Head track and field coach and assistant cross country coach Chris Popovici was a multi-sport athlete before coming to Geneseo, where he transitioned to running cross country and track and field full time. Growing up in Pittsford, N.Y., he played basketball and cross-country skied in addition to running.
Popovici graduated from Pittsford-Sutherland High School in 2002. His path to Geneseo was far from a clear one.
“I actually considered going to some Division I track and field schools on scholarships,” Popovici said. “But my parents pushed for Geneseo pretty heavily because it was close to home.”
Within “about five minutes” after being recruited and meeting the team, Popovici said he felt at home. Everything seemed to fit perfectly.
“I realized this was a fun group of guys,” he said, “And that I could be pretty successful here in terms of my goals for the team and with my degree.”
Popovici said that running here helped him understand how best to take care of his body. The transition to running year-round took a toll on him, and he was sidelined with injuries a few times.
“It was a huge adjustment on my body and I had to learn how to take care of myself as an athlete,” Popovici said.
After dealing with overuse injuries, Popovici continued the success that he found as a freshman.
“Being injured made me more motivated for the next season and to come back a little bit better, because I knew I had more in me,” Popovici said.
He decided to return for a fifth year and go all in on track because it was important for him to not leave college on a sour note with the sport.
“All in all I was a conference champion and placed in the top three for the 800-meter a few times,” Popovici said.
Although he just missed Nationals, Popovici was still able to enjoy the competition. He and two other friends decided to road trip to watch their teammates compete in Nationals because it was the first time anyone in the program had qualified.
The next year their small group of three “fans” turned into an RV full of people. This tradition has carried on through today, where sometimes more than sixty students will travel to Nationals to watch their peers.
“To see that grow, knowing that I was in the first car, and watching them take it so far is just a cool thing,” Popovici said.
Other teams ask how Geneseo is able to motivate their athletes to drive that far, but the college doesn’t need to encourage them to go—they want to.
After graduating from Geneseo, Popovici coached at several different places, including Pittsford-Sutherland High School, SUNY Oneonta and SUNY Cortland. He also became the head coach for an independent track and field team before coming back to Geneseo.
Popovici did not always know that he wanted to coach, but he first became really interested in coaching while he was injured in college.
“I enjoyed having bigger role as a captain in terms of strategizing, but as I got injured, I had to learn more about training and how to stay healthy,” Popovici said.
Having been a Geneseo athlete himself, Popovici is able to understand the team culture and that helps his coaching. He knows what his athletes enjoy about the team as well as their complaints, especially when it comes to the terrain and the weather that is present here.
Popovici has seen how the program has grown. The entire track and field coaching staff consists of Geneseo alumni, so they all have the motivation to do their best because they want to maintain the team atmosphere that they loved so much. Coaching well is just one way they can pay it forward to this new generation of athletes.