Welcome to Interview #79.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Women’s Cross Country and Assistant Track and Field Coach of Duke University, Rhonda Riley.
Rhonda Riley was named the head women’s cross country coach and assistant track & field coach in June of 2016. Previous to Duke she had an incredibly successful nine year stint at Vanderbilt. Her primary responsibilities include coaching Duke’s middle and long distance runners.
Coach Riley has a passion for recruiting and has turned that passion into success at the top levels of collegiate cross country.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen?
What are the important steps for an athlete to get noticed by you? The two ways to get on my radar are to fill out our online questionnaire and to follow up with an email. When a high school athlete takes the time to send an email with their contact information, personal best marks, academic information etc. it means they are serious about considering Duke as a potential university
You are the head women’s cross country coach and middle distance coach for track and field. How do the two programs interact when recruiting?
Every year is different in terms of what I focus on regarding my recruiting classes. For example, this year’s focus was on finding the best 2 milers in high school that have outstanding cross country aptitude. This will balance out my team. Next years focus will be a balance of finding 2-3 strong mid distance athletes and maybe 1-2 distance.
Do your athletes compete in the track and field middle distances or are Division 1 cross country runners purely cross country?
When I was at Vanderbilt our mid-distance athletes all did cross country. Some of our best cross country contributors were our milers on the track. I don’t like to label athletes to just one event. However, if I bring a true 800 girl to the team with no cross country background I will not compete them during the fall. They will train and get ready for the track season
Is Cross country recruiting is all about recorded data? Or is there more to it?
I do not look at purely results when I recruit. A fast mark may put a prospect on my radar, however I follow up with a lot of other questions about this recruit. I look at academic grades and their love for learning. I look for consistency and upward trends in improving each season. I like to see if these athletes can win and compete. I also look for someone who is a team player and wants to be a part of a positive culture and be a great teammate.
What are a few of the most common mistakes that prospective-student athletes make in the college recruiting process?
One of the mistakes recruits make are not taking the ACT or SAT their Junior year. In order for us to bring a recruit on an official visit they have to have this piece of information. If they wait to take it in the fall of their senior year then that is to late in most cases. The fall is already rushed with competition and fitting in visits, so if the senior can have all of their academic requirements taken care of it helps keep the recruiting process moving forward
For a Division 1 school, how and when are scholarships offered? How much time do athletes typically have to respond?
I will offer a scholarship either on the phone or in person. Every recruit is different in the timing. If it is a recruit that I know would be a good fit I will offer this individual as early as September. With that said, I do like to get through all of my official visits and then offer a scholarship. After I wrap up my visits then I will look at who will be the best fit for the program.
What are some things that would keep you from recruiting an athlete?
There are several things that would prevent me from recruiting an athlete. The health of the athlete is important to me. I look to see if there is a big history of injury. I also look to see that a girl looks healthy and will be able to handle the workload that D1 running presents. Something that will prevent me from recruiting a student-athlete is how they portray themselves on social media. If I see pictures or things that would not represent Duke university in the best manner, I will not recruit an individual
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
Parents can be very helpful in the recruiting process for their children. If a parent goes on an official visit they can ask the questions that a 18 year old may not think about. They can help their children weigh the pros and cons of choosing a program. I like to connect with parents in the process and make sure that I am transparent when it comes to scholarships and the interest I have in their children
You have been at Duke since June, 2016. Before that you were at Vanderbilt for 9 years. Could you share any examples of how competing at the collegiate level has impacted any of your alumni in their lives after college?
Competing in college is more than running fast. It provides structure, discipline and the opportunity to be on a team. It is extremely rewarding for me to see my student-athletes come to the team as freshmen and gain confidence as the years go by. When its time for them to get their first job they are ready for the next chapter in their lives and get careers that they are meaningful and passionate about.
What are the differences in running cross country in high school and college?
There are a lot of differences that freshmen adjust to their first year. The volume and intensity will increase and that takes time to get used to. This is also the first time they are on their own and make choices daily that will affect their running. The adjustment from a harder academic work load, new roommate, choosing what to eat, being away from home, being on a new team all need to be considered in the freshmen experience.
What do you wish your incoming freshmen knew before they trained with you for the first time?
It takes time and consistency to develop and improve. In order to run faster it takes patience and uninterrupted training to get to the next level. For some freshmen it takes a full year to be in a new environment for them to excel. One thing they have to keep in mind is they are competing against more experienced athletes and need to keep everything in perspective.
Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?
I want my athletes to be happy and enjoy the team they are on. When they feel like academics are going well, they are balanced and cared for then running will fall into place. I want my athletes to have the best collegiate experience they can have and it is my hopes that running will be a huge contributing factor to why they love the program and university
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or cross country runners in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
If seniors want to try and avoid a lot of the stress and pressure they face in the fall time, then Junior year it is wise to do the bulk of work in researching programs. If they have time to visit schools unofficially it can narrow their list earlier and save them time from talking to a lot of coaches. Taking 5 official visits senior year can be overwhelming, so the earlier the list is narrowed the chances of being overwhelmed can decrease.
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Rhonda Riley was named the head women’s cross country coach and assistant track & field coach in June of 2016. Her primary responsibilities include coaching Duke’s middle and long distance runners.
Riley brings a wealth of coaching experience to the Duke women’s cross country team. Over the past nine years, Riley helped guide the Vanderbilt program to new heights, as the women’s cross country team made five consecutive appearances at the NCAA Championships, as well as claimed back-to-back South Region titles during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Prior to joining the Vanderbilt program, Riley spent two years at Arizona State and one year at Oregon State. Riley completed her undergraduate work at Oregon State in 2004, majoring in early childhood development and received her master’s degree in higher education while at Arizona State.
Coach Riley’s full profile can be seen at Duke Cross Country.
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