In the summer of 2019, one of the NCAA's most significant coaching changes of the decade took place.
Chris Miltenberg, who had previously been the head of Stanford's cross country and track and field programs, decided to leave Palo Alto to join the Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
The move sent shockwaves throughout the collegiate running community, specifically on the distance side.Miltenberg was known as a masterful recruiter who had achieved grand success during his time at both Georgetown and Stanford. His ability to construct elite-level rosters has been a marquee aspect of his career and reputation as a coach.
That's why it was no surprise that he was able to recruit the likes of Grant Fisher, Elise Cranny, Sean McGorty, Ella Donaghu, Caitlin Collier, the Rosa twins, Christina Aragon, and plenty of other high school greats to join the Cardinal.
But Miltenberg's departure to the opposite side of the country was surprising for a handful of reasons, the biggest being that he was primed for major success in the fall of 2019. In his wake, he left behind a strong, talent-infused roster which offered stability and consistent national relevance.
Clearly, the new Tar Heel head coach saw something more than just a change in scenery with his new program.
He likely saw opportunity.
Admittedly, UNC's distance programs have struggled to eclipse the upper-half of a loaded Atlantic Coastal Conference over the past few years. Since 2015, the men's cross country program has finished no better than sixth place at the ACC Cross Country Championships while the women's team has placed no better than fifth. Both the men's and women's teams have each finished in the bottom half of the conference four of the past five years.
Needless to say, there was (and still is) plenty of room to improve.
Things are still in the development stage at Chapel Hill as the program continues to adjust and acclimate to the coaching tendencies and training methods of the former Stanford virtuoso. Even so, there have been promising results.
Morgan Ilse has emerged as one of the better distance runners in the ACC over the past year and Georgetown graduate transfer Paige Hofstad has thrived in her new environment. As for the men, veterans such as Alex Milligan and Brandon Tubby have shown promise in the middle distance events, specifically in the 1500 meters.
All of those names are helping move the UNC program forward, but progress is best when you start from the ground up. In this case, that means bringing in top-level recruits.
So far, Miltenberg has had a plethora of exceptional high school distance running talents commit to join the Tar Heels on both the men's and women's sides. In theory, these incoming recruits could vault North Carolina into national relevance given the proper development over the next few years.