Most collegiate athletes see getting injured as a roadblock to their future in the sport; other competitors, like Sam Ahlbeck, view it as an opportunity to do more.
Ahlbeck, 25, is the latest addition to the Gators’ cross country team led by head coach Tom Lyons. Ahlbeck is eager to get started with SF State’s cross country team after stints as a student athlete at Washington State University and as a volunteer assistant coach at UC Davis.
Coming into this season, both men’s and women’s teams received No. 6 and 7 preseason rankings. The NCAA Division II Championship Committee has decided to increase the number of teams competing this season from 24 to 32, opening up a chance for the Gators to advance to the final.
“We’ve always been wondering if we’re even going to be in the top 10. We’ve been in and out of that a lot for a number of years,” Lyons said. “Then this past year we finally moved into the middle of that range. I think it’s pretty accurate.”
Junior Alicia Trujillo is excited to add another coach to the team.
“I can already tell it’s a different atmosphere at practice. I think he’s got a lot of input to bring to the table to help us,” Trujillo said. “I want our team to do well and make it to nationals. I want to be part of that team.”
As far as goals for this season, Ahlbeck is looking very optimistic about the Gators’ chances for a national berth in the playoffs. The preseason rankings will help as a motivation to get things going for the Gators.
“I think both our men’s and women’s team is going to respond very well to that. I’m looking forward to making nationals on both sides,” Ahlbeck said. “I think it’s completely possible, and I think we have the right athletes to do it. Nobody is afraid to get after it and train. It’ll be exciting to see how the season unfolds.”
After a disappointing final year plagued by injuries at WSU, Ahlbeck had to make an important decision: Would he rather spend eight hours per day running or coaching? Ultimately, coaching won out due to Ahlbeck’s love of the sport.
“I don’t know anybody that loves their sport that would just want to leave it,” Ahlbeck said.
After visiting SF State for an invitational two years ago, Ahlbeck was impressed by how well the meet was executed and planned by Lyons.
When word came out that the coach was looking for an assistant, Alhbeck was eager to enter the drawing for the top spot.
“I said ‘Put my name out there. Let me know if he wants anything, just forward me the email,’” Ahlbeck said.
He is still considering a professional running career in addition to coaching. Former teammate and volunteer coach at WSU, Collier Lawrence, recently made Olympic trials this year.
“Having that friend that did it while she’s coaching has absolutely been an inspiration,” Ahlbeck said. “There’s always that voice in the back of my head saying ‘hey, man, let’s try to make it to trials in four years.'”
Having that lingering idea in his head is just an example of goals to come for Ahlbeck. But right now, he’s concentrating on pushing his athletes toward a successful season, something he says was meant to be.
“God wanted me here. It wasn’t because I was so much better than somebody else. This was obviously just the place I was supposed to be.”