Now in her 21st year as head women's track and field and cross country coach, Patty Vavra has seen several Lions achieve national recognition for their efforts. She has led Southern to six MIAA Cross Country Championships (1998, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012), as well as the conference indoor track & field title in 2004, 2008, the outdoor title in 2008 and 2009 and an NCAA Regional Title in Cross Country in three straight years (2007-2009).
Vavra also coached the Lions to the rare MIAA Triple Crown where her 2007 Cross Country, as well as the 2008 Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field teams swept the MIAA titles in each sport. Vavra has earned nine MIAA Coach of the Year awards: five in cross country (four in a row) and two each in indoor and outdoor track and field.
During her tenure, Vavra has coached 10 cross country All-Americans, 27 cross country All-Region performers, and four MIAA cross country champions. She has also coached two track & field national champions and 31 All-Americans. Under Vavra, Missouri Southern's track and cross country athletes have also had their share of success in the classroom, as more than 70 have earned Academic All-MIAA recognition, and nearly 20 have been named to Academic All-District and All-America teams.
In 2012-13, Vavra's teams captured the 2012 MIAA cross country championship, while placing 20th at the NCAA Division II National Championships held in Joplin. Kylie Cornman picked up All-American status in the indoor season, while Whitney Hardy, Kaylee Morgan and Brittni Reagan were All-American's in the outdoor season.
The 2011-12 cross-country and track & field season saw the Lions crown two All-Americans over all three seasons. Junior Marlee Tegenkamp took 30th at the 2011 NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, while senior Nicole Green became an All-American in the shot put in both the indoor and outdoor track & field seasons, her third and fourth All-American honors of her career after earning AA honors in the shot put in the 2010 and 2011 outdoor seasons.
The 2010 Lions indoor track & field season saw the run of success continue as the team crowned six All-Americans in six different events on their way to taking 10th place overall as a team at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships. Their run of good fortune carried over into the spring as the Lions crowned four more All-Americans in five different events culminating in being named USTFCCCA fifth best women’s team in Division II Cross Country & Track & Field for the 2009-2010 year.
The 2009 Lions cross country team proved to be the most successful Southern squad ever, as the team went un-defeated to a division II opponent up until the National Championships where the Lions placed third. Southern won its third-straight Regional Title and was ranked as high as second nationally in the coaches' poll. Junior Ashley Siler and senior Kimi Shank placed third and fourth, respectively at the national race, as both Courtney Waltbillig and Ashley Bunch finished in the top 25, earning All-American honors, as well. Both Vavra and Shank were named Regional Coach and Runner of the Year. The senior class accomplished something truly special as they won their fourth-straight MIAA Championship.
2006-2009 saw the Missouri Southern women dominate the track and field and cross country scene in the MIAA, as well as on a national stage. The Lions won four-straight MIAA cross country titles, the 2008-09 outdoor track and field titles, as well as the 2008 indoor title.
In 2008, Jessica Selby-Tallman wrapped up her record-setting career at Southern by claiming her 12 MIAA championships (8 in shot put, 1 in weight throw and three in hammer), and was the 2008 Division II National Champion in the outdoor hammer. She was undefeated in both the MIAA indoor and outdoor shot put, winning eight titles and is the MSSU record holder in the indoor and outdoor shot put, as well as outdoor hammer.
In 2006, Vavra won her third MIAA Cross Country title, second in a row, as sophomore Kimi Shank finished second, and a total of four runners earned All-MIAA status. For her efforts, Vavra was named the MIAA Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year for the second year in a row and was named the Regional Coach of the Year. She had four runners named All-Region after the team won the school's first ever NCAA Regional title and went on to finish 13th at the NCAA National Meet that Southern hosted. Her team was ranked first in the South Central Region for most of the season and finished the year ranked 13th nationally.
In 2004, Vavra's indoor squad captured the school's first ever MIAA indoor championship and, for her efforts, she was named South Central Region Indoor Coach of the Year and MIAA Indoor Coach of the Year. After leading the cross country squad to the '98 championship, Vavra was named 1998 MIAA Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year.
Vavra's 2003 women's cross country squad earned one of the best seasons in school history up to that point, finishing second at the MIAA Championships and second in the South Central Region en route to the team's first-ever national championships appearance.
Vavra spent 14 years as boys and girls cross country and girls track coach at Carthage (Mo.) High School. Southern alumni and friends also remember Vavra from her days as a Southern student-athlete, as she was all-conference in basketball and in track, where she competed in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and hurdles.
A 1993 inductee into the Missouri Southern Athletics Hall of Fame, Vavra graduated cum laude from Missouri Southern in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in physical education and health, and from Pittsburg State University in 1983 with a master's degree in physical education. In addition to her coaching duties, she is also an instructor of kinesiology.