BY MICHAEL KELLY
When July comes to a close, Niskayuna native Jennifer Potter will be in the midst of taking on one of the most thrilling challenges of her coaching career.
The 1988 graduate of Niskayuna High School is one of the assistant coaches for this year’s USA Track & Field women’s team entry at the 2015 Pan American Junior Athletics Championships, specializing in instructing in the jumps and combined events.
The championships are set for July 31 to Aug. 2 in Edmonton, Alberta. The event brings together top track and field athletes from the Americas who are no older than 19.
“You have to apply to coach on any world team staff, which is basically any USA team that involves international competition,” Potter said. “I’ve applied once before to do it.”
Potter’s day job is coaching the Ithaca College women’s track and field program, for which she competed before graduating from the school in 1992. While competing for Ithaca, Potter earned All-American status with her 4×400-meter relay team and twice qualified for the national championships in the 400-meter hurdles.
Potter started as Ithaca College’s coach in 2004 after coaching stints at Central Michigan University, SUNY Cortland, Hartwick College and Marshall University.
At Ithaca, Potter has helped build one of the nation’s top Division III programs. Ithaca competes in the Empire 8, and Potter has been the league’s Coach of the Year 19 times — nine times for the indoor season, 10 for the outdoor. She has coached more than 30 All-Americans while guiding her squads to 22 league titles in 24 indoor and outdoor seasons.
Those credentials helped Potter land a spot with the coaching crew at the Pan American Junior Athletics Championships. Typically, Division I coaches are favored for the positions, and Potter said she is excited for the chance to learn from her peers.
“To work side by side with great coaches and learn from them, there’s a lot of great opportunities for me with this opportunity,” Potter said.
Your Niskayuna recently caught up with Potter:
Q: When did you decide you wanted to pursue coaching as a career?
A: I consider myself a track and field dork. I’ve always wanted to be a track coach, even when I was back in middle school and high school. I’ve always been involved in track, from running to coaching.
Q: After you attended and competed for Ithaca College, was it always your plan to coach there?
A: It was the goal; my goal was to return to my alma mater and coach — and the opportunity came sooner than I had hoped. I had been coaching at Hartwick for maybe a year and the Ithaca job was offered to me and I declined. I didn’t feel like I was ready and prepared yet for it. Since it was my alma mater, I had very high standards and wanted to get more experience. I was hopeful the job would come around again, and (a few years later in 2004) it did.
Q: You’ve coached 24 seasons between indoor and outdoor track and field, and your squads have won 22 titles. Was success like that expected when you took control of the program?
A: We’ve been pretty successful, especially more recently. The past five or six years, my goal was to elevate our program to a different level. We’ve always been successful at women’s track and field, but not nationally as a team, so my goal has been to bring us to that national level. This past year, we had eight girls at the national meet and we had one national champion.
Q: Were you surprised to land a coaching spot with Team USA?
A: There’s a lot of coaches who want to do this, and most often it is Division I coaches, former Division I coaches, or Olympic athletes [who get the positions], so it’s pretty competitive. . . . The board of trustees for USA Track & Field has to approve you, there’s background checks, and then I was notified officially in March that I had been selected.
Q: What’s the best part about spending some of your summer with the team?
A: I just love the sport and want to be involved as much as I can.