With former head coach Erika Daligcon stepping down, the Seattle Pacific cross country program has entered a season of change. With only one senior on the roster, it is also a very young team.
Yet this hasn’t deterred the new head coach Karl Lerum or assistant coach Audra Smith from pursuing success with an indomitable zeal.
Lerum may be the new head coach for cross country, but he’s certainly not new to the Falcons.
Having been head coach for SPU’s track program for the past eight years, Lerum is excited to expand his role.
“It has been a wonderful experience for me,” Lerum said. “I’ve had a chance to work at other schools before SPU, and I’ve felt like SPU is a very special place because it combines a small liberal arts Christian community with highly competitive athletics.”
The journey that eventually led Lerum to SPU is unique.
“When I graduated from college, I was a free agent with the [San Francsico] 49ers,” Lerum said. “I was with them on and off for about two years, which when you grow up liking football, is kind of a dream.
But it was different, too, getting to see sports from a business perspective. I got to play football with some of my childhood heroes — Jerry Rice was on the roster, Steve Young was the quarterback — I was definitely star-struck when I first began.”
Lerum also worked at Luther College during that time. After that, he was a track graduate assistant at Trinity College, and he briefly worked as an assistant at SPU before he coached football in Norway for two years.
“My wife is Norwegian, and she had family there,” Lerum said.
Although Lerum cherishes coaching, he also enjoys reflecting on being an athlete.
“The process is the memorable part — I was fortunate to play on some good football teams and to have a great track team to compete and play with, but what I remember is the process and relationships from playing sports in pursuit of excellence,” he said.
That focus of his reflects in his character, as his highlight in being at SPU is “being around these students as they grow as athletes and people. It’s been a great privilege to be a part of student athletics.”
The other new addition to the coaching staff is assistant coach Audra Smith.
“Audra has started working with us this year, and it’s been great,” Lerum said. “She brings a positive presence and a ton of energy and knowledge about training and competing.”
Smith, who was a heptathlete at Idaho State, knew she wanted to stay close to athletics after college.
“I absolutely love it,” Smith said. “It’s great — the transition has been pretty smooth, and the athletes have been welcoming — it’s been a wonderful start, for sure,” Smith said.
After college, she went into the health field for a bit before she started pursing her calling to be a coach in California.
Afterward, she volunteered at the University of Washington and eventually was on staff there for four years before she joined Seattle Pacific.
Smith is excited to see the program grow in the near future.
“I know it’s going to take a couple years to get the Falcons back on the top again, but I’m looking forward to bringing in good athletes and building them back up again as they have been in the past,” Smith said.
The relationship between the coaches has been strong, too. One new coach is relatively common for sports teams, but two is rare.
“We have a lot of the same ideas. We’re talking track, talking recruiting — we come from multi-event backgrounds, so it’s been a good combination for sure,” Smith said.
That chemistry is definitely seen by the athletes.
“They’ve done a great job. For me personally, I feel this is the biggest change because I was with Erika for so long,” senior McKayla Fricker said.
“It’s been wonderful so far, though. I came this year very willing for a new year with new coaches, and it’s been really rewarding and really fun. Through the change, the team really came together.”
The coaches are taking the Falcons to Monmouth, Ore., for a meet on Saturday.
“We dropped in the poll — we were ninth in the regional poll, so we’re a little off the radar, and we’re bringing all our hitters,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a good race. We matched up well with the rest of the teams… We’re all physically and mentally prepared for the upcoming meet.”