BREAKING NEWS AT GRINNELL-Sarah Burnell selected to lead Grinnell cross country programs

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GRINNELL, Iowa – Sarah Burnell ’14, a standout runner and 2020 Athletics Hall of Fame inductee at Grinnell College, will take over as coach of the Pioneer cross country teams this summer.

Burnell currently is assistant cross country and track and field coach at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., where she also serves as a department instructor. Prior to that, she served as assistant coach at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and Grinnell.

Burnell will take over the Pioneer programs from Evelyn and Will Freeman, who are retiring this summer after 40 years of service to the College.

“Throughout our search process Sarah distinguished herself as a top candidate for the position of head men’s and women’s cross country coach,” said Andy Hamilton ’85, Grinnell’s Director of Athletics and Recreation. “During her interviews with groups and individuals all around campus, she consistently communicated messages about how she would lead our programs with a focus on the student-athlete experience. I am delighted to have Sarah coming back to contribute to our very strong history of great distance running at Grinnell. Further, her values about combining an excellent academic experience with high-quality athletics bodes well for our future.”

Burnell’s professional experience goes well beyond coaching, though. The Grinnell native served as assistant director of alumni relations at Otterbein and at Grinnell held many roles, from campus visits/events coordinator to coordinator of commencement and conferences. 

“I’m thrilled to be returning to Grinnell,” said Burnell. “The college, town and cross country/track programs hold a very special place in my heart. As a proud alumna, I am honored to have the opportunity to give back to the institution and programs that gave me so much and helped me find my passion. I’m excited to build upon the legacy and accomplishments of the running programs and to work with the students and the college community to continue developing a really special student-athlete experience. I truly believe the cross country and track programs have the pieces in place to become two of the best Division III running programs.”

Burnell majored in anthropology at Grinnell and will attain a master’s degree in exercise and sport science from Smith in May. She holds certificates in ASEP coaching and USATF track and field coaching. 

As a cross country runner and mid-distance specialist in track at Grinnell, Burnell consistently found success at conference and national levels. In cross country, she was a two-time Midwest Conference champion, four-time all-conference honoree and two-time participant in the NCAA National Championships. In track, Burnell was a multi-time conference champion in the 800, mile, 1500 and 4×400 relay and qualified for the NCAA National Indoor and Outdoor Championships in 2014. Her third-place finish in the indoor mile and fourth-place finish in the outdoor 1500 earned her All-America honors in both events in her final year as a Pioneer. 

As of 2020, she still held MWC outdoor records in the 1500 and 4×400 relay. Burnell, who was given the Joyce Buck ’56 Award for top athlete at Grinnell in more than one sport in 2014, currently holds Pioneer records in five different events and is among the top four in four others. 

“I’m very excited to partner with Sarah as we look to build upon the successful foundations of the cross country and track and field programs at Grinnell,” said Jeff Pedersen ’02, who will take over Pioneer track and field coaching duties this summer. “It’s a great time to be a Pioneer.”

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