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Layne looks back on 20 years at Milligan

Tanner Cook • Updated Aug 30, 2019 at 10:51 AM

Twenty years seems like a long time in the coaching world, but for Milligan head track and cross country coach Chris Layne it seems like yesterday he was helping start the program.

“As a collegiate track athlete, I knew I was passionate about the sport,” he said. “When I graduated I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to stay in the sport. When I started to get into my early 20’s, I knew I would enjoy coaching if I got the opportunity.”

A NEW DOOR OPENS

Layne started working for East Tennessee State legendary runner Ray Flynn’s management company.

Flynn’s neighbor was Milligan athletic director Mark Fox, who was interested in starting a cross country and track program. He looked to Flynn for someone to usher in the program. In stepped Layne and the rest is history.

“It was really Ray and Mark’s friendship that helped me get in this position,” he said. “I landed in the right place at the right time and this opportunity presented itself.”

DRAWING INSPIRATION

Layne said he picked up knowledge and inspiration from ETSU Hall of Fame coach Dave Walker.

“Until the day I retire, there are so many things that have happened in my life because of Dave Walker,” he said. “Ray was here because of Dave Walker. My wife ended up in Johnson City because of Dave Walker. When I took this job, he was one of five people I sat down with to pick their brains on developing a philosophy.

“Coach Walker came from a football background and he brought a certain toughness with him. It was a loving toughness, though. He had a good way of balancing caring for his team and being tough when he needed to.”

BEST MOMENTS

For some veteran coaches the seasons seem to run together, but Layne easily recalls some of his favorite moments whether they be on the biggest stage or a smaller meet.

“There are the obvious ones like our first national champion Marta Zimon and Philip Rotich being runner-up twice,” he said. “Those are the ones that really proved that we can get it done over here.

“Two others really stand out to me. The year that Austin Ellis, Matt Murphy, Brendan Hawkins and Nathan Meeuwenberg all ran at the NAIA national cross country championships in Vancouver. We thought that the whole men’s team should have been there and they blew the meet out of the water.

“The other one is Carly Owen. When she first came in, she wasn’t really bought into the program,” he said. “She had a breakthrough for us her junior year at the conference meet. It was one of those ‘Ah-ha’ moments. Those moments just go to show how big the mental game plays into it. She was normally a 2:32 girl and on that day she ran 2:22 for 800 meters and scored at the meet. Seeing the national titles and seeing the breakthroughs are almost the same feeling.”

ON THE BIGGEST STAGES

Former Milligan four-time national champion Hannah Segrave has moved on from her days with the Buffs to a New Balance kit and is running on the professional circuit. Recently, Segrave had her own breakthrough at the Müller Anniversary Games (London Diamond League) meet in July.

She hit the qualifying standard in the 800 meters for the World Championships in Doha by running 2:00.18 and finishing sixth in front of her home crowd in the same stadium as the 2012 Olympics.

“When the opportunity presented itself, I said to myself ‘We’re really going to see what she can do,’” Layne said. “You didn’t have to be in the camp to know that she was ready for a breakthrough. She just needed the right race.

“That was a lot of fun and it was exciting to see. However, she had to pace the women’s 1,500 meters the day before. The plan was to use what she had learned from the day before and not to be as nervous walking into the stadium a second time.”

What makes getting to the World Championships tough for Segrave is that Great Britain is one of the deepest countries in the world in the women’s 800 meters. Currently, six women have met the time standard and Segrave is on the outside looking in at one of the three spots.

A DIFFERENT FEEL

Known mostly for the standout distance programs, the Buffs had a new star this spring with freshman Rasheem Brown winning the indoor 60 meter hurdles and the outdoor 110 meter hurdles.

“That was priceless. It could have been any thing like the shot put, hurdles or long jump and you take pride as a coach that you have a system and staff in place that can do right by a young man that has the talent that he has,” Layne said.

Brown also went on to run 13.41 at the CARIFTA Games in April. He is one of the top young hurdlers in the Caribbean, placing fourth in the U20 division.

“He certainly has growth until he’s competing at the senior level on a global stage,” Layne said. “We made some decisions that impacted his long-term development. He’s willing to do anything we ask him to and he doesn’t always understand why we limit him. It’s because he’s still young and a true 18-year old freshman.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

“Milligan has a partnership between the program and the institution to help take the program to another level,” he said. “Our job and responsibility is to grow our roster. The school has said that if we do that that they’ll get behind us and grow some resources.

“I want to have a full-fledged track program with the throwers and sprinters commensurate with our distance runners. … I feel like that if we go out there without a full team that it’s like going out there with a football team without an offensive line.”

Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams begin the season ranked inside the NAIA Top 20 and the first race is swiftly approaching at the Zaxby’s Open in Greeneville on Sept. 6.

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