Friday August 31, 2012

Mount Greylock girls cross country coach Larry Bell sees a lot of value in having runners and Nordic skiers connected. Many of his Mountie runners, after all, will trade shoes for skis when snow covers the ground this winter.

"I think it's crucial," Bell said. "Without our ski team, I wouldn't have a strong running program. We live off the kids who want to be in shape for skiing. Without them, I wouldn't have a shot, competing with volleyball, soccer and the glamour of the lights."

It seems that belief has been passed down one generation, and has been taken south. Wahconah Regional's programs have been connected this season, as Nordic coach Kiersten Touponce -- Bell's daughter -- is also a co-head coach of the cross country team with Tom Keefe.

Touponce had considered the idea of coaching both programs a couple of years ago when, with husband Ryan, she took over the Nordic program. With Ryan as an assistant, and Keefe as co-head coach, Touponce's job is easier from the start.

"Putting our talents together, I think it'll be a really great balance we have," she said. "I'm excited to try it."

Being that a number of runners are also Nordic skiers, the coaching staff already knows many of the athletes in blue. Touponce said her staff has talked to a number of runners who plan to join the Nordic team in the winter. The coach also mentioned one skier in particular, junior Ellen Ross, who is in her first year of running.

"I think that will be great preparation for her," Kiersten Touponce said.

Perhaps the synergy between the squads is so easy for the Wahconah coaches because they were once two-sport athletes. As a Mount Greylock student, Kiersten Bell both ran and skied -- running for her father, Larry, from 1999-2004. She served as team captain as a Mountie senior.

Keefe graduated from Wahconah in 1999, having both run and skied. His success on the ski courses in the Berkshires led him to the University of New Hampshire, where he skied for four years. Keefe eventually trained with the goal of making the Olympics, being ranked as high as No. 17 in the nation by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

Touponce has seen the dynamics that develop between coach and athlete firsthand, and said her father's biggest influence was showing her how much time it takes to be an effective coach.

"Being there at practice isn't even the half of it," Touponce said. "It's about planning and being there for the kids when they need you. I witnessed that my whole life."

Keefe knows some skiers will only run cross country to stay in shape for the winter. He's fine with that, because he believes those runners can still be key contributors.

"When I was running to get in shape for skiing, I was All-Western Mass. and won a lot of races," he said. "A lot of times, you're going to get the top kids who run [as] your top skiers.

"Kiersten and Ryan would be thrilled to get any of their skiers running in the fall. Then, they show up for ski season and they're already in good shape."

For Keefe, the training is in a very early phase, but he has no complaints.

"I think it's going great with the boys. I think the girls are coming around," he said. "We've only had maybe four practices. It's a lot of pep talks and motivation, getting athletes to know who you are and trusting what you do."

Motivation is Touponce's department right now. Keefe, in his first high school coaching job, handles more of the technical aspects of running.

He's a firm believer that one training program does not fit all athletes, and that it takes time to learn what works with a boy or girl. He's dealt with worries from athletes that peaking in the fall will hamper winter success, and he doesn't believe it.

"It's quite simple to peak twice if you know what you're doing," Keefe said. "You take [peaking runners] ... and if you throw three weeks of volume, [which is] slow, easy training ... that volume will absorb the intensity and speed so they can peak again later in the season."

Bell believes his daughter and Keefe are a good combination for the Warrior program. He expects the cross country running program to be rejuvenated with the new staff -- but he's still, however, apprehensive about his first meeting with Touponce as opposing coaches. That happens next Friday at WRHS.

In the past, Bell would show up to ski meets to watch Wahconah, and when appropriate, Touponce would support Greylock skiers. That won't likely happen on the cross country running course.

"I'm kind of thankful that it's Lenox and us that first meet, because it might keep my mind off the fact that I'm going against her, too," Bell said. "If Lenox wasn't there, it might be a little more discomforting for me."