By Russell Varner
December 3, 2008
It was less than three months ago that Christine Engel was introduced as Elon’s new men’s and women’s cross-country head coach as well the assistant coach for the track and field teams. It didn’t take long for her to leave her mark.
In her first year, she got the men’s team to finish 19th in the NCAA Regionals, its highest finish ever in the event and led the women’s team to a 27th place finish in the Regionals and had two of her runners, sophomore Emily Fourier and freshman Melanie Reyer, named to the All-SoCon team.
“My first year here has been a great experience so far,” said Engel, who left Columbia University to coach the Phoenix. “The team has responded well and has really embraced the change.”
“It is usually tough for a first year coach to get everyone on board with a new way of doing things and thinking,” said Mark Elliston, the head coach of Elon’s track and field team. “However, I believe that Coach Engel has been able to get the cross-country teams behind the new direction she is taking the program. Team members comment to me that they like what’s happening and the new attitude in many areas of the program. So that’s always good.”
Engel has been involved with track and field since she was just a little girl and she hasn’t left the sport since.
“I started competing at age seven,” said Engel, a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection as a member of Clemson’s cross-country team. “This sport has given me so much and now I get to help young men and women as well.”
While at Clemson, she was a member of the Tigers’ school record-setting 4×800-meter relay, distance medley relay and 4×1500-meter relay teams and competed on Clemson’s ACC champion distance medley relay squad. Engel’s name fills the Tigers’ record books, ranking in the top-five in the 800-meter run and the mile and owning the Littlejohn Coliseum record for the 800 meters. Her standout career was recognized with her inclusion on the Clemson University Athletic Wall of Fame.
Even before her time at Clemson, Engel was making a name for herself at Mount Olive High School in New Jersey, where she earned All-American honors, was a six-time New Jersey Meet of Champions winner in the 1600 meters and was named New Jersey’s Gatorade Athlete of the Year in 1992.
After graduating from Clemson in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in parks, recreation and tourism management, Engel would then travel across the country and become an assistant men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field coach at the University of San Francisco, where, during her 3 years at the school, she helped both the men’s and women’s programs turn in the most successful seasons in program history and achieved two runner-up finishes at the West Coast Conference Championships.
While coaching the Dons, nine runners earned first team all-conference accolades and the team reached its highest conference and NCAA Regional finishes in USF history. Two of her athletes were even named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District team.
After the three years at the University of San Francisco, she was then hired at Columbia University in New York as an assistant cross-country and track and field coach. She was only there for one year, but during those twelve months, she would help guide three student-athletes to All-Ivy League honors in cross-country and two to All-Northeast Region accolades. She also coached Carmen Ballard to All-American honors and a 23rd-place NCAA finish in cross-country. Her runners obtained five qualifying marks for the 2008 NCAA East Regional Championships as well.
Though if you ask Engel was she is most proud of during her time involve with cross-country and track and field, none of her individual accomplishments are ever mentioned.
“I’m real proud of Emily [Fourier] getting 1st team all-conference in m first year as a coach, the All-American I coached at Columbia and helping people qualify for the Olympic Trials. That was a great honor.
“What is most important to me as a coach is watching the student athletes develop, both as athletes and people.”
It is very easy to see why she was hired for the job at Elon and her accomplishments were something that caught the eye of people here.
“I wanted someone with good experience and someone that would continue to build the program and get it to the next level,” said Elliston. “I was excited to have someone that had solid college experience in both recruiting and coaching and she seemed like a very nice person.”
“Coach Engel brings a great deal of experience both as a coach and as an athlete from a larger school,” said Matt Roden, the assistant women’s track and field coach. “With so many new faces on the squad this year, there really is a new feel to the team. The attitudes of the girls have really been positive in relation to Coach Engel and it’s going to be very enjoyable to watch how the team progresses over the year.
“She can really relate well to her student athletes in a positive and constructive manner. Her athletes really seem to enjoy her style of coaching and it already has paid off tremendously to those athletes that have been here in years past.”
The transition from Columbia to Elon has been a successful and surprisingly easy one for Engel, who said the campus and facilities helped make the move easier for her.
“When I first visited Elon, I loved the campus,” she said. “It was just so picturesque and it had such great facilities. It is a great place to work and it is also very appealing for students.”
And so how does this job compare to her previous ones?
“It is very different. I’m now both an assistant and head coach and the atmosphere here is very different as well. But, I do very much like the college town atmosphere that Elon has. It was hard to get that feeling at Columbia.”
For Coach Engel, things couldn’t be better for her. “I got the best job in the world: I get to do what I love for a living.” And Elon looks forward to many more years of her doing what she loves for the Phoenix.
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