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Hillenbrand and Macumber's paths to success embody cross country team 'under construction'

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At one point this offseason while Edrick Floreal was interviewing candidates to take over as men's distance coach, one of the team's top runners - Matt Hillenbrand - was calling his head coach every other day to see how the search was going.

"For a while there I was thinking, 'At least he wasn't calling me every day,' but then I found out the days he wasn't calling me he was talking to women's distance coach Hakon DeVries about the search," Floreal said. "But it shows just how much he cares about our program. You want to have people who are invested in the program.

"I'm glad we hired Coach Sean Graham to work directly with our men's distance runners because now Matt can blow up Graham's phone instead of mine. I admired that Matt takes ownership of our program because we are trying to build something where we talk about our team, not my or your team."

Hillenbrand's hands-on approach very much embodies the commitment Floreal and his staff asked of the team upon arriving in Lexington late in the summer of 2012. Some Wildcats showed results right away, while others, like Hillenbrand, took time to perform up to their abilities.

This article appears in the UK vs. Alabama football game 0rogram. UK vs. Alabama football game programs are available inside Commonwealth Stadium.
Floreal's team had to buy in. Such was the first message Floreal delivered to the Wildcats upon meeting them. Some just took longer to do so than others.

At the forefront of buying in, and as such experiencing stellar results, was Cally Macumber. The women's distance standout embraced a new training plan under DeVries, she began running times she had never ever considered when setting goals before the season and eventually she won the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Southeast Region Championships before continuing a great year in track.

"Starting out as a freshman in college, who couldn't break five minutes in the mile and couldn't run under 2:17 in the 800, I definitely would not have thought that things would have progressed the way they did," Macumber said. "Going into college you really have no idea what to expect, but each year your standards and goals change and mine definitely changed for the better last year. Coming into last cross country season with an entirely new coaching staff and an entirely new training plan there was an adjustment period. However, once we all got the hang of things I started to feel better and stronger than I ever had - we all did."

Hillenbrand too, saw improved results, but they didn't come as quickly as they did for Macumber. Instead he experienced a great deal of trial and error before seeing the desired results.MH-.jpg

"Some people on the team got a grasp of everything and made a quick turnaround and that's really what you want," Floreal said. "With some people it took a little bit. We tried a few things with Matt, including some longer distances and a little bit of steeplechase. Having a guy that will try everything to get to the next level is they type of person you want.

"Later in the season he really turned things around when he decided to showcase how talented he was. He helped the team in numerous ways. It's credit to his work ethic, and his belief in the process."

Hillenbrand was a middle-of-the pack finisher for most of the 2012 cross country season, and those types of results continued into the 2013 indoor track season. All throughout, he was experimenting at different distances while adjusting to a higher-volume training regimen under the new coaching staff.

The work began to pay dividends at the Indoor SEC Championships. In the Mile Final, Hillenbrand surged on the last straightaway of Arkansas' 200-meter track to knock off the defending conference champion from the powerhouse hosts, and claim a photo-finish SEC title. The win was the first in a string of strong results, which culminated in outdoor All-America status. More broadly the win meant a realization that goals which may have seemed impossible when initially proposed by the new coaches months earlier were in fact within grasp.

Hillenbrand's success continued into the outdoor season when he qualified for the NCAA Championships for the first time in his career, where he was named an All-American at 1,600 meters.

Macumber and Hillenbrand have continued to progress into the early stages of the 2013 cross country season. The two are part of a small group of Wildcats that have experienced success in the first year and change under Floreal's leadership.

More is expected from more people. Additional numbers are needed to reach Floreal's ultimate goals for a program which encompasses six sports: men's and women's cross country, men's and women's indoor track and field and men's and women's outdoor track and field.

Floreal's first recruiting class made up of 49 athletes - with 55 individual high school state titles, 17 college All-America honors and 16 college conference titles (from college transfers) divided among the class - says as much.

"I would probably define our team as 'under construction,' " Floreal said. "We spent most of our time developing our top-runners and integrating our freshmen.  We continue to test the foundation of the house we have spent the last few months building."

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