When Amy Gosztyla was growing up, the three elementary schools in her town competed annually against each other in a one-mile cross country meet. Though she does not remember why she entered the races in the first place, Gosztyla does recall her results: She finished third in the race in fifth grade and first in sixth grade.

Now at the helm of the first nationally-ranked Yale women’s cross country team in seven years, Gosztyla said she recognized running as a natural talent and natural source of enjoyment early on. That initial recognition helped spark a lifelong devotion to a sport in which she has achieved success both as a runner and as a coach.

“I think it is a very positive group of people that are involved with the sport,” Gosztyla said. “That ability to be able to push yourself really hard and also be able to have that team component … really was ultimately what was most rewarding for me.”

Gosztyla spent her college career at the University of New Hampshire, where she won the America East Student-Athlete of the Year in 2002. Although she said that she went through the program during a time of frequent coaching transitions — she had four coaches over four years — Gosztyla still felt as though she could succeed with the program in flux. She added that this experience positively contributed to her future as a coach.

“Through having a number of different coaches in college, I got to learn how different people do things,” she said.

After graduation, Gosztyla coached at UNH for a year as a graduate student before accepting a job at Stony Brook University as an assistant to cross country coach Andy Ronan. During her three years at Stony Brook she helped guide the team to two second-place America East finishes. Gosztyla identified Ronan as the person who most influenced her coaching style.

“Having him as a mentor was immensely helpful in terms of being able to individualize kids’ training, but also keep the team in mind, and also in terms of building a program,” she said.

The lessons Gosztyla learned at UNH and Stony Brook translated into more success when Gosztyla began coaching in the Ivy League. After returning to coach at UNH for a year after leaving Stony Brook, Gosztyla joined Harvard’s coaching staff as an assistant in 2008. Under her tutelage, Harvard athletes set 10 school records. Just as in her stops at UNH and Stony Brook, Gosztyla said she gained valuable coaching experience during her three years in Cambridge, especially in managing a larger and higher-level team.

Yet Gosztyla was drawn from Harvard to its biggest rival by to the opportunity to become Yale’s head coach and was named to the position in the summer of 2011. At Yale, Gosztyla was able to both move into a head coaching role and remain within the Ivy League. She noted that she enjoys coaching in the conference because of the purity associated with athletics in a conference that does not allow athletic scholarships.

Her athletes also appreciated her affinity for the League.

“Because she did coach at Harvard prior to coming here, she is very invested in the Ivy League rivalry,” captain Nihal Kayali ’13 said. “She shares a lot of the passion that we do.”

Gosztyla said that the prospect of stability also attracted her to New Haven. After coaching at three different programs in seven years, she wanted the chance to settle down both professionally and personally. She moved to the city with her husband and they welcomed their first child, a daughter, this past year.

In the two years since Gosztyla came to Yale, the women’s cross country team has enjoyed remarkable success. Last year’s squad improved four places at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, finishing in fourth, and this year’s squad figures to compete for a top-three finish at the championship meet on Saturday. The team is also nationally ranked for the first time since 2005, at No. 22, joining No. 7 Cornell as the only two Ivies in the top 30.

Runners on the current Yale women’s cross country squad lauded Gosztyla’s ability to balance personalized training and a team focus.

Caitlin Hudson ’13 said Gosztyla is adept at customizing training strategies for each athlete while maintaining a team atmosphere during practice.

Gosztyla’s focus on balance, however, does not end with balancing the individual and team aspects of running. The coach emphasizes a belief that in order for her athletes to succeed in workouts and at meets, their academic and social lives must be balanced as well.

Gosztyla added that while a critical coach–player boundary exists between her and her athletes, creating a family atmosphere on the team still remains important to her.

“I think it’s really key that every day before practice, she takes time to go around and check in with every person and see how they’re feeling, mental and physical,” Elizabeth Marvin ’13 said. “If someone’s had a really hard week school-wise, hasn’t had a lot of sleep, she always takes that into consideration.”

Beyond establishing certain balances on the squad, Gosztyla attributes the team’s success to setting attainable goals, striving to meet them and having fun with the sport.

“You can tell when she thinks we’re going to perform really well,” Marvin said. “We had a huge breakout meet at [the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on October 12], and she was telling us we’re ready to show that we deserve to be nationally ranked.”