Bates Bobcast Episode 147: Welcome to Bates!

On the season premiere of the Bates Bobcast, we welcome new women's soccer head coach Joe Vari and new golf head coach Henry Fall to campus. Plus, a preview of the upcoming cross country Alumni Meet and season with women's head coach Jay Hartshorn and men's head coach Al Fereshetian.

Interviews this episode:

  • 1:05 -- Joe Vari, Head Coach, Women's Soccer.
  • 12:09 -- Henry Fall, Head Coach, Women's and Men's Golf.
  • 25:04 -- Jay Hartshorn, Head Coach, Women's Cross Country.
  • 34:25 -- Al Fereshetian, Head Coach, Men's Cross Country.

Bobcast Transcript

Aaron: It’s the fifth season of the Bates Bobcast! Our weekly podcast where we take a look at the week that was, in Bates athletics. My name is Aaron Morse and this week we welcome a pair of new head coaches to Bates. Plus, a look ahead to the cross country seasons for the women and the men, the programs host their annual Alumni Meet this Saturday. That’s coming up, on the Bates Bobcast! 

Aaron: Joe Vari was named the 2018 Northwest Conference Coach of the Year after he guided the University of Puget Sound’s women’s soccer team to a conference championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. Now, he joins the Bates Department of Athletics as the eighth head coach in Bobcat women’s soccer history. Vari joins a program that has a tradition of success, including a NESCAC title and four NCAA tournament appearances. And this week, we introduce you to the Bobcats’ new head coach, all the way from the west coast. 

Aaron: You were having a lot of success at Puget Sound. Coach of the Year last year in the conference, what made you decide to make the trip across the entire country to join the Bates coaching staff?

Joe: Yeah, my wife and I joke we jumped Portland to Portland but not so much, obviously Tacoma to Lewiston but a lot of the draw for the job was really just the ideals of the college. Being the forefront of social justice for such a long time, being test optional since the 80s, just the communal fuel was really a big draw. When the NESCAC calls, it certainly is something that you have to definitely feel out and see what's going on and so that was the next big jump I think was to get into the best Division III conference and try and compete and then when I got on campus it was something I definitely felt like we could be successful at. Just the changes in our athletic department for the last two years or so have been massive and I really do feel like Lewiston and Bates are a place that has a lot of potential and I think it's something that we could do something special.

Aaron: I'm curious for someone who's been in Division III your entire career but never in the NESCAC. What was NESCAC's reputation for you as someone who's in the same level of the NCAA but not the same conference?

Joe: Yeah, it was always you just see it on paper coming from different regions. You're like, how in the world do they get four teams in? How in the world do they get five teams in and that was one of the things that we always struggled on the west coast, our conference would just get one in. There was certainly a little bit of jealousy and frustration on that side of things and then obviously you see some game film or you catch a game here and there and you go, wow, okay. Those teams are pretty legit. Obviously the academic reputation goes pretty far also and so being able to have a school that has both the academic and the athletic side of things, I think that was really what the big mystique was but yeah, I mean obviously when you have teams in your league that are competing for conference championships, national championships, you've two teams competing for a national championship obviously the conference is doing something on the right side of it.

Aaron: I'm curious, growing up, when did you start playing soccer? Was it like most kids in America, you're three years old or whatever. I mean and then when did you start thinking 'I can actually play in college and maybe I want to coach also?'

Joe: I certainly started in the youth level. We're in a church league and my dad was the coach for a year or two and then slowly just progressed. The area I grew up in in Ohio was definitely football for sure but the soccer scene was pretty big also and being able to tie that into and then I'd make a decision in high school playing either baseball or soccer and made the decision on the soccer side of things and really started competing more on the club level and the travel teams and got lucky to get connected with a pretty good group that got around and then it wasn't really on my radar thinking about playing college and typical high school player I was like, well, I don't know what I'm going to do and it's like, all right well, senior year I guess I'll figure it out.

Joe: Then I got a couple of phone calls of some schools that were interested and then that really dawned on me that, hey, maybe this is something that I should look into and then went on a visit there at Hiram and that was it. That first visit sealed the deal for me and I looked at a couple of other schools that just never came close to it. Then from there coach Chris Yeager, came in my sophomore year. He was there for two years and then really just the conversations with him and then he ended up taking a job at Lynchburg College, he moved back down to Virginia and same thing senior year, it's like, all right, I don't know what I'm going to do so I called him and he said, 'hey, I got a grad assistant position, why don't you come down and we'll figure it out and we'll get you in the coaching scheme of things' and that's really how I got my foot in the door and just when I got into that, the first day was like, yeah, I think this is what I want to do and so it really worked out really well for me.

Aaron: For sure. A cross country move, we touched on it. How challenging was that?

Joe: It seemed daunting but now that it's over, it was awesome. We obviously made a move from Memphis to Tacoma so we did the half tour and then this was the full tour so we're a little prepared on what to do and we ended up just loading everything up in a pod and then just taking the things that we needed in one car. Then luckily we have family and friends across the US so it was 3,800 total miles but it took us probably about 12 days. We took our time. We drove like six, seven hours but there's some things on a bucket list that we wanted to go through and check out and then like I said, again, we're able to stay with some in-laws and staying with my parents for a couple of days. It was a fun trip. It definitely was fun and it is just beautiful. You don't really get the option to drive cross country very often and so I think we made the most out of it.

Aaron: When we released the announcement of your hiring you were quoted saying Bates is a sleeping giant. What do you mean? How's Bates a sleeping giant in women's soccer?

Joe: I think obviously just with the facilities and the direction that our department is starting to go into, I think the group that we have coming back, I think we have some talent in there. Then I think just being in the Lewiston area, I think Maine will always draw people, the NESCAC will always draw people but I feel like we get a special breed of kid here at Bates. Kids that are a little gritty, that are a little more blue collar, that want to get in and grind with things and that's really the way I want to build a program. I think there are some opportunities where we can really make some jumps pretty quickly with the program and I think that was it. Again, with the administration and the support that we have here, I think we can really... The potential is pretty big. Now with that being said, obviously you've got to do it in the NESCAC and go from there and so there are some giants in the league but I think it's something that we can slowly start to chip away and make some improvements.

Aaron: When you're coming in as the new head coach, do you reach out to the current student-athletes right away, the incoming first-years, how does that process work?

Joe: I had this grand plan of calling every player that was on the roster by July and then it's like real life happens. Like, yeah, by the way, you have to move and do other things so really what we did was we started with the upper-class and started working our way down and really just pretty much phone calls. Being able to just to get on the phone and talk with the student-athletes and talk about the plan. It's very cool to hear their excitement about it. They're looking forward to it, they're excited about it and that makes things just that much easier.

Aaron: Well, it must be exciting to see the new grass growing on Russell Street Field, right?

Joe: Yeah. Again, same thing. New turf there on that, the sod is coming in, it's looking really good. The turf in Underhill has been something I know our group is super excited about and that'll be a good thing for us in the off-season and if we have inclement weather we got a place we can go. But yeah, there definitely has been a good change and big bonus.

Aaron: We're talking on a Tuesday, yesterday Monday was orientation for the first-years, athletes as well. What was that like for you?

Joe: It was exciting and fun. Campus always has a different buzz to it when there're students around and especially at the beginning of the year, the weather was beautiful so there were certainly a lot of excitement. It was really nice to meet all of the first-years because I've only been able to meet a couple of them. First couple of training sessions is really going to be faces and names and going from there but it's like anxious excitement because you're just ready to get going and knowing that you still have to wait a day or two to get things going. I was just pacing around waiting for the meetings to end and so that we can get going forward with it.

Aaron: Are you a coach who focuses on goals? Do you set for the team, for yourself or is that something that comes organically?

Joe: I think those come in organically. I mean our goal... They won't really be numbers. It's going to be more about just trying to compete and can you be better than you were yesterday? That'll be a big thing that we'll focus with this group, this first-years, just trying to change that culture a little bit. Our plan is to try and put them in an environment where they can be successful and if those small details come together, then the other things are coming together. When you set number goals, some of that's out of your control will be a big focus for us too is talking about the things that we can control with this season and you can control your effort, you can control your attitude and those will be the things that we'll work on in the fall going forward.

Aaron: One thing about the NESCAC is your first game, your first match I should say, is a week from today.

Joe: A week from today.

Aaron: Thoughts on that.

Joe: It's crazy because all the other Division III schools I was always in a tizzy thinking we'd never have enough time and here I am with less. Six days, trying to get it going forward. The nice thing is that time for us we haven't started class yet so the team can just come in and focus on the soccer aspect of things. Obviously first trip to Hamilton is a big bus ride for us, seven, eight hours, which will be good. I think it'll be a good thing because again, it'll allow us to get away, we can go and just focus on us. We can hang out on the bus and do those things and sometimes being on the road is an advantage. You don't have really any distractions. You have a little bit more control over your environment. But yeah, again, it's excitement and panic at the same time of being able to try and figure it out but yeah. We obviously at Maine Maritime on Tuesday which will be a good one. Also a nice little in-state rivalry. Things are slowly starting to come about.

Aaron: All right. Well any other thoughts on what you're most looking forward to in your first year here at Bates as the head coach?

Joe: I think it's just going to be a big learning and growth for sure. I'm mostly excited about our group's excitement. They're looking for just to be able to come in and get things going and obviously with the change of things but I think that's is the most part. I think it's just a big exciting thing. And being able to get in and learn and figure it out. Again that was one of the big reasons why I took this job was just to get out of the comfort zone and really try and grow and push and I certainly think we're going to have a lot of growing pains but I think we will make pretty big growth this fall.

Aaron: Alright Joe Vari, welcome to Bates. Thanks so much.

Joe: Appreciate. Thank you.

Aaron: New Bates women’s and men’s golf head coach Henry Fall did not need to travel far at all to get to Bates. He was born-and-raised in Maine, having graduated from Mt. Ararat High School in 2010. After a stellar career at Elms College, Fall returned to Maine, where’s he’s been an Assistant Golf Pro at Sugarloaf Golf Club and most recently at Bath Golf Club. Now, he’s the youngest head coach at Bates and we welcome him to the Bobcast.

Aaron: Growing up in Maine, how'd you first get into golf? What prompted you to start wanting to play?

Henry: First off, I just want to say thank you for bringing me on. This is pretty cool. Really excited to be here at Bates. For me, I think it started when I was probably five or six years old honestly and I used to watch it on TV. That's how I got started. You got Tiger Woods, you got Phil Mickelson, you got some other legends at the end of their prime. That's what drew me in and then I had a few family friends that played and they would chip and putt around the house and things like that. When I was seven is when I started taking my first lessons. I'd go to the driving range, I worked with a head golf professional, had a driving range in Brunswick, Maine and that's where it all clicked for me. Like this is what I love to do. This is a sport that excites me. I was playing other sports at the time but by the age of 10 or 12 it was pretty much just golf. That's what I focused in on.

Aaron: Golf can be relaxing, it can also be stressful. How do you find it out there on the course? Probably depending on how you're shooting.

Henry: I don't know who says it's relaxed but they're completely wrong. No, I think that finding that zone that you get into when you're playing really well, that's what's exciting. Is when you can get there and I felt it before. There's rounds where you make four or five birdies in a row and you don't think about it, the thought just isn't there, it's just happening. I think that most of the time it's more stressful than not for sure but learning to slow down and enjoy the process, enjoying being out outdoors in nature even when it's blowing 40 miles an hour in your face, I think it's... I just love the sport. I love everything about it.

Aaron: What was it like competing in high school at Mt. Ararat and then also in college at Elms?

Henry: For me in Mt. Ararat we had a couple of really good years. Competed at states. Individually I felt like I accomplished some things during high school, even outside of high school golf, like winning a Maine state junior championship. That was a really big accomplishment for me at the time. Then going into college it just carried over. When I first started my freshman year at Elms College, I was five, six and I weighed about 145 pounds or whatever it was. I was this little kid basically and no one thought I could play but I ended up having a really good first year. We won our conference and then I started to incorporate fitness training, I grew a little bit. I think the four years I had at Elms were... I think we did it. We accomplished a lot of really good things together and especially my senior year going to NCAAs. Division III championships down North Carolina, that's an experience that I'll always cherish. I think it was just a great time.

Aaron: You mentioned fitness training. Golf obviously there's no running involved, there's a lot of walking but what's the best training methods that you found to improve your golf game from a strength and conditioning perspective?

Henry: I think for me it was... I've tried everything. There's a period where I did solely weights in the off-season, there's a period where I would use no weight so it'd be all resistance bands and med balls and things of that nature and I think it's doing everything. Understanding what movements translate well to golf. Does a chest press translate well to golf? I don't know. That's up for debate. I think that for me I worked more towards golf specific movements. Gary Player is a name that gets brought up a lot with fitness and golf and he was the one that started it all. People say Tiger did but if you look back farther, he was something, for a guy that's 5'6, 5'7 and he won I believe it was nine majors. I mean and he was in shape and he has been someone I've looked up to for a long time. I think in college I watched some videos of him, watched what workouts he was doing and I incorporated some of those as well.

Henry: I can say I was a little kid when I came into college and then by my senior year I grew four or five inches but I also put on 30 or 40 pounds and it was mostly muscle. It wasn't like I built up something else. I was stronger. I was hitting it 20, 30 yards farther and I think for me it gave me confidence I could go out and play these courses when it's cold and windy and I'd still get the ball out there and compete. I loved everything about the holistic approach. That was all what I was about.

Aaron: Competing in golf tournaments is one thing. You graduated from Elms in 2014. What prompted you to want to start coaching golf? Did you coach while you were in college on the side or how'd that go?

Henry: I worked at a golf course throughout college. It was my first I guess legitimate job where sort of assistant pro, assistant manager, whatever you want to call it at golf course and I was helping out junior camps and I wasn't really technically able to give lessons because I wasn't PGA or anything but at the time it was just a learning experience and then even in college I would try to help out my buddies on the team and I was always analyzing my game obviously and then always fascinated with swings and short game techniques. I read a lot of books in college like and Harvey Penick, these guys that are masters of instruction and psychology of the sport.

Henry: When I got out of school at the time I was devoted to finding a job and whatnot but I learned after a couple of years that golf is my passion. I want to be in the sport. That's why I've been pursuing a PGA class A professional status. That's why I've been competing still and then giving instruction, obviously coaching and junior camps. I think for me the opportunity to coach and have a team and recruit and incorporate fitness training, again, it all goes back to that holistic approach I talked about and the opportunity to coach a team like this. I was just so excited for... So yeah, the opportunity to be here. It's great.

Aaron: I'm curious from a coaching perspective, I imagine when you're doing instruction, sometimes you're working with people who have barely played at all in their lives, while here at Bates obviously you have guys and women who have been playing for quite some time. What's your approach there and when you have more experienced players in terms of you obviously maybe you don't want to do a complete overhaul in one year but how do you approach that you think?

Henry: Again I think it's taking the holistic approach. Getting into the gym, is that something you're going to do? Are you going to be accountable for that? Are you going to be excited about it? Then going off of that, I think short game and psychology, strategy, core strategy, these are all things that we take for granted. We would just go out and play and, yeah, you might hit a 300-yard drive but it's the same as a one foot putt. I think that college golf is one of those things where the players are all pretty good, they are not that far off from being really good. They're all pretty comparable. You got guys that are shooting high 70's, low 80's that there are only a little core strategy in short game away from being in the mid seventies and that's what you need to compete. Then you add in some fitness and you add in some other things along the way. Yeah, we can fix swings and that's great, it's only going to contribute to that but more often than not, these players are all capable. It's just showing them an avenue to get to the next level and whether they're willing to take it or not.

Aaron: Excellent. What appealed to you about the Bates position when you heard it was open?

Henry: Obviously the school, the reputation it's had, it being in Maine near my hometown. I've obviously had an open eye to it. I've never really been on campus so much before but I've driven by it and it was always intrigued by it because it was such a beautiful campus but yeah, the opportunity to coach Division III at a NESCAC school, it seemed to align with everything I was looking for and plus, like I said, I played at Elms College, many of the courses and teams we played are the same that we're going to be playing. It's cool to see, when I look down the schedule for the upcoming season, I'm like, I played there. Yeah, I've played there. We won that tournament. It's cool that I can share something with them that's not just where your club faces at this spot or where your grip is, it's more, hey, I've played this course, this hole, you don't want to be in that spot and that's something that again, goes back to that strategy and how you're going to shoot lower scores and I really feel like it gives me a little leg up in that department. Then obviously Bates it's a great school. I just think it's a... I'm really happy and excited.

Aaron: Excellent. Have you ever played Martindale before?

Henry: I've played Martindale, yeah, several times. I haven't played in a few years. I'm actually playing it tomorrow morning, 6:30 in the morning.

Aaron: Alright, there you go.

Henry: But yeah, no, it's a great track, great home course. It's a tough walk, which I like for my purposes, for my coaching purposes. I want guys and girls who are in shape. I think it's a good test. It's a Donald Ross Course, greens are crazy and it presents a challenge and it can get windy and it's a beautiful course, beautiful walk. I like everything about it. As a home course it really... I think is a good spot for us.

Aaron: Now you're obviously coaching two teams, the men and the women but they're combined, they practice on the same course as you mentioned, so on and so forth. How do you imagine yourself approaching that? Two separate teams, one program, if you will.

Henry: Yeah, no, that's certainly, I don't want to call it a difficulty because I don't look at it that way. I want to say it's more of just something we have to approach. I'm bringing on an assistant coach who I'm really excited to have here and I just think it's managing time. I want to be able to devote my time to both teams evenly. I want to try to travel with the women and the men equally and yeah, I think it's exciting. At first I didn't know if it was just, when I first heard about it, I didn't know if it was just a men's team or just a women's team. When I heard it's both, it was intriguing because I'm like, huh, I wonder how that's going to... But the more I think about it, the more I realize that, again, it's not like I have to go down a line and be like, okay, we got to make a big swing overhaul here. No, most of these players can play. Let them play and get them to work on the little things that will make them all get to the next level.

Henry: Again, I've played these courses, I know where they're going so I think that that will communicate to them more than anything. And yeah, I'm excited for the opportunity to coach both teams and yeah, maybe you want to call it a challenge of having a women's team and men's team but I don't know. I look at it more as golf communicates. It's a language and I mean everyone's an individual but I think at the end of the day the sport itself, I've been playing it since I was seven and I've taught women and men along the way. I think both teams can be competitive this season. I'm really excited for it.

Aaron: All right. Henry Fall, thank you so much and welcome to Bates.

Aaron: While Vari and Fall are new to Bates, cross country coaches Jay Hartshorn and Al Fereshetian have spent a combined 40 years leading their respective programs. 

Aaron: Hartshorn is entering her 15th year as the women’s cross country team’s head coach. The Bobcats finished 17th in the country last year at the NCAA Championships, the second-best national finish in program history. Although a number of talented seniors graduated, including All-American Katie Barker, Hartshorn anticipates another strong season.

Jay: This year is going to just be completely different and that's always exciting when you feel like you're not just repeating something, that it feels like there's a lot of unknowns which is exciting. We actually graduated five women who are in our top eight which is a pretty amazing number of women and it was amazing group but then I also felt like there was people who were on our team last year that should have been in that top seven and weren't. I think I probably feel like we have a stronger group coming back then maybe you would look at on paper just based on that number of graduating those five women. We have some women with some really, really good experience but I think what I'm excited about is how different this year's going to feel and I think that will be really energizing for everybody and then when you want teams to have their own vibe or different culture and not feel like you're just repeating things, I think that part's going to feel really different this year.

Aaron: Terrific. Then first-year athletic orientation was today on Monday. What do you tell the first-years when you meet with them, you've obviously recruited a number of them but what will you tell them about what they can expect from their collegiate cross country experience?

Jay: Yeah. We actually haven't really had that meeting yet and we have a big group of first years so it's figuring out who they all are and so we'll know a lot more just on Wednesday. I think some of them are going to be able to make an impact right away. Others I think are really strong runners and will make more of the impact in track. That's pretty typical of us to have some kids that maybe are on the cross country team and then you get to track and you go, okay. I'm hoping some of those students who were on our team last year who are really more track people are going to step it up during cross country this year which is exciting.

Jay: It's also unique because women's cross country we're the only team that still goes on Aesop trips so they'll be with me for like a day and then they'll leave and we'll go to some fun stuff with the upperclassmen and have some days and then we don't get all back together til Sunday. On Sunday it's like a second first day for me in terms of first-years, now we're all going forward, we're all doing the same thing. I mean our season is three weeks longer just off the bat than a soccer season or field hockey season. I feel like we have time and time is going to be on our side this year.

Aaron: Alumni Meet this Saturday, what makes this event special for you?

Jay: Just it's always opportunity to see alums and this year we have a few people that are coming back I know that I might not have seen for a couple of years. You traditionally get the people who just graduated, always come back and that's just nice to find out what they've been doing over the summer and how things are going. I also know a lot of our alums really want to see a meet. There's a group of them that aren't coming for the Alumni Meet but are like, I'm coming for the first meet because I actually want to see the team race. I think we're going to have really good support and we'll have some local people that we'll certainly see this weekend and then on the men's side, the alumni meet's been going on forever, a lot longer than we have. It's just nice to see the same faces year after year and the support that people have in our teams and then the pride people have from being part of the programs at Bates.

Aaron: When did it really get going for the women at... I mean before you got here or after?

Jay: Yeah, I think a few years before I got here and this is, I'm starting my 15th year, so it's been going that whole time. At one point we had... We just peaked with a really good big class of people coming back which was great. I always tease them because so many of them live in Boston and Labor Day weekend is like moving weekend in Boston because everybody switches apartments or so many students and it's like your first times out and so they're always like, I'm moving during alumni race but I'll come another time and they do, we had a race in Boston last year and saw a lot of people so they're out there whether there'll be at the alumni race or other races. We'll see.

Aaron: Great. Well your two captains this year, Anais Gonzalez and Olivia LaMarche, tell us about them.

Jay: I think they are going to be a really great pair. Olivia was a true walk-on for us which was cool. She tried out for soccer and that didn't work out and emailed me and said, "I'd like to run like I've run before," And I probably was... in my head a little bit dismissive but I was talking to Art and he's like, we have such a small class why not? And then I was like, what does that mean you've run before? Then she was like, I did this road race and I ran 19:30 and I was like, that's actually good. Come on, let's see and I think I said okay, well this is great but you're starting a little bit late, just a couple of days but we're just going to throw you into it. I'm not going to wait for you to catch up. And we have this trip planned to Kentucky and we're taking 10 people and I don't think it would be really fair to take you because we had this and you're just hopping in. I'm not really sure whether you would really be in consideration of that trip and she's like, yeah, fine, fine. Well then we had our first meet and I was like, so you're going to Kentucky and she's been like top seven ever since and she has just always tried really, really hard and has had some really great success in cross country.

Jay: Anais is a fighter. She broke her ankle really badly during the middle of our sophomore cross country season, not running, doing something different and had a really, really major surgery actually the day before we hosted NESCAC for that year and it... The fact that she came back last year and was running after this really extensive surgery and then starting to PR and the great thing about her is it's nice to have someone who hasn't been in the top seven be a captain because they have a different feel for being on the team and when we have so many first-years this year that might not be top seven, that's actually a really, really important thing. When it works out that way, that we have somebody that hasn't been top seven, the captain, those are usually captains why some of our most successful years because they look at the team both in terms of the competitiveness but also very much in terms of the culture and inclusivity and how we can make that happen and then she's from California which is great. We have another first-year from California.

Jay Hartshorn: That's something that's cool about this team. We have women coming from Alabama, one come from Texas so we're geographically pretty diverse and that is something I'm really looking forward to. People have been training like a hundred degrees are going to come up and be like, thank goodness. It's awesome here in Maine. I think just how geographically diverse our team is we'll definitely give it a different field and feeling then like, they're all from New England, we knew each other in high school, that kind of thing.

Aaron: Right. How about the schedule you have set up. It looks like you have a trip to Ohio during the season. Is that right or did I read...?

Jay: Yeah, no we are. You're right. We always look to do an inter-regional meet and this year that one just lined up in our schedule really well and we've always somewhat considered it because one of our great athletes is Izzy Alexander that I guess graduated in 2008 or nine, nine. Yeah this is the tenth year, 2009. She's been assistant coach there for a couple of years and so we finally were like, okay, this lines up with our schedule and then there'll be some teams from regions that we don't see which is really great. The thing about New England is we are so strong in cross country, there's a big meet at Connecticut College that brings in a lot of inter-regional teams but you don't come to New England unless you think you're really, really good because you have to be ready to compete with the best teams in the country. If you leave New England you can get exposed to some teams that might be fourth fifth in your region, you beat them and that could help your chances to get to nationals.

Jay: I don't know if that's where our team is but it's always a really great experience and it gives you confidence because our region is so strong, sometimes you don't realize, we can be the eighth ninth, tenth best team in our region and we still might be the top 40 in the country because we're so strong and so to go out and see more just gives you a more of a sense of like, okay, maybe we got this and we're ready come championship season to fight a little harder. And it falls during our fall break this year which is awesome so there's no missing class and rushing in. We were able to book the tickets with bigger windows and feeling like it can just be a little more chill than other years.

Aaron: Al Fereshetian is entering his 25th year as the men’s cross country team’s head coach. The Bobcats are coming off an outstanding 2018 campaign that saw them qualify for the NCAA championships as a team for the first time since 2013. This Saturday, Bates welcomes a number of alumni back for the annual Alumni Meet, a tradition that dates back to the 1970s. Fereshetian is ready for the first event of the fall. 

Aaron: Alumni Meet coming up, I mean obviously it's been going on on the men's side for decades upon decades. What's this tradition mean to you?

Al: It's really very special. This is the 46th running of the alumni meet so you're right, it's been going on for a long time. Just recently sent out to our alums a copy of a letter that coach Slovenski sent out originally to prepare people for the alumni meets. That's on our social media sites but it's really special. We have a tremendous group of guys come back every year from multiple generations and decades and it's a great way for us to kick off the season.

Aaron: I went to the alumni meet a couple years ago, I remember a couple of the older alums really want to win, they're competitive. They still, yeah.

Al: There's a lot of guys out there that are very fit, very competitive and trying to relive the glory years a little bit and want to try to get out there. It's interesting because over the years, it's changed a little bit in the last 10 or so years but over the years this meet has been a very competitive meet, very close meet and for a long time, the alumnis had the advantage on the varsity but last 10 years we've turned that around a little bit. Bottom line, it's a lot of fun. It's a good test for us to see where our kids are at at this point.

Aaron: Certainly and talking about this year's team, couple of captains, Justin Levine, Ryan Nealis, Justin is a senior, Ryan's a junior. Justin's so enthusiastic. I've interviewed him before. Ryan had a breakthrough year last year. How excited are you about these captains?

Al: I think they're going to be great. I think they're going to work well together. They are different types of guys and they bring a different skillset into the team but I think it's going to be one that will be a balanced approach for the team. This is going to be exciting. Justin's been just a tremendous part of our program ever since he stepped on campus and very consistent and one of those guys that we can just count on that is going to give us a good presence at the front of our field but we're really excited to see what Ryan's going to do this year because Ryan had a phenomenal trackies season last year and ended up running becoming 4:13 miler, which is good by anybody's standards but at the same time, this was really the first time that he's come into a cross country season with a summer preparation and ready to go.

Al: We saw some moments of brilliance out of him last year. He was actually our alternate on the team that went to the NCAA championships and if he had another week or two or a couple of workouts or maybe another meet. He might've been in that top seven so he's going to come in fit and ready to go so we're looking forward to seeing good things.

Aaron: How sweet was it for the team to get back to NCAAs?

Al: That was great last year. It was really great. So many times we've been on the other end of that decision process and to be on the good side of it for one time was really a lot of fun and I think the guys out there got a tremendous amount of experience and that was really one of the reasons why I wanted Ryan to get out there as an alternate because even though he didn't run, he absorbed it all and I think that's going to come back and be huge for us moving forward.

Aaron: Well, how about this alumni captain tradition you've started here, Devin Dilts this year, I assume trying to find a new alumni each year to be an example for these guys. What's Devin bring to the table?

Al: Devin's an outstanding gentleman and really looking forward to contributions that he'll be able to make to the team. He came to Bates as a transfer student from Vanderbilt, his sophomore year and we are very fortunate to have him but he came into the program at a time when the program was really weak. We'd come off a couple of rough years and we were just rebuilding. He was really the catalyst to getting a lot of the things that took place in the early teen years going and really changed the culture on our team. I think he's going to have a lot to share with this team and I think he's going to be... He's a guy that he quickly became... It was quickly apparent to me that he was going to be a huge part of our program and he has been and has continued to follow us ever since he graduated.

Aaron: Terrific. One thing I know that Bates has been trying to do is strengthen the faculty liaison program. It's been around for quite some time but Frances Eanes, your faculty liaison...

Al: Great professor of environmental studies, very enthusiastic, he's a former runner himself.

Aaron: Okay. Yeah.

Al: He graduated from Messiah College in Pennsylvania so he had Division III experience. He was a national qualifier in cross country so-

Aaron: Perfect fit.

Al: ...He understands what it takes to be part of a successful Division III program and as a result of that, he comes over occasionally, he comes over and joins us for practices and he'll be at some of our meets and just a super young man and super young professor here at Bates.

Aaron: The New England rankings came out today. I believe Bates is pretty high up there, we're forth I believe in New England and I don't know how much stock you put in that but it's nice to see, right?

Al: It is, that's exactly the way you look at it. It doesn't mean anything but the bottom line it does indicate that people understand and respect the strength of our program and consequently that can only help as we move forward. It's good for our younger athletes to see, okay they're coming into a program that's pretty special.

Aaron: Speaking of those younger athletes, I know the first-years just had their athletic orientation. What do you tell first-years when they come in here about what it takes to succeed at Bates because I know a lot of these cross country runners, they're there in indoor track, they're there in outdoor track also.

Al: Yeah. We've been working the last couple of years on really refining and defining our vision for our program and it was fun because last year as we work through some of those growing pains I was able to share that with a lot of the guys that were coming in and almost to the person as they recognize what the vision of this team was going to be, they said that's what I want to be part of. Running cross country is a challenge for anybody but a lot of times some high school athletes will come in and just assume it's an extension of what they did in high school. It's a whole different ball game. These guys I think have a good understanding of that and I'm looking forward to working with them. We've got a very talented group so I suspect that we'll have some strong input from some of our first years.

Aaron: Great. Any other thoughts on the upcoming season? What you're most excited to see from this group?

Al: I think we're going to see a lot of continuation of the development that we saw last year. Bart Rust had a phenomenal year all year long and I suspect he's going to be one of our top guys and going to give us a really good presence up front but we've just seen a tremendous amount of development within the team. Tucker Barber's a guy that really started stepping up and Henry Raft another guy that has the potential to be a really outstanding contributor for us and guys like Nic Stathos and Jeremy Bennett have put in great summers. We're going to have a really good, strong, solid crew coming back in here and it'll be fun to watch the whole thing. 

Aaron: Next time on the Bates Bobcast, we’ll continue our fall sports previews by taking a look at the field hockey, volleyball and men’s soccer programs with head coaches Dani Ryder Kogut, Melissa DeRan and Tyler Sheikh. That’s next time, on the Bates Bobcast!