SDSU cross country thriving with new assistant coach

by Roberto Reyes, Contributor

Entering this season, the San Diego State cross country team hadn’t won a race since 2013.

This year, however, the team has won three out of the five races it has participated in.

SDSU has also placed within the top five in all of its races, something it hadn’t done since 2005.

Junior Elaine Ribiero, the team’s top runner, attributes the newfound success to new assistant coach Karoly Varga.

Varga volunteers as a coach while balancing his full-time job at a certified public accounting firm, where he works 40 hours a week and up to 100 hours during tax season.

Despite this, he has been able to leave his mark on the team in such a short time.

Coaching is a passion he knew he wanted to pursue since he was a runner in college at Louisiana Tech University.

Varga said the runners could see his effort for the team, which made players want to reciprocate it.

“He’s willing to do anything he can for us,” Ribiero said.  “He’s really motivating. That helps a lot.”

Varga has a hands-on approach to coaching, keeping contact with every member of the team on a regular basis to ensure success.

“He talks to me all the time,” Ribiero said. “He’ll send me a text with other people’s times and say, ‘You’re just as good as them. You can run this time too.’ He’s motivating us all the time and that just builds our confidence even more.”

He meets with every runner before practice and sends them a training log that has the workouts they have to do for the week.

Varga said by having the runners fill out a log, he can see the areas where they have improved and areas where they need work.

“If your coach is there supporting you and motivating you everyday, that changes your mentality,” Ribiero said.

One of the biggest changes from last season has been the training regime.

The cross country team holds practice every day, including two to three intense workouts a week, Ribiero said.

Last season, the team would have only one intense workout a week.

Varga has also incorporated cross-training into practice, which includes swimming, biking, weight lifting and using an elliptical.

“So many people, they break under high mileage, so that’s when I bring lots of cross-training,” Varga said. “On Tuesday I had everyone in the pool, so they can recover better before the next workout.”

Before joining the Aztecs’ coaching staff, Varga was an assistant coach for University of Louisiana-Monroe, where he helped his team set several school records.

Because he was a winner at Lousiana-Monroe, Varga expected his new group of runners at SDSU to be winners from the beginning, too.

Next up for the team is the  Mountain West Championships on Oct. 30 in Reno, Nevada.

Last season the Aztecs finished last in conference. This year they don’t expect the same fate.

“I want to make sure we’re going to be one of the best teams soon,” Varga said. “When you approach (a team) like that, everyone is willing to work harder.”