Johnson City Press: Approaching 20 seasons, Layne’s program continues to run on success

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Approaching 20 seasons, Layne’s program continues to run on success

Daniel Manget • Jan 3, 2019 at 5:38 PM

Midway through his 20th season as head coach at Milligan College, Chris Layne’s cross-country/track & field program continues to be one of the nation’s finest.

The program is fresh off No. 12 (women) and No. 17 (men) finishes at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships this past fall, marking yet another season full of recognition at the national level.

This year’s cross country success is only the tip of the iceberg, though, as Layne’s program has been nationally competitive since he signed Ryan Starr, his first male runner, in 1999. Starr went on to qualify at every national championship during his Milligan career, and in a manner of speaking, set the standard for what Layne’s program was all about.

“We had national success early on, but of course it was on a smaller scale to what we’re seeing today,” Layne said about his early years at Milligan. “We were fortunate to get a few folks in at the inception of the program that put us on the national stage. Not long after that, Philip Rotich arrived and quickly put his name in the hat as one of the top middle distance runners nationally, and then we had Marta Zimon win a national title.”


Rotich was the first NAIA All-America selection for Layne, earning it for cross country in 2001 and for both indoor (mile) and outdoor (800m) track & field in 2002. Since then, Layne’s program has accumulated 78 more All-America selections, most recently Jacquelyn Crow, who finished ninth at the 2018 cross country national championship.

After Starr and Rotich, Layne brought in Megan Lease (2002-06), a five-time NAIA All-America team member, and Zimon (2003-06), the school’s first national champion. Then there was Austin Ellis (2008-12), another five-time All-America team member, and of course, Hannah Segrave (2013-17), who won four national titles spanning the 2016 and 2017 seasons. These are only a few of the numerous individuals who made a name for themselves nationally.

While Layne’s program has indeed seen plenty of individual success, his teams also can celebrate tremendous group success. The women’s cross country team won the Appalachian Athletic Conference Championship 13 straight seasons from 2003 to 2015 and qualified for the NAIA Championship each of the last 16 seasons. The men, although somewhat overshadowed by the success of their female counterparts, have qualified four times during this span.

In all, Layne’s program boasts 25 top-25 national finishes for an average of more than one per year.


The success has been fairly balanced across the six teams Layne coaches. He has had 11 All-America selections from women’s cross country and seven from men’s cross country, along with 36 from women’s track & field (31 indoor/5 outdoor) and 25 from men’s track & field (12 indoor/13 outdoor).

A collegiate runner himself, Layne heads a program that has been exceedingly successful in the distances and middle distances. Similar to his cross country program, this has led to a somewhat overshadowed track & field program, as the Buffs still boast excellent results in the field events.

“Of course it will be hard to duplicate what Hannah Segrave (and other runners) accomplished here,” Layne said, “but some of the standout field athletes like JaKeith Hairston, Tanner Payne, Chelsea Leavell and France Makabu really confirm what we’re capable of doing away from the distances.”

Hairston (long jump, 2004), Payne (weight throw, 2012) and Makabu (triple jump, 2010) were All-America selections. Leavell, a five-time national qualifier in the shot put and weight throw, is the Milligan record holder in the discus and javelin.


Layne stated his program has been successful over the years due to education and innovation, as well as adapting to his roster.

“We are always learning, always adjusting, always adapting,” he said. “Our staff is not afraid to try new things, and we understand you need to continue educating yourself. If we cannot get something done one way, we will figure out another way. The other key is adapting to your personnel, which is always changing. Our student-athletes today are completely different from the young men and young women we dealt with almost two decades ago. It’s important to be dialed in to who they are and what is important to them.”

This adaptability and versatility in coaching style has helped Layne win Appalachian Athletic Conference coach of the year 23 times, and his program boasts six NAIA national champions and 79 NAIA All-America honorees. He also has led his program to 25 top-25 national finishes and nearly 400 individuals to a national championship qualifier.

Layne will be able to celebrate 20 years as a Milligan head coach next fall.

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