Heather Van Norman came to Tulane in the summer of 2002 with a plan to build the Green Wave program while maintaining off-the-field excellence. After her first two years, her plan has proven to be a success as improvement is evident in all aspects of the Tulane track and field and cross country programs.
"My goals have not changed since I arrived," Van Norman said. "We will always strive to do our best, whether in a race, in practice or in the classroom; that is all I ever ask. Specifically we would like to make a run at the conference title. I am interested in seeing how many athletes qualify for the NCAA Regional and Championships. I certainly believe that we have the potential to be a lot better than what we were last year. However, in order to do that, everyone must buy into the system and persevere."
In just two years, Van Norman has overseen nine NCAA Regional appearances, including four by senior Jelena Jurlina, who advanced to the NCAA National Championships in the javelin (2003 and 2004) and the discus (2004). Sophomore Gloria Asumnu was named the Conference USA Indoor Track and Field Freshman of the Year in 2004, while Bessie Hatch and Tyler Chapman were named the Louisiana Freshmen of the Year for women's and men's cross country, respectively. In that time, Tulane student-athletes have earned all-conference recognition 72 times.
During her first season with the Green Wave, Van Norman focused on building team depth and recruiting. After finishing in sixth place at the Conference USA Indoor Championships and 10th at the Outdoor Championships in 2003, she demanded a greater commitment for 2004. That resulted in five wins in women's cross country, four in men's and jumps to fourth place at the 2004 Indoor Championship and fifth place at the outdoor championship. With just five seniors on the 2004 roster, the young Green Wave improved by nearly 50 points in the two league championships.
While developing the current members of the Green Wave program, Van Norman and her staff also work tirelessly on the recruiting trail. The incoming freshmen class is expected to be one of the best in program history.
"My philosophy is that recruiting is the life-blood of any successful athletic program," Van Norman said. "The business of recruiting is 365-day a year, ever-changing job. It is a team effort; a matter of pride, pride in the ability to work together effectively; pride in the knowledge that when we succeed in this aspect, the days of competition with our team will be a lot more rewarding."
In addition to the success on the track, Green Wave student-athletes have excelled in the classroom with 37 student-athletes being selected to the Conference USA Academic Honor Roll in just two years. Senior Birka Wicke, a double major in environmental science and math who graduated in May, was honored as a member of the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team.
The Tulane program will take another big step in 2004-05 with the return of men's outdoor track to its repertoire. The men's program was dropped in March of 2002 but due to an aggressive roster management program and the addition of women's swimming and diving, Tulane has achieved its gender equity goals, allowing the University to restore men's outdoor track and field to its sports line-up.
"This is exciting for us, and for men's track and field across the country, that we are able bring back the men's program here at Tulane," Van Norman said following the May announcement of the return of the men's program. "It's a sport that has been hit by cuts, and for us to be able to add men's track is a great step. We have worked hard to build a foundation for our women's track program and now, we will be stronger overall."
Van Norman came to Tulane after four years as an assistant coach at Georgia Tech, where she focused on the Yellow Jacket sprints, relays and long hurdles. During that time, Georgia Tech had four top 30 finishes at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships, while producing seven individual All-Americans and one All-America relay team.
She also spent two years as an assistant coach at Rice University, highlighted by her 4x400 relay team winning the 1997 NCAA Indoor Championship.
A 1994 graduate of LSU, Van Norman was a six-time NCAA All-American for the Tigers. She won three national championships for the Tigers in 1993: as a member of the indoor 4x400 relay and both the 4x400 and the 4x100 outdoor relays. A key part of three consecutive outdoor national team championships (1991, 1992, 1993) and two indoor titles (1991, 1993) for LSU, she also helped the Tigers to SEC Indoor and Outdoor Championships in 1991 and 1993.
In 1991, she was part of the team that set the American record in the 4x200 relay. A year later, Van Norman won the SEC indoor title in the 400 meters and competed in the 400 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in New Orleans.
A member of USA Track & Field and the NCAA Track Coaches Association, Van Norman began her collegiate career at the University of Minnesota where she was named Freshman Track Athlete of the Year. She is a charter member of the Minnesota High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
A native of Minnesota, Van Norman lives in New Orleans with her fiancee, Derek, and her two children, Odell and Jasmine.