By Zach Baker
Heidelberg cross country coach Briana Hess knew Sophie Goobic was on the cusp of a special year when the former received an e-mail from the soon-to-be senior last spring.
"[She] sent me this e-mail that said, 'I just want you to know, I'm going to do everything right over the summer. I'm gonna do the training exactly how you send it out,'" Hess said in an interview Tuesday.
"Over the summer, we say, 'This is what I would do.' Like, guidance on training, but we can't make them do it," Hess said. "So, it's like, 'here's how you should train if you want to come in ready.' And she just said, 'I'm gonna follow to a T exactly what I'm supposed to do, and I'm gonna prioritize correctly.'"
The Heidelberg coach knows a little something on how to train correctly. After brilliant careers at Seneca East and the University of Toledo, the coach is now trying to build a women's program that had not produced a national-meet qualifier in a dozen years.
Goobic was sending a message she was ready to change that.
"She came in in August in the best shape I've ever seen her in, and she's just so strong." Hess said. "She's always been a great runner on our team, but she just took it to another level."
Goobic admitted she was let down by her cross country and track seasons from a year ago.
"I think what helped me a lot was being disappointed in last year," Goobic said. "I got sick with a sinus infection when we had conference for cross country and I got injured before conference in outdoor track, so I really wanted to come back strong. And that really helped."
Hess also said Goobic may have been motivated by competition within the team.
"We had a great recruiting class this year for women, so we had great freshmen that also want to be the top runner on our team," Hess said. "So Sophie had to run great in order to keep that spot. And I think she knew that; she didn't want to be taken over by a freshman."
Whatever the case, it has translated into results.
After a strong regular season, Goobic captured the OAC Championship, finishing in 22:42.4. The time was 16 seconds better than her nearest competition, and helped HU to a fourth-place finish.
Goobic became only the second runner in program history to capture a league meet.
"I was thinking about conference and nationals all year," she said, "and I was feeling, well, 'if I want to make it to nationals, a good goal to set would be to win OAC, because that would prove that I can beat those girls and I can get placement into nationals. I think that was a major motivation for the OAC race."
After taking the OAC race, Goobic moved on to regionals this past Saturday. She finished sixth in 21:52.7, a personal best, and a time that qualified her for this weekend's nationals in Indiana.
"She said after the race... 'I never had to run that hard in my life,' Hess said. "But that's what it takes to take the next step. And if she does that again, if she's not scared, and she gets out like she did this past weekend, then she has a great shot at getting All-American."
And Hess and Goobic each stated that as a goal for this weekend.
"I'm hoping to get up there in the top-50, I know my coaches want me to get top-35, which is All-American," Goobic said. "I really think that's an attainable goal, so that's what I'm shooting for. But I would be happy anywhere around there."
"I would definitely love to see her get All-American, that would be my goal for her," Hess said. "The way she raced this past weekend, that is so doable."
COACHING 'EM UP: Goobic gave credit to the coaching staff for its part in helping her get to nationals.
"They mean a lot. They're always there whether you need help with running or anything else, and then, I think they really put out a good training program and they're so supportive all season," Goobic said. "And they really underline that we have to do the right thing and try to be able to be the best athletes."
The staff in an interesting story in itself.
Hess is assisted by former HU athletes Joe Yoder, Marcas Heitkamp and Marian Bevington, as well as former Wartburg standout Pangji Sunday.
The other member of the staff is 30-year coaching veteran Ron Martin, who coached Hess at Seneca East and who also has been at Columbian and Tiffin University.
Hess was asked if it's strange leading a staff that includes one of her former coaches.
"Not any different," Hess said. "I have so much respect for Ron and every other coach on my staff, so it's very rare that I have to be firm with any of them, because there is a lot of respect. We just all do our thing collaboratively so this thing works. I think that's what I love about it the most."
LEGENDS AND LEADERS: When you talk to Goobic, she comes across as very quiet and unassuming, not necessarily traits one associates with a leader.
But Hess said Goobic has been a strong leader on her team.
In doing so, Hess said Goobic reminds her of herself.
"I think there's two different types of leaders," Hess said. "There's the vocal leader, and there's the 'lead-by-example' leader. Sophie is a lot like I was in school. I wasn't extremely vocal. But a lot of the girls felt comfortable coming to me if they had issues because they saw how hard I worked and saw how I put running on my priority list.
"And I think that is what she does a great job with is the girls want to model her," Hess said. "They want to follow what she does and her weekends, they don't involve parties and stuff like that, so a lot of the girls are going to follow what she does."
Hess, who is in her third season at Heidelberg, said the team is improving.
"It is definitely coming around ... it's awesome to see it finally starting to turn the corner that we've been working so hard to get it to," she said. "You spend a lot of hours recruiting and a lot of time, so to see it start coming around and to see somebody make it to nationals is amazing."