PEORIA, Ill. — After two decades molding Columbia’s cross country/track and field programs into national powers, Willy Wood will take over the head coaching duties for Bradley’s men’s and women’s running program’s announced by director of athletics Dr. Michael Cross on Tuesday.
Among his many accomplishments in his 20 years as head coach at Columbia, Wood led the Lions to eight Ivy League team titles and nine NCAA Cross Country Championship appearances, produced a pair of Olympians and coached 29 All-Americans in addition to setting 68 school records.
“Willy Wood is a highly accomplished coach who has achieved national success in a very rigorous academic environment,” Cross said. “His success made him the clear choice as our head coach. He is a passionate competitor and his energy and enthusiasm for this opportunity was notable from our first conversation. I am confident he can fulfill our mission of providing a distinctive education and championship experience for our student-athletes.”
During the past 10 years, Wood led the Columbia women’s cross country team to four Ivy League championships and the 2012 women’s track and field team claimed the Ivy League Indoor title.
The men’s cross country squad won Ivy League championships in 2004, ’09 and again this past fall (’13). Last cross country season went down as the best in Lions’ history with the men’s team finishing second at the NCAA Northeast Regional and earning a program-best national ranking of eighth while making a third consecutive appearance at the NCAA Cross Country Championship.
The women’s cross country team boasted four top-20 national finishes under Wood, including an 11th-place showing in 2002, and made six NCAA championship appearances in his 20 seasons; while the men’s team finished as high as 17th (2012) at the NCAA championships.
“I am excited for the opportunity to lead the Bradley cross country and track programs,” Wood said. “From my first step on campus the people of Bradley were amazingly welcoming and their desire for success was immediately evident. I look forward to continuing the upward trajectory of the men’s and women’s programs and leading Bradley to even much greater success.”
During Wood’s time at Columbia, the Lions had a women’s runner at the NCAA Cross Country Championship six consecutive years (2000-05). On the track, Columbia produced 65 Ivy League individual titles in the past five years and boasts more than 70 NCAA Track and Field Championship qualifiers in the past eight seasons.
The 2012 Indoor Northeast Region Coach of the Year, Wood coached the second individual (Kyle Merber) in Ivy League history to break 4 minutes in the indoor mile. Merber later went on to break the American Collegiate Record in the 1,500 meters.
At the 2007 Penn Relays, Columbia’s 4×800-meter relay team won the Championship of America Race for the first Penn Relays title by the Lions since 1938 and first victory for an Ivy League school at the Penn Relays since 1974.
Under Wood’s tutelage, five-time All-American Caroline Bierbaum received the 2005 Cross Country Honda Award, presented annually by the Collegiate Women Sports Awards to the top women athletes in NCAA-sanctioned sports.
He also coached a pair of Olympians with Lisa Stublic going on to become Croatia’s first female Olympic marathon runner. Erison Hurtalt was a two-time All-American and 11-time Ivy League champion at Columbia, where he was the first Ivy League champion in one event all four years (400 meters indoor and outdoor). Hurtalt ran for Dominica in the 400 meters at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and again in 2012 in London.
Wood arrived at Columbia after two years as the cross country and track and field head coach at North Carolina-Asheville. The 1993 Big South Conference Coach of the Year, Wood led the women’s and men’s cross country teams to second and third-place league finishes, respectively, for the best showing in school history.
A 1986 graduate of Taylor University, Wood led the Bethel (Minn.) track programs from 1990-92, where he guided the women’s track squad to a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Division III Indoor Championship and produced a pair of All-Americans in addition to eight national qualifiers.
Wood boasts 25 years of head coaching experiences, serving as head coach of the cross country/track and field teams at Kansas Wesleyan for the 1989-90 season. He also had stops at Georgia as an assistant coach and served as a graduate assistant coach at both Kansas and Pittsburg State before his first head coaching opportunity.
An All-American at Taylor and a member of the school’s Hall of Fame, Wood went on to compete at Kansas in his final year of eligibility while attending graduate school. He earned a master’s degree in physical education/exercise physiology from Pittsburg State.