Coach’s passion inspires cross country teams
In only her second full season as head coach of the John Carroll men’s and women’s cross country and track and field squads, Dara Ford has nearly doubled the roster and brought a new competitive spirit to the program. Ford came to Carroll in 2007 as a graduate assistant and assistant coach after spending two years as an assistant coach at her alma mater, Mount Union. At Mount Union, she set cross country and track records and earned multiple academic honors.
Despite those accomplishments, Ford declares running isn’t her passion.
“I like running, but I’m passionate about coaching,” she says.
Ford taught science in middle school for two years while coaching part time at Mount Union.
“I liked teaching, and coaching is just teaching in a different arena,” she says.
At JCU, Ford progressed from assistant coach to head coach of the cross country teams in 2008 and added the track and field teams to her head coaching duties in 2009, all while pursuing her master’s in biology.
Ford is admired and respected throughout the University for her coaching prowess.
“Dara is a competitor with a tremendous work ethic,” says Laurie Massa, senior director of athletics and recreation. “She cares about the student athletes and works hard to help them improve. She has had a major impact on the program in her ability to recruit students who are a good fit for John Carroll.”
Ford favors a personalized approach to recruiting.
“Kids get a lot of mail from schools, so we try to make ours stand out,” she says. “Instead of a form letter, we always personally sign everything. I’m taking what I learned as an athlete and instituting that here, and it’s been effective.”
That personal touch played a vital role in freshman Rachael Greuber’s decision to attend John Carroll.
“I didn’t think about JCU until I talked to Dara at a cross country meet, and she suggested I visit,” Greuber says. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I fell in love with it.”
Ford also is enthusiastic and outgoing.
“Her commitment and dedication motivates us all to try our best every day, and she helps everyone become the best athlete they can possibly be,” Greuber says.
Sophomore cross country and track runner Pat Burns shares a similar story.
“I met Dara when I first visited JCU,” Burns says. “Throughout my senior year of high school, she’d check in with me to see how things were going with life and running. No other coaches were doing the same for me. I inferred Dara took her program seriously and cared about her runners.”
Ford and her staff typically look for students who show an initial interest in John Carroll and want a good Jesuit education. The cross country and track programs are often the icing on the cake.
“Most important is their willingness to work hard,” she says.
While Ford wants runners to be dedicated, she stresses their education is a priority.
“We take a lot of pride in our academics,” she says. “Our women’s team has been academic All-American every year since I’ve been here, and our men’s team is very close.”
As the number of universities adding expensive fieldhouses to attract student athletes increases, Ford says that’s a minor recruiting challenge to overcome.
“We make the most of the facilities we have,” she says. “Our biggest draw is the quality of the coaching staff. We have a young, energetic, and enthusiastic staff consisting of national qualifiers and All-Americans. Students see the success we’re having and want to be a part of it.”
Ford envisions conference championships, more individual and team national qualifiers, and additional All-Americans in the future. Her recruits share her lofty goals.
“Our team has a bright future, and I can only see improvement,” Greuber says.
With the women’s cross country team finishing second place in the conference last season and the men’s team showing significant improvement, they’re heading on the right track.
– Michele Kisthardt ’85