conference coach of the year award for women's cross country. He also received the honor in 2010 and 2011. Drenth and the Spartans won their third Big Ten Championship title in four years fifth overall title in program history. Led by Leah O'Connor's runner-up finish, the Spartans beat out defending champion Michigan. Caleb Rhynard placed fourth overall to lead the men to a seventh-place finish. At the national meet, Rhynard became the first MSU men's All-American since 1997 with a 34th-place finish. On the women's side, the Spartans surged to a sixth-place finish, the highest since MSU placed fifth in 2007 and the third-best team finish in program history.
In 2012, Drenth helped the Spartan women to a runner-up team finish at the Big Ten Championships led by Big Ten individual champion and Athlete of the Year Sara Kroll. The team followed up by turning in a second-place finish at the NCAA Regionals to automatically punch their ticket to nationals for the 14th-straight season, the longest active streak in the Big Ten. Placing five in the top-30 to earn a fourth-place team finish at the regional meet and receive an at-large bid to compete at the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2009. The women finished 16th overall nationally, while the men placed 31st. The Spartans never dropped a beat heading into the track and field season as the team had a record-breaking year in program history. Representing MSU at the Big Ten Championships, the Spartans won seven medals, including two gold-medal winning performances by Alysson Bodenabach (600-yard dash) and Beth Rohl in the weight throw. Rohl would earn Big Ten Indoor Athlete of the Year honors for her season and represent MSU at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships along with Antonio James and Lonnie Pugh. Both James and Rohl won silver medals in their respective weight throw competitions at the national meet. Carrying over the success to the outdoor schedule, the Spartans proved to have one of the best seasons in program history. Rohl added her sixth Big Ten outdoor medal in the women's discus, while James took home his first gold medal of his career in the same event. Leah O'Connor also picked up her second-straight gold medal with a dramatic finish in the steeplechase. A total of 26 members of the team traveled to the NCAA Regional, where the outstanding performances put forth qualified 12 Spartans for the Championships. It marked the most national qualifiers the program had seen since 1984. At the national meet, all 12 Spartans earned All-American honors led by Beth Rohl, finished a career-high third in the women's discus competition in her last competition in the Green & White. Tori Franklin posted a fourth-place finish in the triple jump, while Leah O'Connor finished the steeplechase in fifth-place. Jellisa Westney, Alicia Evans, Jaelynn Pryor and redshirt senior Alysson Bodenbach each earned All-American honors as they became the first 4x400 relay to qualify for the national meet for the first time since 1983. On the men's side Antonio James and Caleb Rhynard also received All-American honors for their performances in the discus and 5,000-meter run, respectively.
Drenth continued the success of the cross country program into the 2011 season as the women claimed their second-straight Big Ten Cross Country Championship title. Following the outstanding team performance, Drenth received his second-straight Big Ten Coach of the Year recognition. On the men's side, standout David Madrigal was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. With MSU's top-two finish at the NCAA Regionals, the women qualified for nationals for the 13th-straight season. The women's squad went on to finish 16th overall at the NCAA Championships, marking the best finish at the year-end race since 2008, when MSU placed 11th overall. It was also the team's 10th performance all-time with a finish in the top-20. Seven Spartans represented Michigan State at the NCAA Indoor Championships led by freshman Tori Franklin's bronze medal-winning performance in the triple jump. Michigan State was led at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships by freshman Leah O'Connor who took home the Spartans only gold medal of the meet in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The Spartans went on to ride a seven-medal showing at the conference meet all the way to a new program record 31 student-athletes qualifying for the NCAA Regionals. Led by a fourth-place overall finish by Beth Rohl in the discus, seven Spartans earned All-American honors following their performances at the 2012 NCAA Championships.
In 2010, the MSU women's cross country team won the program's first conference team title since 2001. The women also won the NCAA Great Lakes Region race to earn an automatic berth into the 2010 NCAA Cross Country Championships for the 12-straight year. Drenth was named Coach of the Year following both races for the Big Ten Conference and the Great Lakes Region. Individually, senior Emily MacLeod joined Drenth with end of the year honors, as she was named both the USTFCCCA Great Lakes Athlete of the Year for the second-straight year, and the Big Ten Athlete of the Year, as she won both races in convincing manner. MacLeod capped off the season with an All-America performance at the NCAA Championships. On the track, the Green and White continued the fall success, as seven conference titles were claimed during both the indoors and outdoors seasons. Regionally outdoors, a program-best 28 individuals qualified for the NCAA East Region Championships while seven individuals advanced in eight events to the NCAA Championships. During the indoor season, three Spartans qualified for the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships with each earning All-America honors. Overall, MSU saw 12 individuals earn All-America honors during the 2010-11 school year.
The 2009-10 campaign saw the Spartans reach new heights in both cross country and track & field. The season began with both the men and women cross country teams advancing to the NCAA Championships. For the women, it was their 11th-consectuive trip, while the men made their first appearance since 2006. Junior Emily MacLeod paced the women throughout the year, capping her stellar season with Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year honors. Junior Patrick Grosskopf led the men to a second-place showing at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional when he turned in the best individual finish for a MSU male runner since 1995 when he placed fifth at the regional. In all, six Spartans earned all-region honors for the cross country season - Grosskopf, Spencer Beatty and Josh McAlary for the men, and MacLeod, Carlie Green and Rebekah Smeltzer for the women. Green also became the 12th Spartan to receive USTFCCCA All-Academic honors for her work both on and off the course. The women earned USTFCCCA All-Academic Team recognition for the fifth-straight season.
The success carried over from the cross country course onto the track for the Green and White. MSU got things started during the indoor season when senior Kyron Foster placed first during the conference meet with a leap of 15.59m. Foster carried his momentum into the NCAA Championships when he became the first triple jumper to earn All-America honors with a sixth-place showing. Foster leaped a school-record distance of 16.21m.
Under the guidance of Drenth, the Spartans saw 26 individuals qualify for the 2009 NCAA preliminary rounds during the outdoor season, a program best. Of those qualifiers, six individuals - Becca Buchholtz, Kyron Foster, Emily MacLeod, Keenan Michael, Josh McAlary and Beth Rohl - advanced to the NCAA Championships in seven events. Rohl opened action for MSU with a fifth-place showing in the discus throw with a mark of 53.44m, becoming the school's first ever All-American in the event. For the second-consecutive year, MSU has had a member of its team receive All-America honors in the 5,000m run as Emily MacLeod finished sixth with a personal-best time 16:06.75 in the event. This was the second consecutive year MSU has seen two student-athletes receive All-America honors outdoors. At the conclusion of the season, seven members of the squad were named to the USTFCCCA All-Academic team.
Coach Drenth's young resume at MSU has already yielded impressive results. Most notably during the 2008-09 season, Drenth coached 20 regional qualifiers and five automatic NCAA Championship qualifiers. The 2008 cross country season also marked the women's team 11th place tie at the NCAA Championships, with Spartan standouts Nichole Bush and Lisa Senakiewich earning All-America honors by placing seventh and 21st, respectively. Bush was also named the Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year for the 2008 cross country season. The women's cross country team placed third in the Big Ten, as well as third in the Great Lakes Regional division. The men's cross country team took sixth in the Big Ten, and claimed sixth place in Great Lakes Regional Division as well.
Under his tutelage, Nicole Bush also earned several accolades, including first team All-Big Ten honors, after winning the 3,000m steeplechase by nearly 17 seconds. Bush ended her impressive Spartan career as a seven-time All-American in cross country and track & field, and was also named the 2009 MSU George Alderton Female Athlete of the Year. Over the course of the season Bush posted two school record times, including a time of 9:39.38 in the steeplechase - which ranks sixth all-time collegiately - and a time of 15:54.26 in the 5,000m run.
Also during the 2009 outdoor season, current assistant coach Lisa Senakiewich, a regional qualifier in the 5,000m run, placed fourth at Nationals in the same event. Sarah Price finished 17th in the 3,000m steeplechase at Nationals, along with being a regional qualifier. Shane Knoll was awarded the Great Lakes Track Athlete of the Year and was an Indoor USTFCCCA All-American, along with being a regional qualifier in the 800m event. Emily MacLeod (5,000m), Leah Elenbaas (800m) and Ian Boyle (800m) were also regional qualifiers.
Drenth had one his best overall seasons with the Spartans in 2007-08, highlighted by the women's cross country team that finished fifth at the NCAA National Championship, its best finish since 1981. He also coached Nicole Bush to a school-best fifth-place finish at the championship, earning her All-America honors. The women's indoor track squad also saw plenty of success, finishing 25th at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships. Drenth and his staff sent 15 student-athletes to the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, while two, Zoe Pelbart and Sarah Price, earned a berth at the NCAA Championships.
Drenth's level of coaching was also seen nationally during the summer of 2008, as Bush made a splash at the 2008 Olympic Trials. Bush ran a time of 9:40.27 in the 3,000m steeplechase, smashing her previous career-best. Her time was just one tenth of a second away from qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Drenth made an immediate impact at Michigan State, leading the men's cross country team to its first NCAA Championship bid in three years during the 2004 season. MSU finished seventh at the Great Lakes Regional in 2004 and 2005, and took fourth place at the 2006 meet en route to an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. The Spartan women's cross country team also advanced to the NCAA Championships after winning the Great Lakes Regional race.
The 2006-2007 track & field team had a great year under Drenth, as he coached four NCAA qualifiers and helped Bush to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships after posting a 9:56.68, setting a then school-record in the steeplechase, breaking her previous record by nearly two seconds. The sixth place nod also earned Bush All-America honors. In fact, throughout the 2006-07 season, Drenth coached three All-Americans, nine Academic All-Americans, 10 All-Region selections, nine All-Big Ten honorees and had three teams recognized as All-Academic programs.
Since his arrival at MSU, Drenth has changed the culture of the track & field program and molded it into a team that will be dangerous for many years to come. The Spartans have been one of the top academic performers on campus since Drenth's arrival. Matt Bartlebaugh was honored with the President's Award in 2007. The award is given to a graduating athlete that possesses the highest grade point average. In 2007, Bartlebaugh, a pre-law major, had a 3.948 grade-point-average upon graduation.
Before arriving at Michigan State, Drenth was responsible for the drastic turnaround of the cross country programs during his tenure at Arizona State from 1996-2004. Prior to his arrival, ASU's women had never made a team appearance at the NCAA Championships, never earned a national ranking, and never had produced an All-American. The Sun Devil women had not finished higher than sixth at the West Regional since 1986 and had only three finishes better than seventh at the Pac-10 meet.
The Sun Devil men also had never made a team appearance at nationals or earned a national ranking. ASU had previously finished higher than seventh at the Pac-10 Championships only three times and higher than seventh at the West Regional only once prior to 1996.
With the odds stacked against him, Drenth was not fazed by the challenge ahead. After taking the reins, the turnaround was almost immediate. During a six-year span from 1998-2003, the ASU women made trips to the NCAA Championships in each season, including a school-best sixth-place finish in 2000. Following their record-breaking 2000 season, the Sun Devils were ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation during the 2001 season. Individually, Arizona State had a streak of four straight years, from 1998-2001, in which a Sun Devil earned All-America honors. For his efforts, Drenth was named Pac-10 Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2000, and was also selected as the West Region Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2000.
Under Drenth's tutelage, the ASU men had five top-four finishes at the Pac-10 Championships and placed in the top five regionally four times. The Sun Devils made two trips to the NCAA Championships (1999, 2001), finishing as high as 14th in 1999. Drenth also coached Fasil Bizuneh to All-America honors twice in 1999 and 2001. The Sun Devils were ranked as high as ninth nationally during the 1999 season, the program's highest ranking ever.
Prior to his arrival, ASU had two All-Americans total between the men's (2) and women's (0) programs. In just eight seasons under Drenth, ASU runners earned All-America honors eight times. Drenth also coached the first female Sun Devil cross country runner, Amy Hastings, to be named Pac-10 Athlete of the Year and NCAA West Region Athlete of the Year, and helped both one male and one female runner earn the program's first Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year awards. Before 1996, six Sun Devils earned all-conference honors; during Drenth's eight seasons, 15 student-athletes earned 20 selections to the first or second team and 32 times a Sun Devil earned All-Region honors.
Drenth also made an impact on the track at ASU. In his tenure, the Sun Devils had eight NCAA top-20 finishes and his athletes received All-America honors 16 times. The ASU men's teams finished fourth or higher at the Pac-10 Championships each of his past five years, while the women placed no lower than fourth place in each of the last five seasons coaching at Arizona State.
In the classroom, three Sun Devils were named Academic All-American in cross country and three more in track & field, while his cross country teams were named Team Academic All-American with Distinction (team grade-point average of 3.25 or above) four times.
Before going to Arizona State, Drenth led the William & Mary men to five Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) cross country titles and two track & field crowns in six years (1990-95). He was named CAA Cross Country Coach of the Year on five occasions, including each of his last four seasons in Williamsburg. He also was tabbed as District II Coach of the Year in 1990 and 1995. William & Mary was the District II champion in cross country in 1990.
Drenth's runners competed at three NCAA Championship meets: 1990 (15th), 1994 (18th) and 1995 (17th). On the track, Drenth led William & Mary to two CAA titles (1992, 1993). He tutored two All-American cross country runners and eight All-America distance runners and one collegiate record-holder in his six seasons in Williamsburg.
Prior to his stint at William & Mary, Drenth was the head cross country coach and assistant track coach at his alma mater, Central Michigan University, from 1985-90. He was named District IV Coach of the Year in 1989 after leading CMU to the District IV title. He led the Chippewas to two Mid-American Conference titles (1988, 1989), and was named MAC Cross Country Coach of the Year both years.
Drenth also led CMU to three successive Central Collegiate Conference titles from 1987-89, and was selected Central Collegiate Cross Country Coach of the Year all three years. He coached two cross country All-Americans and three All-Americans on the track.
Drenth earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and political science from CMU in 1981 and his master's in physical education from CMU in 1990. Drenth and his wife, Cara, have two children, Emma - a member of the MSU track & field and cross country program - and Gerrit.