Ex-Spartan takes over Sweet Home track program

Scott Swanson

Alysson Bodenbach may have some big-time credentials, but she’s looking to take a low-key approach as she assumes leadership of the Sweet Home track and field program.

Bodenbach, 25, a former sprinter at Michigan State University, where she was a member of the school record-breaking 4×400 relay team, was recently named head coach of the program, replacing Billy Snow, who is edging toward retirement.

It will be a new experience for her, she said last week, but it won’t be the first one.

In fact, her previous head coaching job was at Topeka High School in Kansas, where she found herself in a “very large school with a super-underdeveloped track program” in a “low-income, high-crime” area.

Two years later, she had the state champion 4×100 girls relay team and was sending seven of her athletes to college.

“It went very well,” said Bodenbach, who likes a challenge.

“I’ve always liked doing things other people didn’t, events like hurdling, that others would complain about.”

That would be the 300 hurdles, which aren’t the most popular event in high school track.

At Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township, Mich., a “desirable” suburb of Detroit where she was born and raised, she set six school records in sprint events at a school that was significantly larger than Sweet Home.

“I graduated with probably more people than there are at the high school now,” she said. The area was rapidly growing, she said, and her high school split off the ninth grade into a separate school when she was a senior.

Bodenbach competed in the short sprints, long jump, 300 hurdles and the high jump as a high schooler – “and all the relays.”

She also played basketball and ran cross-country.

“I was on the roster one year,” she said of the latter.

She made the state meet all four years. “I was pretty fast.”

Colleges came calling, but she suffered some injuries as a senior and had to bow out of the state championships with a double stress fracture.

“Recruiting became kind of a big issue,” she said.

She decided to take Michigan State up on its offer to be a “preferred walk-on.”

“I’d get a better education there and track was a bonus. Who wouldn’t want to run for a big school?”

Bodenbach red-shirted her first year and coaches decided she should focus on the 400.

“Pretty much, when I got to college, they said, ‘The 400 is your baby.’

“The 400 was a good challenge for me. I really enjoyed the work that came with it. The workouts were really intense. I always felt like I’d accomplished something when I was done.”

She made the school’s 4×400 team, which qualified for the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, where they ran 3:37.82, a school record.

Bodenbach also won a Big Ten indoor title in the 600 that year, running 1:29.45. Her fastest 400 was 53.63 and she clocked 24.78 in the 200 and 2:10.25 in the 800.

She graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2013 after having earned Academic All-Big 10 honors all four years she competed.

She’d planned to become a college track coach, but her fiancé was going to law school and, Bodenbach said, she decided the relationship was more important than a job in college track, which would be demanding on her time on weekends.

She wound up at Kansas, where she earned a master’s degree in sports psychology while coaching at Topeka for two years.

She also started a business based on her two dogs, Spot, a Dalmation, and Emma, a German shorthaired pointer, Lots of Spots Bakery and Boutique. She sells collars, bow ties, detachable collar flowers, scarves, bandanas and treats – all for dogs. Her dogs model the goods at her etsy site, http://www.etsy.com/shop/LotsofSpotsBoutique.

“I’m very crafty. I make everything. I wanted to put my skills to use.”

Now she’s focusing on taking over a track program that’s been led for more than 20 years by Snow, who will remain, joining a veteran group of assistants.

“They’ve been around for a while. That’s really comforting to know,” Bodenbach said, noting that wasn’t the case at Topeka, where it was a revolving door of assistants.

“This is different than I’m used to. I told them they will be as helpful to me as I will be to them,” she said of her new staff. “That’s not a joke.”

She said she is impressed with the size of the program, nearly 100 athletes last year.

“I want the kids to have a smooth transition. I don’t want to come in and change everything. I want them to find the joy in track and field and hopefully be successful at it.”

Bodenbach said she’s noticed her achievements at Michigan State have earned her credibility with young athletes she’s coached.

“They tend to see me as a role model,” she said. “I take that very personally.”