For The Tribune
Maria Conklin feels that when you get a group of athletes that are willing to put in the work to achieve success, it makes it more enjoyable to coach them.
“I like their personalities,” she said. “I’ve got a good group of track and cross-country girls. They’re fun to work with. They work hard. I demand a lot out of them. They’re willing to put in the work so that makes it fun.”
Conklin began teaching chemistry at Brownstown Central in the fall of 2011 and the following spring she became the girls track and field head coach.
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Dan Botkin, who had been girls’ cross-country coach, decided to step aside and Conklin became head coach in 2012. Botkin returned to coach the Braves boys this fall.
She has coached the Braves to three Mid-Southern Conference track titles, and has had several athletes qualify for the state finals in track.
“If they (cross-country runners) don’t have a spring sport, I encourage them to come out for track because we can put them somewhere,” Conklin said. “It may not be the two-mile. We could make them more of a sprinter, 400 or 800. I just always like them to stay active.”
Conklin is a 2006 graduate of Greensburg High School, where she participated in soccer, swimming and track.
In track, she was EIAC (Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference) champion in the discus four straight years, a three-time regional qualifier and a state qualifier twice where she finished 15th both years.
She also won the EIAC in the shot put once and was a regional qualifier twice.
Conklin graduated from Indiana University, where she was on the women’s track team her freshman year. She sustained a shoulder injury and became a manager for the track team.
She coached swimming and track at Martinsville for one year before coming to Brownstown.
Conklin said she pushes the girls in practices.
“I think the more I’ve been in coaching, the harder I am because I realize the potential the girls have,” she said. “I think at the beginning, I was a little easier on them. Now I realize, ‘OK, they want to be good. They want to put in the work,’ so now we can put in the miles and do more intervals and do faster paces to make them faster runners.
“I think as more people realize how to train for the 5K, we’ve got to do more miles. We try to do a long run at least once a week, seven to nine miles. We do a long run and we do some speed work on the track. We do 400s or 1,000s to kind of get them moving and just maintaining on the other days.”
Brownstown does not have any high school cross-country meets at home.
“For the most part we’re around the school (for practices),” Conklin said. “In the summer, we’ll run at the forestry sometimes, but we’ve got three or four loops in town, or otherwise we’ll be on the track doing interval workouts.
“Most of our meets any more are large invitationals. I think our smallest meet is 10 teams. I know the girls like the Saturday mornings because it’s typically cooler than the 5 p.m. meets after school, especially in August and September. They like the 60 degree, early morning runs, and we tend to have mores success on the weekends.”
The Braves track and cross-country coaches organized a ‘polar bear club,’ for the athletes to work out during the winter.
“Most of the girls, if they don’t play basketball they’ll be here running,” Conklin said. “We’re here five days a week, they’re not necessarily here every day, but myself and coach (Derrick) Koch have a decent sized group running all winter. They bundle up and run through the elements.”
Conklin said she put together a top-50 5K list, and one girl is currently in third on that list since they began running 3.1 miles in 2007.
“I think I’ve got 13 or 14 girls that are on the list already,” she said. “They keep moving up and they realize ‘OK, I can run faster and more up some more.’
Conklin said she likes the way cross-country teams are set up with seven runners, five counters.
“I like that because it really pushes my sixth and seventh runners, and they realize if somebody in the top five is falling back, then they’ve got to step up and move forward and kind of help the team that way,” Conklin said.
She mentioned Koch has started an elementary running program.
“I think we had over 100 kids signed up for it this year so hopefully we’re starting to get more kids interested so we can build a bigger program,” Conklin said.
Conklin said in the spring she works with the throwers and helps out with some of the other field events.
She said she likes the variety of events that make up a track team.
“I definitely like that because you can see different types of athletes excel,” Conklin said. “You may not be the fastest runner on the team, but maybe you can jump well and you can have success in that event, or you may be really strong and end up being a good thrower. It really encompasses a lot of different types of athletes.
“I like the variety of events. It’s fun coaching track. It’s so fast-paced. There are so many different events going on at once and you can have three people succeeding at the same time, or three first-place finishes really close together with the field events and the running.
“It is an individual sport, but they all kind of work together, and they realize their points are adding up in the 16 events had hopefully we’ll end up with the wins.”
Over the years, the numbers in track have improved.
“Last year I had about 30 girls come out,” Conklin said. “A few years we were around 20, but a lot more have been coming out. We’ve got a good middle school program. We get a lot of athletes out. I think they realize that track is fun sport and they like winning so it’s always a good thing to have a turnout like that.”
She said she is looking to having the new, 8-lane track in place for the 2019 season.
While she enjoys the thrill of winning, Conklin equally likes seeing the growth in athletes.
“I definitely like when we win. I’m a very competitive person, so I always want to try win,” Conklin said. “But, even if you’re not winning, you may be my fourth or fifth thrower, you maybe threw five feet further one meet so it’s always exciting when the girls run a personal best or throw a personal best.
“It’s always satisfying to see them excited, and it makes all this with it and I realize they’re accomplishing their goals and I’m seeing the effects of it and its fun.”