1999 marks Michelle Byrne’s third year as Gary Winckler’s assistant in charge of the University of Illinois cross country team. Her main responsibilities are to develop the middle distance and distance programs.
Byrne is looking to this season to be a pivotal one in the continued development of the Illini cross country squad. She has been a part of some of the most successful distance and cross country programs over the last decade and brings that championship-level experience to Illinois. Under her guidance, the Illini are poised to make a run at the top half of the conference this year.
The 1998 season was marred by injuries and adversity, as the team lost its top runner, Danielle Fonzino, prior to the season. The Illini finished eighth at the Big Ten meet and in the lower half of the District Championships. But Junior Tara Mendozza had a break-out season, culminating in a 19th place finish at the district meet, the first top 20 finish by an Illlinois runner since 1994.
Under Byrne in 1997, the Illinois cross country squad enjoyed one of its most successful seasons in recent history, placing sixth at the Big Ten meet while along the way picking up two first-place finishes at regular season invitationals. The Illini women also cracked the NCAA District V Top-10 rankings following consecutive solid performances to open the season. They closed the season with a ninth-place finish at the NCAA District V Meet, the highest finish for Illinois at that meet in four years.
Prior to coming to Illinois, Byrne served as the head womenUs track and field coach at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). While there, Byrne led ETSU to the school’s first-ever Southern Conference Indoor Championship in 1995 and the conference outdoor title in 1996. She also guided the Lady Bucs to second-place finishes at the 1996 Southern Conference Indoor Championships and the 1996 conference cross country championships. Byrne earned Southern Conference Outdoor Coach of the Year honors in 1996 and was the conference’s Co-Coach of the Year for the 1995 indoor season.
Before being named head coach, Byrne was an assistant coach for the men and women at East Tennessee State from 1992-95. An excellent evaluator of talent, Byrne was the head recruiter for both the men’s and women’s track and cross country teams at ETSU. In 1992, the ETSU men’s team won the cross country conference title and made an appearance at the NCAA championships. From 1992-95 the men’s and women’s program enjoyed constant success at the conference level and beyond as ETSU established itself as a powerhouse within the Southern Conference.
During Byrne’s five years at East Tennessee State, several Bucs achieved individual honors. Under Byrne, Michelle Gregg qualified for the NCAA 800m on two occasions and Mary Jo Ferrigan provisionally qualified for the 10,000m. In 1995, Jeff Horton earned All-America honors in the 55 meters while Shelli Clendenon earned All-America accolades in the heptathlon. In addition to over two dozen conference champions, Byrne coached a number of NCAA qualifiers including Delevantie Brown, a hurdles specialist who placed third in the event at the 1996 Jamaica Olympic Trials.
Byrne graduated from the University of Arkansas with a B.S. in Administrative Management in 1989. She was a member of the Razorbacks’ nationally ranked cross country squads from 1984-87. Byrne played a major role as her team finished ninth at the 1987 NCAA Cross Country Championships, 10th at the 1986 championships and 13th at the 1984 meet.
Following graduation, Byrne worked as a graduate assistant coach for Arkansas from 1989-92. While in Fayetteville, Byrne helped coach the distance runners and was involved with recruiting. Byrne joined with Lady TBack head coach Lance Harter in guiding the Arkansas cross country team to a NCAA second place finish in 1991 and a sixth place finish in 1990. The squad also won the SEC title in 1991.
A native of Dublin, Ireland, Byrne was ranked as one of the top Irish junior cross country runners and ran for the Irish distance team from 1981-83.
Gary Winckler on Byrne:
"Michelle has been working really hard to bring our cross country team up to a level of competitiveness with the top of the Big Ten conference. She’s made some great strides towards that goal and will continue the development in 1999."