Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In the Cards: Naylon celebrates one year in Plattsburgh

By Collin Bolebruch

The best coaches are truly invested in their athletes. They go above and beyond their contractual obligations, put players before results and create a culture their players can grow and thrive in. Plattsburgh’s Assistant Track and Field Coach and Head Cross Country Coach Jordyn Naylon is not a boss to her athletes, but a self-described “weird, extremely strange parent.”

Coaching is a job, and, like most professions, job security is dependent upon results. A coaching career, unlike most, is in the public eye. It’s easy to look at a team’s record and declare a coach “good” or “bad.” Because no one wants to lose their job, and the position’s evaluation can be one-dimensional, it’s easy for a coach to prioritize results at whatever cost, whether that be unhealthy coaching practices or neglecting to develop personal relationships with athletes. That’s not what good coaches do. That’s not what Naylon does.

Naylon was hired to coach Plattsburgh’s track and field and cross country programs March 7, 2022. The staff she became a part of is unique in the fact that it coaches three full seasons  throughout an academic year — cross country in the fall, indoor track and field in the winter and outdoor track and field in the spring. It is common practice for runners to participate in all three. Her role extends to both the men’s and women’s teams, meaning her staff, by far, oversees the most athletes on campus.

Prior to her time at Plattsburgh, Naylon spent ten years at SUNY Cortland between running and coaching. She was a member of the team from 2009 to 2013, receiving numerous honors. Naylon participated in multiple NCAA Championships, earned All-American honors, was named a SUNYAC Champion and was elected to the SUNYAC Cross Country Hall of Fame. 

While she was earning her master’s degree in 2016, Cortland’s Head Coach Steve Patrick asked Naylon to join the staff as an assistant coach.

“I was trying to recruit somebody that was loving the sport enough to do that, and the advantage of somebody that knows how I operate and knows Cortland and was going to be excited about it,” Patrick said. “And she really fit that to a T.”

After multiple successful seasons, Patrick encouraged Naylon to seek head coaching opportunities. When an assistant position in Plattsburgh became available in early 2022, she put her name in the running. After some shakeup at Plattsburgh, the school was then looking for a head coach, and she reapplied. As a candidate, she stood out because of her experience with distance running and the SUNYAC.

“She brings a lot of knowledge to the table from her time at Cortland. She’s got a really upbeat personality, but she’s also a competitor,” Brian Savard, assistant director of athletics for communications, said.

After receiving an official offer to take the position, she said it was “exciting, but also terrifying.” She was introduced to the team through a Zoom meeting in early March.

Early in her tenure, Naylon moved practices from the afternoon to 6:30 a.m. The early start time wasn’t to punish athletes or to get them out of bed. Practices in the middle of the day broke up the team, with some athletes having classes or other obligations and would have to train separately. Her intention was to bring the team together.

Since her arrival 13 months and three seasons ago, Naylon has helped to cultivate an environment her runners have called a “family.”

Naylon has an uncanny ability to relate to her athletes, due in part to her youth. From “a weird obsession with anime and cats,” to running alongside them at practices, some feel like she’s more of a friend than a coach. Cardinals runner Sarah Smith found no problem forming a relationship with Naylon.

“There was a lot we had in common because she is a younger coach. She knew a lot of the different trends,” Smith said. “It was very easy to get along with her, and we got very close.”

Under Naylon, the women’s team has established “Topanga Tuesdays,” where they’ll wear shirts featuring Topanga Lawrence, a character from “Boy Meets World,” and “Flamingo Fridays,” where they’ll sport matching flamingo shorts, even buying Naylon a pair. The team spends a lot of time together outside of the sport.

“We even have family dinners. Pretty much every meal, we literally have breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Lucchetti said. “We study together. We pretty much do everything together.”

Runner Grace Boyle said Naylon is “probably the best coach” she’s had. Boyle is a nursing major, and her schedule is tight. Naylon meets with Boyle at 5:50 a.m. every Monday and Wednesday to practice.

Her runners agree that a strong personal relationship and understanding of individuals translates into results. Putting time in to understand each athlete’s goals, limits and potentials has paid off.

“She can speak from experience when she’s talking to us, and she knows what she’s doing, and we know that she knows what she’s doing,” runner Ginny Lucchetti said. “She makes it so that we want to run for her, because we all look up to her. She’s pretty much all of our role models.”

The women’s team especially sees Naylon as a strong female figure. Naylon said the women’s team is “goofy” and that they do “silly things,” and their bond has helped the women’s runners become better athletes.

“I’m able to see the extent of what she can do,” Smith said. “She shows me that I can do what she does.”

One of Naylon’s favorite moments from her time at Plattsburgh so far comes from the SUNYAC Championships at the end of the indoor season.

Runner Justin Kumrow started his career with a mile time of 5:04.22 in January 2022. He’s improved since then, finishing the 2023 regular season with a best time of 4:29.84. At SUNYACs, Kumrow blew his previous times out of the water. He recorded a mile time of 4:20 flat, an almost 10-second improvement.

Kumrow followed Naylon’s race plan for him: to start behind and then pass other runners as the race went on. He dropped third-to-last and then “blew past half the field.” Naylon was shocked and said she had “nothing to say.”

“I just had an insane race. I pretty much went directly off the race plan,” Kumrow said. “I just screamed, ‘What happened?’ And she’s like, ‘Justin, you ran a 4:20!’ Then I think I hugged her immediately after.”

Naylon, while a fun coach, also gets to business when she needs to. When a runner isn’t trying their best or is making excuses, she won’t take their “bullshit” in the name of pushing them to do their best.

“If you don’t run well, she’s going to let you know, but she’s also not going to be a jerk about it. She’s always looking for the positive in there, even if you didn’t perform well,” runner Noah Bonesteel said. “She has pretty high expectations and high hopes for all of us, too. I think she sees something in all of her athletes and wants to push all of us to our limits.”

Bonesteel has found his experience with Naylon unique so far, as he’d never previously had a coach who approaches races as she does. Before every race, Naylon sends a personalized race plan to each competitor detailing speeds and checkpoints each runner should make during races. She follows up with a race analysis.

Naylon’s dedication to the sport, namely her athletes, has led to increased team success. Runner Peter Basile said that since Naylon was hired, the distance program has “shifted greatly in the right direction.” Like Kumrow, runners are hitting their best times under Naylon.

“We had a really, really good indoor season. Pretty much everyone was hitting personal bests at many of our meets,” Bonesteel said. “I’m just really happy with where everyone on the team is performing right now and hoping that we can all push each other to run even faster.”

The bond the team shares makes it more successful, and the more successful it is, the closer it gets. Andrew Krug, head track and field coach and assistant cross country coach, credits the athletes for buying in and trusting Naylon’s plan.

“I want to say it’s bizarre, but in a good way. The team is very close,” Lucchetti said. “Even when we’re in so much pain, we just want to run for each other. We want to be there for each other.”

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