On most mornings, James Snyder blasts music from the cross country team’s equipment van and dances while his runners get ready for practice.
On other mornings, Temple University’s cross country coach pushes his runners through a grueling workout.
Snyder finds “the perfect balance” between being serious and being laid back, which guided the team to some of its best accomplishments in school history, junior Zach Seiger said.
The third-year head coach helped both the men and women’s teams finish in the top three of the American Athletic Conference championships in the past two seasons. The Owls will race in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional meet on Friday in State College, Pennsylvania.
The most recent U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll ranked Temple’s men as the sixth-best team in the region, marking their highest ranking in program history. The women stand at No. 8, one spot higher than their preseason ranking.
“He’s incredibly successful and knowledgeable, especially when you consider his age, how young he is,” Seiger said. “He’s able to utilize that in the recruiting process. When you’re at practice with him or you’re reading through your training with him, it seems like he’s been doing this for 30-40 years based on the skill that he has.”
Snyder graduated from George Mason University in 2009 and is in his ninth year coaching cross country. From George Mason, he went to Appalachian State University, where he earned his master’s degree in exercise science and served as a graduate assistant from 2010-12. Before coming to Temple in 2013, Snyder spent one year at Florida State University as the operations assistant for the cross country and track and field programs.
Snyder is a “goal-oriented” coach, Seiger said. He doesn’t hesitate to tell his runners what he expects of them. Usually, it’s a first-place finish.
Before the conference championships, he told the Owls he expected them to win the entire meet.
“It motivates us for sure,” senior Katie Leisher said. “We always say, ‘In Snyder we trust,’ because it’s his training. …We trust his training because at the end of the day, everything that he gives us, it works out.”
On the wall in Snyder’s office, there are two of his proudest accomplishments as a coach.
Next to the conference championship rings he won at Appalachian State is a large trophy for Temple men’s cross country team’s Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America Championship win last November, the first time in program history.
Snyder’s experience and winning past motivated the team to strive for a championship win, Seiger said.
In his first season as coach, one of the Owls biggest goals was to beat two teams –– St. Joseph’s and La Salle –– at the regional meet, junior Kevin Lapsansky said. This season they expect to beat all 27 men’s teams and 31 women’s teams on Friday.
Snyder was promoted to head coach before the 2016 season after three seasons as the assistant coach. Snyder strictly worked with the distance runners before 2016, so the cross country team was used to his coaching style.
“Snyder has recruited the right guys,” Lapsansky said. “The team’s work ethic and ability to work together is better than it has ever been. Him having the head coaching job over us clearly has helped us greatly if you look at how much better we have been getting.”
Temple doesn’t have a men’s track and field team, and cross country recruits often choose other schools because they want to participate in both cross country and track, Seiger said.
Nevertheless, Snyder recruits well, Leisher said.
“He has this special spark to him that really just grabs people and like potential athletes and he knows how to sell the program to other people,” she said. “He just has this characteristic about him that pulls you in and you’re interested.”
Snyder’s was in charge of recruiting databases at Florida State, which taught him how to recruit players at Temple.
Because of the Owls’ recent performance, the team has been in recruiting battles with “big-time schools,” Snyder said. He experienced recruiting battles at Florida State, he added, but they haven’t happened until recently at Temple.
“Now it’s about finding the right kids and getting into recruiting battles with schools [whose] programs are comparable to ours or better,” he said.