Two people with ties to Morro Bay High School have made a big difference at college, giving students with the hankering to run a chance to compete on a collegiate level.
The student–run San Diego State Running Club was started last year by MBHS alumnus and Cross Country standout, Abby Ogle. And this year, another MBHS alum, P.J. Van Beurden, signed on to coach the club, continuing his career path and goal of becoming a NCAA Div. 1 head coach.
It was, “A crazy cool opportunity,” Van Beurden said in a phone interview from San Diego. He’d finished a master’s degree program at Point Loma University, he explained, and was going to SDSU for his continuing education, as coaching the running club was part of an internship.
SDSU doesn’t have a men’s track and field or cross country program, he said, having ended it back in the 1990s under a “Title 9” action, a federal requirement that seeks to equalize athletic opportunities for men and women.
The running club gives students who love to run and maybe competed in high school a chance to go up against collegiate runners. Ogle and the club co-founder, “Wanted a group of people to run with,” he said. With many collegiate meets, the field is open to runners of differing levels. “Most competitions,” Van Beurden said, “you can enter unattached.”
The students pay their own entry fees and get to compete against Southern California schools like Point Loma and U.C. San Diego. Teams fly across the country to compete and some of the schools the running club members have gone up against include the Air Force Academy, BYU and Harvard.
Van Beurden said they can string together enough meets to put together a whole season but they don’t compete in any type of “league championship” meet.
They had 25 runners compete in the Aztec Invite, which drew mostly D-1 level schools. And while they can’t earn things like All American status, Van Beurden said the runners do it for the love of the sport, and to improve their times. And with the women runners, maybe get a chance to walk-on with the SDSU women’s teams. It could also pave the way to restart the men’s teams in the future, he said.
In just the club’s second year, they have about 100 people signed up, and he said they get 20 to 30 out on a daily basis. There’re no requirements to come out nor membership dues to pay, explained Van Beurden, who with his brother Daniel ran for former MBHS cross country coach Cary Nerelli and current coach Chuck Ogle, who is Abby’s dad. He added that with this is still a new club, and they expect the membership could grow as word spreads around campus.
And the MBHS connection will continue into next year, as Ogle has been chosen club president for next year. But Van Beurden won’t be their coach, as his ambitions to become a Div. 1 head coach will take a step forward when he moves to Texas to become an assistant coach at Rice University.
“I was an assistant coach at UCSB [Santa Barbara] and it’s been my dream to be a D-1 head coach,” Van Beurden said. “This year has given me valuable insights into what it means to be a head coach,” he added, noting that head coaches do much more than assistants, especially with the organizational duties of running a team and a program.
It’s insight he’ll take with him to Rice. “It’s been a pretty cool year.”
Ogle would agree. She and a friend started the running club her freshman year when she discovered there was no such entity but there was a large community of runners on campus. The club sports some pretty good runners and Ogle said the school track coaches are interested in some of the women in the club, but she likes the community fond in the running club better than intercollegiate sports.
She credits Van Beurden with really making a difference with the club. “He really changed the whole direction of the club,” she said, “and made a big difference with the members.”
By Neil Farrell