Now in his 16th year as Director of Virginia Tech Track & Field and Cross Country, Dave Cianelli has built the Hokie men’s and women’s programs into two elite programs both in the Atlantic Coast Conference and nationally.
The 2016 season turned out to be a fantastic one for Tech’s track and field teams, as the men’s squad captured the ACC title at the ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championships and three of Cianelli’s former athletes participated in the Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Former Tech hurdler Kristi Castlin competed in the 100-meter hurdles for the U.S. team, while former thrower Marcel Lomnicky competed in the hammer throw for Slovakia and former sprinter Darrell West ran in the 100-meter dash for Haiti.
The Olympics appearances marked the first for both Castlin and Wesh. Castlin, a seven-time All-American at Tech whose career concluded in 2010, qualified for her first Olympics after finishing second in the 100-meter hurdles at the U.S. Track and Field Team Trials held in Eugene, Oregon. Wesh, whose career concluded in 2013, was a three-time All-American.
Also in 2016, pole vaulter Deakin Volz won the gold medal at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Under-20 World Championships held in Poland. He set a school record with a vault of 5.65 meters (18 feet, 4.5 inches).
Those things are only a continuation of the good things that have happened to the programs since Cianelli’s arrival in the fall of 2001. In his 15 years, Virginia Tech track and field athletes have produced 15 NCAA individual national titles, 189 NCAA All-America honors and 155 individual conference champions. Since 2005, Hokie teams have combined to finish in the national top five three times, the national top 10 nine times and the national top 20 on 22 occasions.
The 2016 ACC title for the men’s team marked its second outdoor title as a program and sixth overall for the men in track and field and cross country. The men’s squad also finished in eighth place at the 2016 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships for its third top-10 finish in six years.
The 2016 season saw Cianelli win his 10th ACC Coach of the Year honor, as he was named the ACC Men’s Coach of the Year following the outdoor season. He also was named the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Southeast Region Coach of the Year, collecting that honor for the 14th time in his tenure.
Those two honors followed the two that he won in 2015 when he was the ACC Coach of the Year following the indoor season in addition to being selected as the Southeast Region Men’s Coach of the Year by the USTFCCCA also following the indoor season.
NCAA, REGIONAL AND ACC SUCCESS
The Hokies’ 2015-16 season got started on a good note when runner Thomas Curtin won the ACC’s individual cross country title, becoming the program’s second individual ACC cross country champion (Will Mulherin, 2012). Curtin went on to become an All-American in all three disciplines (cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track). The indoor track and field season wasn’t quite as strong for the Hokies, as the men’s team finished fifth and the women’s team placed 12th at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships, but the men’s squad rebounded during the outdoor season.
Behind Curtin’s two gold medals (5,000 and 10,000) and gold medals from Chris Uhle (pole vault) and Matija Muhar (javelin), the Hokies scored 129 points en route to the title at the ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championships held in Tallahassee, Florida. Tech’s pole vaulters claimed the top seven spots in the event – an unprecedented feat – and the men’s team, behind a third-place finish from Marek Barta (discus) and a fourth-place finish from Curtin (5,000), came in eighth at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships held in Eugene, Oregon.
Following the collegiate season, both Curtin and Hanna Green competed at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the 5,000 and 800, respectively (both missed on qualifying). Also, both Diego Zarate and Volz qualified for the IAAF World U20 Championships. Zarate won the gold medal in the 1,500 at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships to qualify and Volz finished second in the pole vault to advance.
The 2015 season also turned out to be a banner one for the Hokies, as the men’s team won the ACC indoor title on its home track at Rector Field House. In addition, on the women’s side, Irena Sediva won the national title in the javelin, propelling the women’s team to a 15th-place finish at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The individual national title marked the 15th for the track and field programs.
Sediva’s success continued into the summer of 2015 with a bronze-medal finish at the World University Games in South Korea. By the conclusion of the season, she had re-set the ACC all-time record on four separate occasions and ranked among the top 10 all time in NCAA history. Neil Gourley added to the Hokies’ international success that summer, winning a bronze medal in the 1,500 at the European U23 Championships.
Under Cianelli and his staff, the Tech men’s team has finished in the top 20 at the NCAA’s indoor meet seven times since 2005 and in the top 20 at the NCAA’s outdoor meet on nine occasions during that span. The team finished a program-best fifth in 2011 and 2012 at the outdoor meet and tied for eighth at the indoor meet in 2012.
The Tech women’s team also has fared well at the national level, finishing in the top 25 at the NCAA indoor meet on four occasions and in the top 25 at the NCAA outdoor meet five times.
Perhaps more impressively, the men’s program has won six ACC team championships in track and field and cross country since 2011. The women’s program has won four ACC team championships in track and field since 2007.
In addition, the Hokies have won their 15 individual national titles since joining the ACC for the 2004-05 season. Spyridon Jullien won the weight throw and hammer throw in back-to-back years (2005 and 2006) and both Queen Harrison and Alexander Ziegler won three national titles.
Harrison and Castlin rank as arguably the top female performers ever under Cianelli. In 2008, Harrison made history when she earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by finishing second in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
At age 19, Harrison was the second youngest female track and field athlete in history to make the U.S. Olympic Team. She became the first Tech track and field athlete to represent any country at the Olympic Games and only the second Hokie to become an American Olympian in any sport following Bimbo Coles, who represented the United States in basketball in 1988.
In 2010, Harrison became the first athlete in NCAA history to win national titles in the 100- and 400-meter hurdles at the same event. Later that year, she won The Bowerman – the highest accolade given to the year’s best student-athlete in collegiate track and field.
Castlin, the 2007 ACC women’s track and field Freshman of the Year, did not win an NCAA championship during her career, but she claimed the silver medal on three occasions and she took gold in the 100 hurdles at the 2007 USA Junior Outdoor Championships and the Pan American Junior Championships. She competed at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in 2008 and 2012 and did not make the Olympic team, but she broke through with her performance in 2016.
COACH OF THE YEAR HONORS
Cianelli’s 10 ACC Coach of the Year honors have come since 2007, along with his 14 Southeast Region Coach of the Year awards, bringing unprecedented attention to the program. He has assembled an accomplished coaching staff – one that has garnered numerous coach of the year honors while working in Blacksburg.
Associate Head Track and Field Coach Greg Jack may be the most recognized name among Cianelli’s assistants, as six of his throwers have combined to win 12 NCAA national championships. His throwers have earned 58 All-America honors during his coaching career at Tech. Jack also has coached a total of 48 conference champions, 40 of those in the ACC and another eight in the BIG EAST Conference. In addition, Jack has coached several Olympians, including Lomnicky and Cleopatra Borel, both of whom competed for Slovakia and Trinidad and Tobago, respectively, in Rio. In 2006, Jack earned the National Throws Coach of the Year after Jullien won the national title in both the weight throw and the hammer throw.
Former Hokie Ben Thomas is the head cross country and distance coach. In 2016, he guided the men’s team to its second NCAA cross country berth since 1987, and in the previous year, he guided the Tech women’s cross country team to an NCAA berth and a top-25 finish in what marked just the team’s second NCAA appearance in program history. In 2012, Thomas led the Hokies to the ACC title in men’s cross country and to the NCAA Cross Country Championships, where they placed 22nd. He was selected ACC Cross Country Coach of the Year following that season. His athletes have produced 33 All-America honors and 40 conference champions during his tenure at Tech.
Bob Phillips, an All-American for Virginia Tech in the pole vault in 1980, coaches the Tech pole vaulters. In 2016, Phillips received the USTFCCCA Assistant Coach of the Year honor for the Southeast Region after his pole vaulters collected 38 of 39 points at the ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championships and he won the same award in 2011. Since 2000, Phillips’ athletes have earned 31 All-America honors in the pole vault and he has coached a total of 40 conference champions at Virginia Tech, including 30 in the ACC.
Cianelli added Paul Zalewski to his staff in 2014, and he serves as the technical director, as well as the coach of all jumps and multi-events. Manuel Ziegler led Zalewski’s jumpers as the 2015 ACC champion in the triple jump in which he set a new ACC all-time indoor record of 16.61 meters (54 feet, 6 inches). Ziegler registered an outdoor mark of 7.88 meters (25 feet, 10.25 inches) in the long jump, placing him second on Virginia Tech’s all-time list in that event.
Eric Johannigmeier joined the staff in a full-time capacity in the fall of 2014 and serves as the assistant cross country and distance coach. Johannigmeier served as a volunteer assistant for the Hokies from 2011-13, taking part in three ACC championships and a men’s fifth-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championship. He has played an integral role in developing both Curtin and Green into All-Americans, while also helping guide the women’s and men’s cross country teams to NCAA berths in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Tim Vaught was the most recent addition, coming aboard in 2015 as the sprints, hurdles and relays coach. He arrived at Tech from Illinois, where he served as the women’s associate head track and field coach. Prior to Illinois, Vaught spent time at UNC Charlotte and Coastal Carolina, where he was a part of six conference championship teams, including the 2013 Big South indoor championship squad that won at Coastal Carolina.
The Virginia Tech track and field and cross country programs continue to get things done at a high level in the classroom. Fourteen Tech track and field athletes made the 2016 ACC All-Academic Team for the outdoor season, including 10 from the ACC champion men’s team – the most of any school in the ACC. Nine made the ACC All-Academic Team following the indoor season.
In addition, 24 cross country runners made the ACC Honor Roll, while 33 others made it from track and field. To make the ACC Honor Roll, a student-athlete must register a GPA of 3.0 or better for the full academic year.
The 2014 season saw Frances Dowd and Stephan Munz named to the Capital One Academic All-America Team. In 2013, Alexander Ziegler was named by the USTFCCCA as the National Student-Athlete of the Year, as well as a Capital One Indoor Academic first-team All-American. Dowd won the NCAA Elite 89 Award for the 2012 NCAA indoor season as the student-athlete with the highest GPA at the NCAA Championships. Kelly Phillips became a two-time Capital One Academic first-team All-American in 2011, and she also won the NCAA Elite 88 Award as the student-athlete with the highest GPA at the NCAA Championships. The 2014 women’s cross country team earned USTFCCCA All-Academic recognition for the eighth year in a row. In 2010, both Matej Muza and Castlin were honored as the ACC Scholar-Athletes of the Year for track and field. Since 2004, 10 Virginia Tech track and field athletes have earned a total of 15 academic All-America honors.
PREVIOUS COACHING EXPERIENCE
Prior to Tech, Cianelli was an assistant coach for 13 seasons at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. With the Mustangs, Cianelli worked with 19 Olympic and World Championship competitors, 27 NCAA national champions, 123 All-Americans and 95 conference champions. Cameron Taylor of New Zealand was a 1992 Olympian and All-American in the 200-meter race, and Tytti Reho won the 2000 NCAA national championship in the 800. In cross country, both the men’s and women’s teams won the 1995 Southwest Conference Championship and earned a spot at the NCAA Championships.
During Cianelli’s 13 years at SMU, the track and field teams finished in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships 15 separate times. Cianelli served as the assistant women’s track and field and cross country coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo from 1985-88 and he helped the outdoor track and field teams to three straight runner-up finishes at the NCAA Division II Championships. Cianelli also coached a total of 13 All-Americans and one NCAA national champion while at Cal Poly SLO. Cianelli began his coaching career at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, California, as the head boys and girls track and field coach from 1982-84. In three seasons, he coached seven junior national qualifiers in the heptathlon and decathlon.