By Dustin Brownlee
When Matt Dyer resigned as the Elms College cross country and track and field head coach to coach at UMaine Fort Kent, it left a huge void in the program. Not only was Matt a great coach but he was an even better mentor. The impact he had on the team and the individuals helped them become phenomenal all-around student-athletes.
During his absence, Rich Hernandez, the captain of the men's cross country team, was a huge help to the other athletes on the team including the incoming athletes. Emily Guillerault, the women's cross country captain, was also a huge help to the program. Without a head coach, Rich and Emily took it upon themselves to reach out to incoming recruits to make sure they had all medical forms in and to ensure to them that they would have an cross country coach in the fall.
The two also checked in on the team's returnees, making sure everyone was staying on track with their training in the summer and staying in shape. They also needed to make sure whoever had an injury, including Rich, tended to it and rested before the season started. They were both instrumental in helping run the program.
Hernandez believes a coaching change may affect recruiting bit. As an Elms orientation leader, Rich received a lot of questions by incoming recruits who were unsure of who would be coaching and where the program was going. He talked to both the student-athlete and the parents of the incoming athletes promising them that they are all committed to the cross country team finding a new coach and following a new leader to success in the upcoming season.
Throughout the hiring process, Rich had met with the Athletic Department at Elms College multiple times to discuss incoming applicants but none of them seemed to fit the needs of such a strong program. That was until someone brought up Professor Jill Bigos, an Elms College Hall of Famer, as a potential head coach for the upcoming season.
Bigos was an ideal candidate for the position and many were thrilled when they heard that she had accepted the position as head coach. Student-athletes who have Professor Jill in the classroom see her in similar ways as a coach. Coach Jill provides instruction, techniques, leadership, and skills to succeed in running. In the classroom, you always hear from the nursing students how amazing a professor she is and how she explains things perfectly, gives great study skills and techniques, and provides accurate instruction.
Rich believed that being coached by an Elms College Hall of Famer is a great addition to the program. She understands running and knows what it takes to compete at a high level because she has done it before.
"You would never know Coach Jill was in the Hall of Fame because she is extremely humble and modest." Hernandez said. "Great leaders are humble and do not brag about their accomplishments; Coach Jill is that leader."
Alongside Coach Jill Bigos is another Elms College Cross Country phenomenon, Sarah Tatgenhorst, who broke Bigos' 5K record at any course by 17 seconds in 2014 at the James Earley Invitational. Sarah is a great addition to the program. Rich believes that being coached by the two fastest women who have ever ran at Elms College is a huge plus to the team.
Elms is set to host the Blazer Classic on Saturday. Hernandez thinks this upcoming home meet for the Blazers should be extremely successful. They have been practicing at Chicopee Memorial State Park since preseason and get to know the course better each time they are there.