Coach profile: Donner leads women’s cross country to PL title

Bethany Blass, Sports Co-Editor

Fifteen-year Bison veteran Kevin Donner doubles as the head coach for both the men’s and women’s cross country and track and field teams. Having recently led the women’s team to a victory at the Patriot League Championship, Donner has kept the Orange and Blue among the top programs in the East.

The 26-time Patriot League Coach of the Year started his running career on the high school track team after being cut from the baseball team. Additionally, he joined the cross country team when his high school football career didn’t pan out. After joining, he found that he loved the team culture and camaraderie, so he decided to walk on at the University of Detroit where he ran for four years.

In 1984, the year Donner graduated from the University of Detroit, his alma mater started a women’s cross country program. Donner’s former coach was not interested in taking on the women’s team as an additional responsibility to coach, so he offered Donner the opportunity to be the first women’s head coach for the program. Donner accepted, intending to try it out for a season before getting a “real” job.

“When the year ended, we had some nice success, so I decided to do it for another year and picked up some other part-time jobs to make ends meet. Well, 32 years later, and here I am,” Donner said.

His coaching journey started at the University of Detroit, where the track and field team continued to expand for the next several decades. He acquired full-time jobs at Central Michigan University from 1993-95 as an assistant before taking on the head coach position at Saint Francis University, where Donner looked to the Bison as a model program, contributed to rebuilding a program, and bred a few All-Americans and an Olympian.

The University welcomed Donner to the program as head coach through an extensive national search just a few months after legendary head coach Art Gulden unexpectedly passed away. In Donner’s first season at the University in 2001, multiple athletes qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships under his watch.

For the second year in a row, the women’s cross country team has nabbed a victory at the Patriot League Championship. Beyond its own conference, the team is looking to compete on a national scale. Having defeated teams like Clemson, University of Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech, the Bison are close to breaking top-30 nationwide.

Despite a fifth-place finish at Championships, the men’s team has had a solid season.

“These guys are very hard workers, and none of them are getting any kind of merit scholarship, so they are doing this for the love of the sport and have been having some success in beating many scholarship schools,” Donner said.

Now a well-established and successful program, the women’s and men’s cross country and track and field teams boast multiple indoor and outdoor championship titles. In his balance of coaching both men’s and women’s teams, Donner recognizes that each program has its own goals and missions.

“It gets really challenging when one of the programs is having success while the other might be struggling,” Donner said.

He and the other coaches try to keep an even temperament and avoid getting overemotional about the successes and failures.

“We need to always keep the programs student-centered and take care of the student-athletes’ welfare first and foremost,” Donner said.

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