Grizzlies shoot for season triple crown
at NCAA DII outdoor championships
By clopez | firstname.lastname@example.org
IT does not matter if Damon Martin ever wins another national trophy as a coach at Adams State or anywhere, for that matter. He has already cemented himself as the greatest coach of all time in Adams State history and is the winningest coach in college sports history based on national team titles won.
Yes, Martin is greater than the great Joe I. Vigil – an original from Alamosa who hired Martin in 1988 and with trust eventually turned the championship program over to him. The young runner from Arkansas had arrived in 1985 to train at altitude like so many had been doing since 1968, when Vigil began to evangelize his high-altitude training regimen and made it popular among aspiring U.S. Olympians like Martin.
Judging Martin now by how many national titles he’s won lacks perspective, he’s won so many – 41 in total and counting. He replaced a legend and became an even bigger legend for the elite runners who arrive at Adams State fall after fall looking to win national championships.
That’s more the point.
Coach Damon Martin at the 2023 RMAC Indoor Track and Field championship, left, and at the 2022 NCAA Cross Country championship. The Adams State Unversity women’s team won both NCAA indoor and cross country titles.
NOW here he is with another Adams State team, an extra-incentivized Adams State women’s outdoor track and field team, to maybe win another team title – this one over the Memorial Day weekend at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships being held in Pueblo.
It wouldn’t be just another team title, none of them ever are. But it would be special because no team in the illustrious history of Adams State running has won the college circuit triple crown – team championships in cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field all in one academic year.
After already winning this 2022-23 season the national cross country championship and indoor track and field championship, it’s that history the Adams State women wish to take on for Martin, to embed the legacy of their coach even deeper in the national and international running world.
“I would love to help him chase that,” Stephanie Cotter, winner of nine individual national titles running for Adams State under Martin, said earlier in the spring.
With all the titles to his name, Adams State and Martin have never won a women’s national outdoor title. And honestly, the Grizzlies aren’t the favorite and don’t necessarily have the all-around talent needed to win the NCAA DII outdoor title this year.
But with the likes of Cotter, Brianna Robles, Precious Robinson and others who have tasted the glory, it’s also not a team to take lightly, particularly with the added incentive of winning college running’s triple crown.
“I would think that the odds are against us a little bit as we go outdoors. There’s more sprint events and more things like that that makes it a little harder,” Martin said ahead of the national meet. “And at the same time, sometimes people who are a high level and a high level of thinking, sometimes they do stuff that people just don’t think others can do.”
The list of winningest coaches
Again, whether it’s this year’s women’s outdoor team or teams in the future winning more national titles under Martin’s guidance, his place in NCAA coaching history, in San Luis Valley history, in Colorado sports history, is set.
He’s rarified air – not because he’s successful at 7,250 feet elevation – but because he’s maintained a level of excellence that is rare, in any world.
Think about all the coaches who have ever led a team in any sport at the college level and then consider the list below compiled from NCAA and Adams State records. Also keep in mind Martin and North Carolina’s Anson Dorrance are the only coaches on the list who are still coaching.
Martin, Dorrance and James Steen, a longtime swim coach at Division III Kenyon College, are also the only three coaches in NCAA coaching history who have won 20 or more NCAA championships in a single sport.
Coaches with most national titles:
Damon Martin, Adams State University, 1988-present – 41 overall NCAA and NAIA men’s and women’s team titles. Of the 40, 3 are NAIA titles won prior to Adams State’s entry into the NCAA Division II classification in 1992. In total, Martin has coached 14 men’s and 27 women’s national championship teams.
John McDonnell, University of Arkansas, 1984-2006 – 40 NCAA Division I team titles overall. The list includes 19 men’s indoor track and field; 11 men’s cross country; and 10 men’s outdoor track and field NCAA championships.
Pat Henry, LSU/Texas A&M, 1988-2017, 35 NCAA Division I team titles overall. The list includes 12 Division I Women’s Outdoor Track and Field; 10 Women’s Indoor Track and Field; 3 Men’s Outdoor Track and Field; 2 Division 1 Men’s Indoor Track and Field; 4 Division I Women’s Outdoor Track and Field; 3 Division 1 Men’s Outdoor Track and Field; 1 Men’s Indoor Track and Field.
James Steen, Kenyon College, 1976 to 2012, 31 NCAA Division III Swimming team titles.
Anson Dorrance, North Carolina, 1982-2012, 21 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer titles
Coach Joe Vigil with Martin in 1992. “I knew he’d do a good job, but I didn’t think he would do this good of a job,” said Vigil.
“He’s a fierce, fierce competitor,” said his wife, Konnie Martin, the CEO of San Luis Valley Health. “I think a lot of his drive comes from a humility that he wasn’t that great of a student in high school. He was one of the kids that wasn’t expected to make it.”
He grew up in the south, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and lived in Louisiana, Florida and Texas as his father traded up for better jobs. He and Konnie met when they both were attending the University of Arkansas-Monticello, where Martin was running and she was studying math and computer science.
“I probably never achieved the things that I wanted to achieve,” Martin said. “I mean, I had success and I was an All-American and national runner up, but I think in some ways those things probably drove me a little bit.”
His dad died in February of 1993, a few months after attending the 1992 NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships in Slippery Rock, PA. Adams State had just moved to the NCAA from the NAIA beginning with the 1992 season.
The Joe Vigil-coached men’s team had a perfect score of 15 to win the men’s title, while the Damon Martin-coached Adams State women’s team won its first NCAA DII cross country championship. The Adams State women would win eight consecutive NCAA titles from 1992-1999.
“He’d be so proud,” Martin said of how his dad would view his success. “He already was.”
Vigil bowed out in 1996 when he turned everything he built over to Martin. He would finish with 18 national titles while coaching at Adams State, go on to coach more Olympians and more elite runners as a personal coach, and is recognized as the American coach who demonstrated and popularized the benefits of distance running at high altitudes.
“I knew he’d do a good job, but I didn’t think he would do this good of a job,” the 93-year-old Vigil said from his home in Arizona. “He is the winningest coach in America regardless of division and regardless of sport, and I’m certainly proud of the job that he’s done.”
“I had a great friend, a great instructor in Coach Vigil,” Martin said. “I had a better teacher than he had. When Coach was learning, he was having to do it on his own and research and do all that stuff. I had the cheat notes, like the cliff notes, to find the crust of what is most important.”
As for the challenge of replacing Vigil and maintaining and exceeding the excellence he built, Martin said it’s simple, it goes back to his upbringing.
“My dad taught me growing up that when you borrow something, you return it better than when you borrowed it. And I feel like I’m just borrowing the program. Eventually it comes to an end. So it’s just my borrowed time. And so I borrowed it from a guy that was very, very capable and I think that I’m very capable. And so it is just putting your time and work and your effort into it.”
“You’ve got to be hungry and realize it’s always a fight
and nothing like that comes easy. I think everybody thinks
it comes easy, but it just doesn’t.”
– Coach Damon Martin
‘He was so upset’
In her story, “A team seeking its own success,” Adams State runner Brianna Robles tells the story of 2020, maybe the lowest point in Martin’s coaching career. It was that season, the year of COVID, when Adams State uncharacteristically finished fourth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference women’s cross country race. The year before Adams State had won the NCAA title with Cotter claiming the individual title and now, the following year, it finished fourth at conference.
“People who follow Adams State cross country were disappointed in the program, and it left many in shock because when you hear Adams State Cross Country your mind instantly goes toward thinking about all the national titles the school has won,” Robles wrote.
“I was a part of this tragedy and was left wanting more after experiencing such an embarrassment. At the starting line lies a level of pressure and expectation that lasts all the way until you cross the finish line. The thing is, even after the race is over friends, alumni, fans, and parents still want more. To wear a jersey with the Adams State name across your chest is a privilege, but to live up to the name has to come from deep within. You have to learn to be tough and learn to run with your heart.”
Konnie Martin remembers the 2020 season as well.
“He was so upset,” she said. “One of the things he told me after that is he said, ‘I am not ready to retire, but I am not going out like this. I’m going to go all in with the women. Kind of like ‘I’m looking for that magical group of women that I had in the 1990s and early 2000s and then I’m going to go out with that.’”
He found them. Robles, from Plainview, Texas, is one of those runners. She paced Adams State to the 2021 national cross country title even though she woke up sick and vomiting on race morning. She then teamed up with Cotter, who returned to Adams State after a year away, and in 2022 Adams State won back-to-back cross country championships once again.
Now two years removed from the devastating conference finish, Martin appears to have assembled a group of veterans, underclassmen and incoming recruits to launch another serious streak of national title runs.
“In my head, I’m always pitching us as the underdog, but I know that people look at us and they know the names of the kids and what their accolades are, and so you just got to keep the kids grounded and not let them get the big head,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be hungry and realize it’s always a fight and nothing like that comes easy. I think everybody thinks it comes easy, but it just doesn’t.”
Making it harder is the little money Adams State has to field even a competitive NCAA DII program, much less one that is international in stature and is led by the winningest coach in college sports history. The benefits in reputation and recognition that Adams State and Alamosa receive through the running success that Martin has fostered over 35 years of coaching versus the financial investment made into the program is beyond comprehension.
“In our program,” said Martin, “you’re not judged on what you have. You’re judged on what you do, and you’re judged on what you bring every day. And I think that that’s the highest form of maybe respect and brotherhood and sisterhood, is they don’t care whether I have any money.”
Forty-one and counting
It’s the week before the NCAA DII outdoor championships and Stephanie Cotter is in Martin’s office plotting out the next few days of workouts before the team heads to Pueblo. “I’m a bit banged up, but I’ll do my best,” Cotter said to the other visitor in the office.
She arrived from Ireland, following the trail of Eilish Flanagan and her sister, Roisin, two other Ireland runners who helped lead Adams State to national cross country championship titles in 2017 and 2019. All three have run for Ireland’s national team and are names to watch in 2024, an Olympic year.
Martin said he expects other runners from Ireland to consider Adams State, fueling a new international pipeline into the program. He talks about other recruits who he expects to join the program, including new sprinters who can help Adams State get better rounded as an outdoor track and field team.
There is no indication that he sees an end to the road. So make it 41 and counting, because most assuredly more NCAA titles will come along.
“I’ve never looked at this job like there’s an end to it. I think from watching Coach Vigil as a young coach to developing my own thing, and then over the last so many years, you just don’t ever want people to count you out,” he said.
“I mean, it’s a pride thing. You don’t want people to count you out or think you’re not good anymore. You kind of have to have a chip on your shoulder. And I think that a lot of times people, their careers and programs can go up and down depending on the motivation of the staff. But I think you’ll find that our staff’s pretty dang excited and motivated to try to make Adams State better than it’s ever been.”
The Adams State 2021 NCAA cross country champs