The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa cross country welcomes decorated distance coach Shayla Houlihan

Houlihan’s first season with the Hawkeyes comes after earning 2021 Big West Cross Country Coach of the Year.
Theodore Retsinas
The Iowa men’s cross country team competes during the Hawkeye Invitational at Ashton Cross-Country Course in Iowa City, on Friday, Sep. 1, 2023. The Iowa men’s team won the invite with the women coming in second second.

The Iowa cross country program has a new addition to its coaching roster this year in decorated distance coach Shayla Houlihan.

Houlihan joined the team’s staff on Aug. 8 as an assistant coach with a focus on the distance athletes and assistant director of operations.

Her love for cross country and track and field first developed years before as a high school, college, and professional runner.

After beginning her career on the East High School cross country team in Sioux City, Iowa, Houlihan spent four years running at the University of Northern Iowa.

While pursuing her master’s degree, she returned for a fifth year at the University of Utah. During her time there, she set a new school record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Then Houlihan went pro.

In her professional career, she competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. But, it was around this time she felt the pull to return to her passion for coaching college athletes.

“The impact you can make on college-aged kids is incredible,” Houlihan said.

Her experience comes on every level, from high school to professional. She draws back on these experiences to teach her athletes the lessons she learned as a runner.

“I wasn’t a superstar in high school or college,” Houlihan recalled. “I saw glimpses of greatness, but the biggest thing I learned is that if you stick with it, you will get better.”

That mindset has continued to guide Houlihan through her career as a coach.

While coaching for the University of California Santa Barbara, Houlihan earned 2021 Big West Cross Country Coach of the Year after becoming the first woman to win a conference championship.

Now, Houlihan hopes to inspire the Iowa women to create their own paths and find their own success. Not only does she aim to make the women better athletes, but she wants to make them better people.

Throughout the adjustment process, Houlihan has relied on the experience and expertise of Iowa cross country coach Randy Hasenbank, who has been the distance coach at Iowa for seven years.

“She fits in just like I expected she would,” Hasenbank said. “She’s very professional and has a lot of experience.”

Iowa cross country coach Randy Hasenbank was excited to welcome Houlihan to the program and said he couldn’t be happier with the adjustment.

“She and coach Hasenbank have been such a great duo,” fourth-year distance runner Amber Aesoph said. “I think she was just the missing piece in that way.”

Houlihan admires Hasenbank’s coaching style and passion for the sport.

“I simply like the way I can see how he makes his athletes feel,” Houlihan noted.

Houlihan has adopted a similar coaching style, which is individualized for each athlete and largely focused on mental strength.

“My goal is to get them to be the best version of themselves,” Houlihan said.

Between Houlihan’s coaching style and infectious energy, she is already making a huge impact on the team. The Hawkeye women, specifically Aesoph, have noticed the shift.

“She brings an element of excitement to the sport,” Aesoph said. “All the girls feel it.”

Houlihan is bringing all her coaching strong suits to the UI, from excitement to experience and heart.

“Ultimately, my passion lies with coaching,” Houlihan said. “It is what I was put on this planet to do.”

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About the Contributors
Mia Boulton
Mia Boulton, Sports Reporter
Mia Boulton is a freshman at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism & Mass Communication, as well as exploring a possible double major in Sports Media. She works at the Daily Iowan as a sports reporter. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Mia has been a photographer for her hometown newspaper, The Record.
Theodore Retsinas
Theodore Retsinas, Photojournalist
Theodore Retsinas is a freshman at the University of Iowa studying Neuroscience.