Fourth-year Women’s Track and Field Assistant Coach Sam Bluske was named the Mid-American Conference Outdoor Track and Field Assistant Coach of the Year.
“It’s a pretty big honor, but in reality I think it really goes to our entire staff and the women I coach every day,” Bluske said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be at a place where they show up and they love what they do and who they do it for, and at the end of the day it’s them out there doing it.“Our program has come so far in the four years that I’ve been here.” Bluske added. “I was really fortunate to walk into a very solid team that went to NCAA my first year. That entire class graduated in one year so we went from being in the NCAA National Championships to being ninth in the cross country conference meet, which was really hard emotionally. So just watching our hard work and recruiting of these women over the past three years and watching them go from barely ever being on the podium to now winning conference titles is probably the most special part of being at Toledo.”
Bluske’s recognition comes following the 2018 MAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships hosted by University at Buffalo. The Rockets earned the second best finish in program history after taking third with 74 points, with senior Janelle Noe breaking the conference 1,500m record by finishing in 4:17.01. Following the meet, Noe was selected First Team All-MAC while senior Petronela Simiuc and sophomore Athena Welsh were selected Second Team All-MAC.
Head Coach Linh Nguyen thinks his assistant is very deserving of the honor, describing it as “recognition of hard work.”
“It’s something that the coaches vote on and when other coaches know that you have someone on your staff that works hard, it’s really nice for them,” Nguyen said. “I’m happy for Sam and proud of her.”
Bluske has been instrumental to the continued growth of UT’s distance runners. Toledo’s long haulers earned nine top-five finishes at this season’s outdoor championships and set eight new personal records while at Buffalo. The weekend also saw Welsh earn the program’s sixth best time in the 5K (16:28.35) and Simiuc earn the program’s second best time in the 1,500m (4:18.73).
Coming to Toledo in 2014, Bluske helped the women’s cross country team reach the MAC Championships in her first season. She also assisted in their third-place finish at the NCAA Regionals, where they toppled No. 8 Michigan and No. 19 Ohio state, finishing the year with a No. 21 national ranking. The 2017 season saw the cross country team finish runners-up at the MAC Championships.
Bluske also was present during the tail end of Liz Weiler’s career at UT. Bluske coached Weiler to the NCAA East Preliminary Round of the 3,000m steeplechase, where she finished 17th in 10:04.04.
Recently Bluske has taken Joan Jepkirui under her wing. Jepkirui finished top 20 in the 5K at the NCAA East Regionals during the 2016-17 season, and took fourth in the 10K at this season’s outdoor championships (34:38.72).
Looking to the future, Bluske was clear in what she wants to see the program achieve and has a handle on how to get there.
“I want a trophy next year, one three times the size we were just given,” Bluske said. “As long as I’m busting my butt this summer recruiting and trying to bring in the best class possible and being a good role model for the women, we’re going to get this program back to the conference championship.”
Bluske and the Rockets now look to the NCAA East Prelims. The Rockets will send a strong core of distance runners to compete Thursday through Saturday, May 24-26, in Tampa, Fla.