Darren Gauson, head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country teams has quickly elevated both squads to title contender status in just three short seasons. Under his watch, the program has won five Missouri Valley Conference Championships, including the first in school history in 2015.
According to Gauson, competing for and winning MVC titles was his primary focus when he first got to Bradley.
“The first thing I wanted to do was get the culture of training going and start recruiting,” Gauson said. “I was focused on recruiting a group that could consistently compete at the MVC level, because the first thing that I was thinking about was winning MVC championships.”
The Braves have had success with recruiting international athletes – there are six total on the roster. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, Gauson said he is able to connect with international athletes because he was once in their situation. While this gives him an advantage in recruiting over other coaches, Gauson said he prides himself more on the local recruits he has brought in.
“Haran Dunderdale and Michael Ward have obviously been excellent, but I think we’ve done a really good job at recruiting some local talent,” Gauson said. “If we can have a mixture of top kids from the Midwest and domestically and add in a little international flavor, we’re going to do really well.”
According to Gauson, the success of the program allows him to be more critical and thorough in the recruiting process. While in prior years it was necessary to bring in the best athletes in an effort to be competitive, Gauson said he now focuses more on intangibles.
“I think when I was a younger coach, I used to look at the times and how fast are they, but now as a staff, we really look at their character and attitude a lot more,” Gauson said. “We want to bring in kids who have good attitudes, who are going to be good teammates and add to our culture. Our culture is key, so we don’t want to bring in someone who is going to be a prima donna or think that the program is going to revolve around them.”
Since taking the helm, Gauson has quickly turned the program into a perennial championship contender. According to the head coach, one of the main reasons for the Braves’ success is because he is constantly pushing his athletes to work hard and get better.
“We keep our athletes accountable and put pressure on them 365 days of the year,” Gauson said. “Once we’re done with cross country, it’s about making sure we’re in shape and ready to go for indoors. Then once indoors are over, getting them fit and ready for outdoors. Once outdoors are over we’re like, ‘Hey, if you don’t have a good summer and train hard, we’re not going to compete well during cross country.’”
Gauson said the reason he is so persistent in encouraging his athletes to improve lies in his philosophy to never become content.
“For some people, they probably look and are like, ‘[Bradley is] conference champions, and they were sixth in the region and sent two individuals to the national meet, their staff must be so excited.’ But for me and our staff, we are really hungry and want to be a lot better than what we are,” Gauson said. “We’re not going to be content until both teams are top-15 in the country, that’s what we’re striving for.”
Gauson said he expects both the men’s and women’s squads to be in the national spotlight sooner, rather than later.
“Recruiting has been going really well, and we’re returning a lot of talent so we’re trending in the right direction,” Gauson said. “You’re only as good as your last year, and as soon as you get a little taste of contentment, that’s when you get worse really quickly. We’re going to keep our foot on the gas and keep growing the program. We’re hosting the regional meet next year, and we want to win it and show just how good we are.”