Family Matters :: Aggie Cross Country Feels Like Home

A quick scan of the Aggie cross country roster reveals three things, one there are four sets of siblings on the men's and women's teams, the Ruybalid brothers, the Hart brothers, Schultz sisters and the brother and sister combination of Marcus and Carly Porter. Two, the cross country coaches Paul and Meaghan Harkins are married. And three, the overwhelming majority of athletes are from in-state.

So what makes such a unique situation possible? Cross country coach Paul Harkins, who married women's cross country coach Meaghan Gregory last summer, says it's part genetics, part luck and a lot of hard work. For the Aggies, the family atmosphere starts at the top. "My wife and I are both coaching here and we have a family atmosphere with us [as coaches]."

So aside from a family atmosphere, which is something all teams strive for, how does one cross country program end up with three sets of siblings? "Distance running talent is genetic a lot of the time," says Coach Harkins. "If you get one kid and they have a sibling who is looking up their older brother or older sister, you treat them [the older sibling] well and they're doing good things and they're showing improvement, they [younger sibling] may want to follow them, especially if they're having some success," Harkins explained. Harkins chuckled a bit as he added one caveat, "As long as they have a good relationship with their sibling."

So know that you know the how, you're probably wondering what the benefit to having multiple sets of siblings on the team has done for the program. "We want people to feel comfortable [here]," says Coach Harkins. "It helps everybody enjoy their experience that much more. It makes it a lot more comfortable for them having their older brother there or twin brother or twin sister, it makes them feel at home." That family atmosphere has extended to all of the members of the cross country program, not just the sibling pairs. "Having the siblings, the twins [Courtney and Camille Schultz] on the women's side, the twins [James and Michael Hart] on the men's side, the Ruybalid brothers [Ian and Jonah] on the men's side, it just helps bring everyone together," says Harkins.

As is the case in any family environment, fairness is a big key in the Aggie cross country family. "Whether it's our top runner or our last runner it doesn't matter. Just as long as they're getting treated fairly," says Coach Harkins. "Our biggest thing is to try to develop these kids to the point where they're showing improvement."

"It's that family atmosphere that we've been trying to build since we've been here, that's what we want everyone to feel whether they have a sibling or not," says Harkins. "Making sure they feel comfortable and they're in a situation where they feel like they can do good things and they're comfortable working hard and showing who they are and that's what we've been trying to build."

The other thing you'll notice about the cross country program is that there are a lot of kids from New Mexico on the roster. In fact, 30 of the 43 athletes hail from New Mexico, including all three sets of siblings, along with two athletes from nearby El Paso, Tex. At almost 70 percent, the Aggie cross country team has the highest percentage of athletes from in-state of any athetic program on campus. At the University of New Mexico, the Aggies' chief in-state recruiting rivals, just 16 of their 40 men's and women's cross country athletes hail from the state of New Mexico.

While other sports in the state of New Mexico fail to produce high numbers of Division I talent, Harkins and his wife have found a gold mine of talent. "I think New Mexico has a lot of undiscovered kids and I think there's a couple reasons why," says Harkins. "One they're fairly underdeveloped." Harkins went on to explain, "Most of the coaches in the state do not train their kids super intensely. Some of the programs up in Washington do do that. Up in New York there are a couple programs that are producing national championship teams every year but their kids, they [coaches] run them a lot." He explained further, "A lot of those kids don't have as much upside potential because they're already training like college athletes for the most part."

So what does that mean for the Aggie coaches? "We've got a lot of these kids out of New Mexico who have been trained minimally, we've upped their mileage a little bit and started training them more intensely and they've just stated blossoming," says Harkins. "It's been exciting."

He added, "There's some definite talent here." That talent showcased itself last season as then-freshmen Courtney and Camille Schultz who are from Cloudcroft, N.M., finished one-two at the WAC Championship meet. Courtney Schultz was named the WAC Freshman of the Year. Schultz's twin sister Camille finished just one second behind her in the meet and both earned First Team All-WAC honors. On the men's side, sophomore Ian Ruybalid, who is from Los Lunas, N.M., has been a Second Team All-WAC performer each of his first two seasons and is the first male Aggie cross country athlete to accomplish that feat since Leon Garcia in the 1971-72 seasons.
Camille and Courtney Schultz
So why have the kids from New Mexico gone largely unnoticed? Harkins says a lot of it has to do with a disparity in their times versus other athletes. "I think a lot of the personal bests that the kids have time-wise don't correlate with how good they really are," says Harkins. "One of the reasons is they're trained so minimally and the other reason is because they're running at altitude so the times look slower than they really are when you compare them to sea-level kids that are running out in California or up in Oregon and Washington."

That bit of misfortune for the New Mexico high school runners has turned into good fortune for the Aggies.

"There's a lot of good talent here, it's just tough to find sometimes," says Harkins. "It's just a matter of finding those kids who really have that desire to compete and who really have that desire to work hard." He added, "Once you find them here in the state they're usually so untapped, if we can get our hands on even a little bit of the potential they have, they're going to do great things and that's what's happened for us so far since we've been here."

While it may be hard to find that talent, the Aggie coaches have made the effort and they are reaping the rewards of their hard work.