NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The progression from standout athlete to coach always felt natural for Kate Bucknam, the Belmont cross country and track and field teams' latest hire. She wanted to be involved even when she was half a rake tall and tending to the University of Northern Iowa's long jump pit.
"She'd say, 'Dad what's the hardest job as a track official?'" remembered Chris Bucknam, Kate's father and the former head coach at UNI. "'Well, I want to do that.'"
Long after those days in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Bucknam arrived at Belmont this summer to join veteran program director Jeff Langdon's staff. As assistant coach, she will oversee the training of the Bruin men's and women's cross country teams as well as those running the distance events during the track season.
The fall of 2017 marks her second year of coaching after a brief stint as an assistant last year at Syracuse, where she initially went to finish a master's degree and work as a graduate assistant coach. Instead the opportunity for a full-time coaching position arose.
"Growing up watching my dad, interacting with his athletes and going to meets my whole life – the typical track rat – it's just something I've always wanted to do," Bucknam said of her transition into the world of coaching.
Bucknam is no stranger to Nashville either. Her final year of NCAA competition came at Lipscomb University where she transferred as a redshirt senior. She had graduated from Big Ten Conference program Minnesota with a degree in kinesiology in 2015 with a year of eligibility remaining.
She specialized in the distance races during her competitive days, most commonly running the 1,500 and 3,000-meter steeplechase during the outdoor track season and the mile and 3K during indoor races. She placed 11th at the 2015 Big Ten Championships in the 3,000 steeplechase.
Her years at the track – both as an athlete and an observer – will now give her a boost in the coaching world.
"She knows way more at 24 years old than I could ever have known," laughed her father Chris, now at the University of Arkansas where he is an 18-time SEC Coach of the Year. "All the experiences she had at the track put her way ahead of the curve."
And she'll couple that with strong communication skills with her athletes.
"I don't have a lot of coaching experience, but I was recently in these kids' position of getting ready for a season and camp," Bucknam explained. "My biggest strength is my experience as a runner. Being able to relate to them is very important."
Coach Langdon has already seen that beginning to pay off as his teams arrived on campus earlier this month for the fall semester of competition. Bucknam has added a spark.
"I think she brings a little bit of a competitive edge with her that the guys and girls are really going to respond well to," Langdon said.
She fits in well, too, on a coaching staff that includes associate head track coach Cameron Harvey and fellow assistant Joe Frye. Her background in steeplechase will help the Bruins improve in an event in which they've also struggled recently, Langdon said.
"She really gets Belmont," the head coach continued. "She understands the positive environment we're creating and she's all in on how we go about business here."
The Bruins open their 2017 cross country campaign at home this week, hosting the Belmont Opener on Saturday at Percy Warner Park in Nashville.