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|Paynesville Press - November 6, 2002|
Carstens named Coach of the Year
For the second straight year, Paynesville cross country coach Darrel Carsten has been named the Class A Coach of the Year. |
In 2001, after leading the Bulldogs boys to their first state title in 2000 and coaching five All State runners, including girls' champion Jen Hess, Carstens was named the Class A Boys' Coach of the Year. Now, in 2002, on the heels of coaching the girls' team to a runner-up finish in Class A last November and coaching Hess to another state title, Carstens was named the Class A Girls' Coach of the Year this summer.
Carstens, in his modest way, didn't even tell his assistant coaches about the award. The award really recognizes the whole program, not just him, he adds. It would not be possible without great athletes, great assistant coaches, understanding wives, great parents, and great community support, he noted.
While his teams have consistently been successful, Carstens never treats winning as a life-and-death matter, said Rick Houske, his assistant coach for 23 years. "The goal is to win and do well," Houske explained, "but it isn't the end of the world (if you don't)." The important part is to try to do the best you can, he added.
Coach Carstens gives his team a pre-race talk at the state meet on Saturday.
"I enjoy working with Darrel. He's easy to work with," said Houske. "I like the way he deals with kids. I like his approach to their running, but I also like how he deals with them as a person. With him, who the kid is as a person is as important as the kid as a runner."
Carstens, added Todd Spanier, a former Bulldog runner who has now served as a volunteer assistant coach for three seasons, treats all his runners well. He doesn't play favorites, and everyone - from the top varsity runner to a new junior high runner - gets encouragement and attention.
Building a team from the disparity of ages in the 7-12 cross country programs is one of Carstens' real strengths, said Houske. "How do you take seventh grade girls and senior boys and have them get along? Or vice versa," he said
Having a positive attitude is important because cross country is such a demanding sport, the coaches agree. "If you've got a mental block or negative thoughts, you're done," said Spanier. "You've got to think positive."
"He always positive. I don't think he's ever uttered a negative comment to a runner or an athlete," said Spanier.
Carstens, in his 30th year as the Bulldogs' cross country coach, has taken nine teams to state. His boys' teams have advanced to state in 1977, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, and 2000, highlighted by a state championship in 2000. His girls' teams have advanced to state in 1991, 2001, and 2002, finishing second in 2001. Carstens also coached PAHS standout Jen Hess, a two-time individual state champion who now runs for the University of Minnesota.
One of the great testaments to Carstens' approach, said Spanier, is the number of runners from Paynesville who either have run collegiately or continue to run for fun, making it a lifelong sport. A quick count by the coaches identified at least 16 runners who have competed collegiately in the last decade. Former runners frequently show up for morning practices during the summer to run with the team and at big meets, including state.
Cross country practices under Carstens are a mix of fun and hard work. The fun is needed most when the work is the hardest. How does he convince the team to run a quarter mile a dozen times? Act like a crazy fool, said Carstens.
"You've got to have fun," said Carstens. "I don't think any team in the state plays tag as much as us."
The coaches also have a good time. The playful, teasing banter between coaches helps keep the mood light for the cross country team. Topics for their daily battle of wits range from getting lost on the course and growing old to expanding waist sizes and to a lack of a sense of humor. "He has none, but it's getting better," Houske taunts Carstens. "Todd and I have helped a lot. We hope Darrel develops a sense of humor before he retires."
"This is constant," said Houske. "From the minute we get on the bus until we get off of it. We always have a good time."
"I am blessed," Carstens said of his assistant coaches, describing Spanier as a young professional and Houske as a veteran with a fun way to handle kids. "I'm very thankful I have them because they make coaching a lot more fun. I've rolled in the aisles on the bus laughing."
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