By Katie Clelland ’21
The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) Stags and Athenas cross-country programs recently welcomed Marina Muncan as their new head coach. Muncan comes to Claremont with over 14 years of coaching experience, most recently as the coach for women’s distance runners at Rutgers University for the last five years. Muncan also competed for the Serbian national team in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and was a finalist at the 2012 European Championships. She competed professionally with New Balance USA in Boston for six years, earning Serbian national records in both the 1500 meters (4:06.45) and the mile (4:31.16), and capturing the gold medal in the 1500 meters at the 2009 World University Games. The Scripps Office of Marketing and Communications recently interviewed Muncan to hear about her new role and future plans.
Marketing and Communications: What is your favorite aspect of your work?
Marina Muncan: Coaching is about people, commitment, loyalty, and relationships. As a collegiate coach my job is to be a teacher. It’s very fulfilling to see the growth in individuals athletically, mentally, and emotionally. Another favorite aspect of my job is the lifelong relationships I’ve forged through coaching. There is no greater joy for me than when my former athletes call me to share their news, ask for an advice, or just to catch up. I love it!
MC: What drew you to The Claremont Colleges community?
MM: Claremont truly is my dream job. It checks all the boxes that are important to me—top-notch academics, competitive Division III athletics, a welcoming close-knit community, and an ideal location for my family. We are only 1.5 hours away from our only relatives in the US, so it will be fun watching my kids grow much closer with their cousins.
MC: What are you most excited about for this new position?
MM: I am very excited to get to work with both the men’s and women’s teams. I appreciate the unique dynamic of a combined program.
MC: Tell us about your path to the 2012 Summer Olympic in London, where you competed for the Serbian national team. How has your experience as an Olympian shaped your coaching?
MM: Even though I represented Serbia at the Olympic Youth Camp in Sydney (2000), I never dreamed about competing at the Olympics until I saw my fellow competitors in college compete in Athens (2004). I missed qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics by two one hundredths of a second, so qualifying for London was a very special moment and it happened in a race where all my running worlds collided. But the most important thing through all of this was the people that I got to know through the sport. I often get asked if competing at the Olympic Games has made me a better coach. Being a good runner does not necessarily make me a good coach. However, competing at all levels exposed me to great coaches, great mentors, and great athletes that were all willing to share their wisdom and training tips with me through the years. I am still learning from my athletes right now.
MC: What are your goals as the new head coach of the CMS women’s and men’s cross-country programs in this virtual environment? How are you working with students to train during the pandemic?
MM: My goal is to stay connected, stay motivated, and keep growing during this time. It hasn’t been easy getting to know my team through Zoom, and it certainly hasn’t been easy on my team, either, so I try to do different things during our Zoom meetings to keep us connected and engaged. Some days, it’s playing games such as two truths and a lie, some days we just talk about anything and everything. The big hit was having former 5,000-meter American record holder Molly Huddle talk to my team about her struggles, her successes, and her tips on staying motivated. Another thing that the team did that I am proud of is not shying away from having difficult conversations, taking the initiative to organize antiracist workshops.
From an athletic standpoint, I understand that it’s hard to keep on training when there are no firm race dates on our calendars. This fall, to keep things interesting, we did inter-squad time trials. The most competitive one was a mixed marathon relay (the race is split into six legs which combine to make a marathon distance of 26.2 miles). From time to time, I remind my team that our sport is about adapting and consistency, that 2021 is won in 2020. I also remind them that it’s okay if they aren’t excited every day about training, but that thinking about their “why” will help them get out the door on those hard days. And if they do miss a few days, I tell them that all is not lost; to get back on the horse and resume training.
MC: What is a fun fact about you?
MM: After high school, I took a gap year before going to college to learn English in order to take the SAT and TOEFL tests. Most of my studying was done through watching American television shows with subtitles. My go-to shows at that time were Friends and Baywatch.