Last year, Nancy Christiansen was like any other mother whose children were participating in high school athletics.
With her sons, Matthew and Will running cross country for Starkville Academy, Christiansen frequently attended the Volunteers practices, watching on as her boys and the rest of the SA roster geared up for meets.
This season, Christiansen will return to SA practices and events, though in quite a different role.
No longer will she be simply Matthew and Will's mom, she'll be Coach Christiansen, a designation she took on courtesy of a little prodding.
"As (SA athletic director Glenn Schmidt) put it at the athletic booster meeting the other day, I only have one arm left," said Christiansen. "Because she twisted the other one off."
Christiansen takes over the Vols program after Susan Willard's one year at the top last season.
While Willard elected to step down due to personal reasons, Christiansen said the former SA coach will still be involved during the 2011 campaign, providing ideas and support.
Willard's help is certainly welcome by Christiansen, whose roster begins the 2011 schedule today with their first meet – the Jackson Academy Invitational at Choctaw Trails in Clinton.
"We're on our fourth week of practices, so I'm hoping we're ready for (today)," said Christiansen. "We've come a long way since our first practice. Then, I had kids struggling to make it a mile and now, they are making it three and four miles without any trouble."
In Christiansen's eyes, it looks to be a promising year for the SA program. The Vols' new leader says she has quite an exciting mix of veteran runners and first-timers that should make an impact.
"We've got some runners who are very experienced," said Christiansen. "We've got Austin White, a senior, who we expect to do really well, and we've got several new runners.
"I think our new runners have already come a long way and will be good. The season doesn't end for another two months and by the time we get to that point, they are all going to be seasoned runners."
For now though, it's those rookie runners that Christiansen is the most worried about during today's meet at Choctaw Trails.
"It's going to be quite an experience for them," said Christiansen. "The final, I think probably 100 yards, is an uphill run. I've been trying to explain to (the newcomers) that running hills would be a good idea for them, but they're going to figure that out."
Fortunately for all of Christiansen's new runners, there are quite a few talented Vols to look to for leadership.
Aside from White on the boys side, Christiansen said 8th grader Pierce Fondren is primed to have a big year.
Courtney Chesnut and Christa Wilburn will be looked to for successful seasons for the SA girls says Christiansen.
Chesnut and Wilburn highlight SA's roster of six girls, a number that excites Christiansen.
"You have to have five to compete as a team," said Christiansen. "The last several meets last year, we didn't have five (girls). This year, we feel certain we're going to have at least six all the way through."
As for the boys, SA boasts a roster of 11.
White is the lone senior for both the boys and girls.
Despite being heavily composed of runners that are either juniors or younger, Christiansen is excited for what her first year as coach holds.
"They did really well last year," said Christiansen. "We're really hoping to build off of that."