In the Locker Room with Track and Field
This week, the Review sat down with Associate Head Track & Field Coach and Recruiting Coordinator John Hepp, OC ’07, and junior thrower Ana Richardson. Women’s track and field earned its first outright conference title in program history last weekend at the North Coast Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships, where Richardson was crowned conference champion in the weight throw. Before departing for this weekend’s NCAA Indoor Championship meet in Naperville, IL, the coach-thrower duo reflected on their historic achievement, their training approach and the team chemistry that makes their squad successful.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you describe how the weekend unfolded?
John Hepp: We knew it was going to be a good meet. We knew that we had a very talented team across the board, in all event areas. Ohio Wesleyan had won the last eight conference titles and we had been second [several] of those times. We were certainly, as a group, collectively very focused and determined on our end goal of winning a championship. The first day was great. We had conference champions and a couple people did some really big things. It gave us really good momentum going into the second day. The second day we kept that tone going in the morning with the field events. … It was easily the loudest and best energy I’ve ever experienced in that building, and that’s including my time as an athlete here. … All those hours of work, practices, lifting, everything else — you finally get to see something tangible at the end of the road, which is pretty special.
Ana Richardson: The only thing I have to add is, coming out of day one, we definitely had a large lead. But it was the tone of our team — everybody was ready to fight for our win. … We still felt that urge to go and get it and do it 100 percent, which is why I think we ended up beating them by 38 points. … We really stuck it out and went and got every point, and we earned it.
What was it like having the meet at home and being ranked No. 1 in the pre-championships poll?
AR: We actually talked about the poll as a team. We really took that as motivation for us to show up because we knew that was going to be fire for OWU. We wanted to use that as our own fuel to go and get it. When it comes to nerves, at least in the throwing program, we knew that we were going to come out and dominate, and we did.
JH: I think we have the best home-field advantage of any school in the conference. We knew that it was going to be exciting and loud and there would be great energy and a lot of people out to watch, but it was even better than any of us anticipated. It was incredible, and I think that lesser teams might have channeled those nerves differently, but as a group, both teams used it to our advantage.
How does friendly competition play a role on the team?
AR: On the women’s side, we obviously have a bit of competition with each other but we’re all there to cheer each other on and see each other throw at our best possible distances every time, even if that means you might lose to that person. If you’re going to beat someone, you want to beat them at their best. Everything we do is trying to get our own teammates to be their best. The type of competition we have definitely moves us forward. … Competition is not detrimental for us. It’s positive and we feed off of it.
JH: We have this incredible dynamic where, on the women’s side, you have three of the top 15 or 20 throwers in the country on the same team. The leadership from Ana and [junior] Monique [Newton] brings the other four [women’s throwers] along, which has been such a special thing to watch from my end. They’re being mentored and led by two very successful athletes and incredible leaders and people. That has made their learning curve that much less steep. It’s allowed that group to come together in a very special way. This weekend was the first time for the conference and for anyone who was there to actually see it on a big stage.
How did Oberlin end up with so much national-caliber talent?
JH: It’s a special thing to have so many talented people here at once, on the whole team. For me, it’s exciting that all of these people really appreciate what this place has to offer and what a special opportunity it is to be a student at Oberlin College. Their success on the track is a direct reflection of how happy and successful they are at the school. They love the school — that’s why they came — and they love track.
AR: I definitely think what got me here was realizing that Oberlin had something unique. It offers me a way to get ahead and do things that I love in a serious way. … I don’t think I’ve ever been given such a great opportunity in my life, to come to such a selective school and do these things and meet people I never thought I’d meet. What got me here was the ability to explore.
Coach Hepp, what experience do you hope to impart on your athletes? Ana, what do you hope to take from your college athletics experience?
JH: You have very few chances in your life, especially at this young age, where you get to do every single thing you want to do. This school gives you the opportunity to do that, whether you’re a student-athlete or not. Your success in life is, in a lot of ways, predicated on the opportunities you have. When you come to Oberlin College, you’re going to have more opportunities, I think, than you would at any other school in the country. It gets me very excited, very emotional to think of all the incredible things that our student-athletes are doing and what that means they’ll be able to do down the road and for the rest of their lives. … The lessons that our athletes learn are more satisfying to me than any athletic accomplishment.
AR: I think what I’ve already gotten from my experience is really leaning into things that are uncomfortable, both in sports and school. I remember entering Intro Chemistry and thinking that I didn’t belong there and wasn’t prepared. But now, making it through that class and going further has made me so much stronger and better. “Maybe this just isn’t for me” — that kind of thing has been abolished from my thought process. Even with workouts, we do things where I think, “Maybe this is not for me.” But leaning into that — those are the things that really make you better.
Interview by Jackie McDermott,