As Director and Head Coach of Columbia’s entire Cross Country and Track & Field program, Willy Wood can boast a level of achievement that few can approach.
Since Wood came to Columbia in 1994, he has made the Columbia Cross Country and Track & Field program competitive at the national level. Utilizing the resources of a great university in a city well-suited for track & field and distance running, he and a perennially strong staff have made Columbia a household name in track & field and cross country circles across the nation.
In 19 years under Wood’s leadership, the Columbia men and women’s cross country programs have become one of the Ivy League’s best, and are respected nationwide. Wood and his staff have since set their sights on indoor and outdoor track & field, which have made tremendous strides in recent years.
The 2013-14 season began with one of the best starts in program history.The Lions had brilliant fall cross country season as the men’s team put together an impressive run to capture his fourth Ivy League Heptagonal Championship title, an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships with a runner-up finish at the Northeast Regionals, and a program best national ranking of No. 8.
In 2012, the Columbia women's track & field team shined the brightest to win its first Ivy League Heptagonal Indoor Track & Field Championship in school history. The Lions totaled 124 team points to run away with the championship title behind a slew of standout performances.
All the while, Columbia’s cross country teams have continued to flourish.The Lions capped a sensational season with a 17th place overall finish at the 2012 National Cross Country Championships. For the first time in program history, the Lions posted a top-20 finish on the nation's ultimate stage with a team total of 439 points.
This achievement came just weeks after the Columbia men's cross country team made program history at the 2012 NCAA Northeast Regionals in Madison, Connecticut. The Lions placed four runners in the top-15 for a team total of 72 points to capture second place and an automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Cross Country National Championships.
The women’s cross country team has won the Ivy League Heptagonal championship four times in the past decade, and was joined by the men’s team twice, in 2004 and 2009. Representatives of the women’s team competed in six consecutive NCAA Championships from 2000-05, finishing 11th in 2002 and 13th in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Columbia won the 2002 NCAA Northeast Regionals, and finished second from 2003-2005. In 2013, the Lion women also won their 16th consecutive Metropolitan Cross Country Championship; the men have won 11 of the last 16 Mets crowns.
The coaching of Wood and his staff has resulted in several individual Ivy League champions in cross country in recent years, and 65 Ivy League titles in track & field in the past five years. There have been more than 70 qualifiers for the NCAA Track & Field Championships in the last eight years, including Sharay Hale ‘12CC, who advanced to the national semifinals of the 400m run and ended the 2010 season as an All-American. Her time of 52.45 at the 2010 NCAA East Regional was a new school record, and the 11th fastest time in the nation in 2010.
Wood has also guided his athletes in two of the most exciting races in Ivy League track & field history. In 2010, Wood coached Kyle Merber ‘12CC to become only the second athlete in Ivy League history to break four minutes in the mile indoors. Merber won the event at the Columbia Last Chance Meet in a time of 3:58.52, improving on his lifetime best by four seconds. The mark was a new school record, and broke the Ivy League record of 3:58.70, which was set in 1991 by Princeton's Bill Burke. That time was well below the NCAA automatic qualification of 3:59.00, and gave Merber the seventh fastest mile time in the entire nation.
Wood’s athletes also made history just a few years prior. At the 2007 Penn Relays, Columbia 4x800m relay team of Jonah Rathbun ‘08CC, Mike Mark ‘10CC, Erison Hurtault ‘07CC and Liam Boylan-Pett ‘08CC won the Championship of America race. It was the first time the Lions had won a title at the Relays since 1938, and it marked the first victory for an Ivy League institution at the prestigious event since 1974.
Wood is credited with the development of some of Columbia’s finest all-time athletes. They include: five-time All-American Caroline Bierbaum ‘06CC, the Honda Award winner as the nation’s leading cross country runner of 2005; NCAA outdoor steeplechase All-American Delilah DiCrescenzo ‘05CC, who made it to the finals of the steeplechase at the US Olympic Trials in 2008; Casey O’Shea ‘96CC, an All-American who competed in the Olympic Trials in the 3000-meter steeplechase; Lisa Stublic ‘05CC, who gained All-American honors in cross country; Caitlin Hickin ‘04CC, a two-time All-American in cross country; and 2004 graduate Steve Sundell. Sundell made All-American in both cross country and the 5000 meters outdoors. The 2003 Heptagonal Ivy League champion, Sundell also took Ivy League championships in the 3000 and 5000 indoors, and 5000 outdoors.
Wood has also added two Olympians to his resume: Lisa Stublic ‘05CC and Erison Hurtault ‘07CC. Stublic qualified for the 2012 Olympics in September of 2010, when she finished the Berlin marathon in 2:33.42. That time, good for ninth overall, beat the Olympic ‘A’ standard by more than three seconds. Stublic made history as Croatia’s first-ever female Olympic marathon runner. Her time also set a new Croatian record by six minutes. She now holds Croatian records in the 3000m steeplechase, the 500m, the half-marathon and the marathon.
Hurtault, a two-time All-American and 11-time Ivy League champion, became the first athlete in Ivy League track and field history to win the Ivy League championship in one event — the 400 meters — all four years, both indoor and outdoors. Hurtault had competed successfully in the 400m during 2007-08, but just missed the finals of the Olympic Trials. He competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, representing Dominica, a Caribbean nation where both of his parents were born.
Wood joined the Columbia athletics staff in 1994. Prior to his arrival in Morningside Heights, he served as head coach of the University of North Carolina-Asheville’s track & field and cross country programs. He was named the Big South Conference’s Coach of the Year for cross country in 1993, after leading the men’s team from eighth to third, and the women’s team from seventh to second, in each case the team’s best finish.
Prior to Asheville, Wood was head men and women’s track coach at Bethel College in Minnesota, where, in just two years, he produced eight NCAA Division III national qualifiers, two All-Americans, and a seventh-place finish at the 1992 NCAA Division III Women’s Indoor Championships.
He served one season as head coach at Kansas Wesleyan University, where he led both the cross country and track & field teams from eighth place to a Kansas College Athletic Conference title, and was chosen the KCAC Coach of the Year in both sports.
Wood earned his master’s in physical education while serving as a graduate assistant coach at Pittsburg (Kansas) State University. Wood earned his undergraduate degree in 1986 from the University of Kansas, where he was All-Big Eight in the 200 meters, the 4x400m relay and the distance medley relay. He attended Taylor University in Indiana for two years, earning NAIA All-America honors twice in the 200-meter dash. He broke 12 Taylor records in events ranging from the 50m to the 500m, as well as several relays. Wood narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic Trials in 1992. He has run personal bests of 20.9 seconds in the 200m, 10.2 for 100m, and a 46.9 for the 400m.
Wood is the father of two daughters, Taelor and Hanna. They reside in Morningside Heights.