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 five 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 her six years, Van Norman has overseen 14 NCAA National Championships appearances and 41 NCAA Regional appearances, including seven championship appearances by senior Gloria Asumnu. Asumnu was one of two Green Wave athletes to be named the Conference USA Track and Field Freshman of the Year during Van Norman's tenure, winning the award for the indoor track season in 2004. In addition, sophomore Valencia Wilson received the honor for the outdoor track season in 2006. Tulane student-athletes have also earned all-conference recognition 144 times and won nine individual championships. In 2007, Van Norman was named Louisiana Sportswriters Association Cross Country Coach of the Year.
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.
The 2005 season saw the return of men's track and field after a two-year hiatus. Van Norman oversaw three individual championships during cross country season and helped the women's team reach seventh at the C-USA Indoor Championships and fifth at the outdoor championship. Tulane also sent two athletes to the national championships in 2005, as sophomore Gloria Asumnu and senior Angel Dooley competed in the 200-meter dash.
Van Norman and the Green Wave teams faced their biggest challenge yet in 2006. The effects of Hurricane Katrina forced the team to spend the fall at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La. Before their return to campus, the team learned that the men's cross country and track and field teams had been temporarily suspended. Nevertheless, the team rebounded for solid indoor and outdoor campaigns. The Wave was led by senior throwers Jelena Jurlina and Helmi Leppanen, as well as junior sprinter Gloria Asumnu, who advanced to the NCAA Outdoor National Championships for the second straight year.
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 lifeblood of any successful athletic program," Van Norman said. "The business of recruiting is a 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 over 70 student-athletes being selected to the Conference USA Academic Honor Roll in her four years. In 2005, senior Helmi Leppanen was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District team, while senior Brianne Darragh was one of 12 Conference USA athletes to win a postgraduate scholarship from the conference.
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 Jasmyne.