UT track and cross country teams debut integrated program

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Both the women’s and men’s track and field team will be working under one set of coaches for the first time in program history and the merge has brought team unity.

Photo Credit: Eric Park | Daily Texan Staff

Being team-oriented has never seemed more appropriate than now for the Texas track and field/cross-country program.

“Team-oriented” is the phrase head coach Mario Sategna said he and his new coaching staff preach to their team. Few other words are more appropriate for a group that enters the first season as a conjoined program in school history.

No more separate men’s and women’s meetings, practices or other team gatherings. Instead, with the start of the cross-country season on Aug. 30th, the program officially began its new era as a single unit.

For Sategna, who had been an associate coach at Texas for 10 years before taking the head spot in June, the most critical thing is giving every one of his athletes an opportunity to get acquainted with the new staff.

“The main thing for me right now, is to actually take a little bit of a step back on the day-to-day coaching piece and allow my new assistants to take the reigns,” Sategna said. “I think that way when they are hands-on, they’re going to get to know everybody a lot sooner.”

Sategna described a scene two weeks ago when the men and women were put into groups while lifting weights. The long-tenured coach said that as he watched, he noticed how both the men and women cheered for each other throughout the workout. The sight, which would have been uncommon before this fall, should become routine for the program. 

Associate coach Tonja
Buford-Bailey, who was hired by Sategna from the University of Illinois this summer, has her experience with coaching both men and women. Her time as the women’s track and field head coach and men’s assistant coach at Illinois gives her knowledge the Longhorns value in the early stages of the change. It’s a program that, according to an article by the Statesman in June, finally joined the 228 out of 268 Division I schools that feature combined men’s and women’s track and field teams. 

“I had my experiences with [coaching both men and women] at Illinois when I started working with the men’s sprinters, and I just feel like everyone really enjoyed [working together] a lot,” Buford-Bailey said. “It gets kind of boring when you have just girls and just guys, so it’s good to mix it up a bit… You can see that there is a really great team camaraderie, pushing each other.”

With the ultimate goal being a “winning mentality,” both Buford-Bailey and Sategna agree that success during the cross-country season will set the tone for the rest of the year. As the cross-country squad sets to meet those responsibilities this fall, there won’t be a shortage of support from their shorter distance teammates. 

Reigning outdoor shot-put national champion Ryan Crouser said that when the cross-country Big 12 Championships begin at Baylor in November, many team members plan to take a bus to Waco in support of each other — team unity is key.

“The same thing will happen at the end of [track and field] meets, when you see the 4X4 relays,” Crouser said. “Before we would have the men’s team and women’s team at separate sides of the track, but now we will be together.”

For sports with such individually minded natures, the Longhorns are determined to honor what their new program promotes and make its team mentality most important. Their next task begins Friday night, when the cross-country unit competes at the Ricardo Romo Classic in San Antonio.

“This is a big year for [Texas track and field/cross country],“ said Sategna.” More importantly, for the rest of the UT community, it’s important that they see what a special time this is going on at Texas, especially within athletics.”