The very first thing she talks about is how well her team performed over the weekend. She is beaming with pride, speaking quickly as she assesses the race her athletes ran as both a team and as individuals.
That’s always been the focus of Vicki Mitchell since she transitioned from elite runner to running coach — helping her athletes improve and perform. The Amherst native was a standout distance runner, a seven-time NCAA champion at Cortland and a member of five U.S. national teams.
She has coached local age-group athletes, helped implement a running program to increase the self-esteem of pre-teen girls and helped shape a collegiate program at the University at Buffalo that has been slowly building into a player in the Mid-American Conference and the region.
With her resume and her enthusiasm, it’s easy to see why this summer she was rewarded in two ways. Mitchell was elected to the Western New York Running Hall of Fame and was named Director of Cross Country and Track and Field as the University at Buffalo reorganized its program.
Recognition from her running peers in her hometown was an especially meaningful honor.
“It’s a group by runners for runners so to be recognized by your peers is really meaningful,” Mitchell said. “To be recognized locally by people who have followed my career and supported my career as an athlete and now as a coach is pretty special.”
Her career as a coach at UB began right around the time her competitive running career was ending. In her 15th year with the Bulls, she was named director over the summer the track and field was unified men’s and women’s program. Mitchell oversees the entire program while continuing to directly coach the women middle and distance runners.
This replaces the model of separate male and female teams, which streamlines administration and makes the chain of command clearer for student-athletes, who now need to worry only about reporting to their event coach and Mitchell.
The official coaching roster looks like this:
• Perry Jenkins, in his 15th season at UB, is the head coach for sprints, hurdles and relays.
• Todd Witzelben is associate head coach for men’s cross country and distance runners while serving as recruiting coordinator for track events.
• Steve Esler is the associate head coach for field events, working directly with men and women in horizontal jumps, high jump, javelin and combined events while being the recruiting coordinator for field events.
• Jim Garnham Sr., the Northeast Regional Coach of the Year, continues in his role as assistant coach for throws.
• Tiffany Regdos will be an assistant coach for pole vault.
“What we’ve done is moved to a completely combined model,” Mitchell said. “We’re very fortunate at Buffalo because we have coaches who specialize in each event. This streamlines all of our budgeting, all of our travel — the finance end, I think, is a driving force behind the merging of the programs.
“It will also offer, I think, a more simplified route for our student-athletes. Long term in using our coaches to their best abilities, this is a great move for our program.”
Last year was an impressive one for UB track and field. The women finished third at the Mid-American Conference Outdoor Championships — its highest finish ever. School records were set in the 3,000 meter steeple chase, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters while Meghan Manley won the MAC title in the 800 meters and advanced to the NCAA Preliminary round.
Under Jenkins, the sprinters, hurdlers and relay teams combined to set five new school records with four athletes advancing to the NCAA Preliminary Round.
Jonathan Jones and Shante’ White were All-Americans in throws last season as Garnham continues to be one of the best throws coaches in the Northeast.
“I feel like we’ve gone through a transformation here in the quality of student-athletes we’re able to bring in and then our ability to develop them,” Mitchell said. “A lot has to do with the support we’ve been given by administration, the competitions we’re able to get our student-athletes to, the support from our athletic training and strength and conditioning coaches — those have all gone into it.
“I think the high school students are now seeing what’s happening with athletes at the University at Buffalo. They see how they’re developing and they know this is a great opportunity for them to come and reach that next level.”
Mitchell has long be involved with Checkers Athletic Club and currently serves as the organization’s head coach. She also was instrumental in establishing the Buffalo chapter of Girls on the Run, a national organization that focuses on developing self-esteem and self-respect in pre-teen girls through a healthy lifestyle.
And both of those organizations help fuel and sustain her love for the sport.
“Now I feel like I can positively influence more people with my abilities in coaching than I ever could have with my ability as a runner,” Mitchell said. “Whether it be with Checkers’ running club, with Girls on the Run, with the University at Buffalo, I feel I’m able to touch and hopefully positively impact young adults and adults with running.”