The rallying cry for student-athletes created by cross-country Coach Mike Woods caught on with every team. 

By Riley Damerell


“SUNY G Believe” has been the rallying cry for the most successful athletic programs at SUNY Geneseo for nearly 30 years, but what does it mean, and where does it come from? 

Mike Woods ’69, ’82 MA, beloved cross-country and track and field coach for 23 years (1978-2015), was known for his success with his teams — and his positivity. 

“Mike was always looking for opportunities for his student-athletes to achieve at the highest level,” says Director of Athletics Mike Mooney. “He was excellent at designing training methods for student-athletes and was always pushing the positive. Mike’s most impactful strategy in working with student-athletes was using the word ‘believe.’ Believe in yourself, believe in your training and believe in Geneseo cross-country and track and field.”

The Geneseo athletics family lost Woods last October. He was a staple not just in the athletic department but the entire community, and the College held a memorial for him in Schrader Gymnasium.

Woods’ encouragement paid off with scores of accolades and wins for students, season after season, and his own success.

Cross-country team fans run with the SUNY G flag.

A Geneseo cross-country team fan runs with the “SUNY G” flag at a meet. Coach Mike Woods created the everlasting motto. /Photo by Keith Walters ’11

Woods earned a total of 28 SUNYAC Coach of the Year honors, for both men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field, and was part of 52 State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Championships. He also led the 2005 women’s cross-country team to the first and only team national championship in Geneseo history — and was named the NCAA Division III Women’s Cross-Country Coach of the Year for his efforts. His combined student-athletes’ successes were just as accomplished: 126 All-America certificates, with 33 women and 20 men earning the honor at least once in their career.  

Though Woods retired seven years ago, the “SUNY G Believe” mantra resonates with teams today.

“SUNY G Believe means everything,” says cross-country athlete Kathleen McCarey ’23. “It means you’re going to get on the line, and your teammates next to you are your family. You know that they have your back, and you have theirs. Together, you are better, so you know going into a race you’re representing alumni, future runners — and your team now is just the greatest feeling in the world. You are something much bigger than yourself.”

And the successes started with Woods carry on. 

McCarey, along with her teammates running at her side, helped take the Knights to a top-three finish at the NCAA Championships in the 2021 season. She also earned All-American honors, placing 12th overall in the 6k race. It marked the 22nd consecutive appearance at NCAA’s for Geneseo and their seventh consecutive Top 10 finish. The Knights extended Division III’s longest active streak of qualifying both its women’s and men’s programs to the NCAA Championships. The men’s team also earned a Top 10 finish at eighth.

Women's cross-country teammates cheer during a competition.

Cross-country teammates during Mike Woods’ coaching and after say the camaraderie and support means a lot. /Photo by Keith Walters ’11

In addition to working with the cross-country team, Woods also served as the head of the track and field programs for 12 years until 2004, whenhe switched roles to an assistant coach with a focus on distance runners. As a head coach, he led Geneseo to nine indoor titles and five outdoor championships. Five Knights were crowned individual national champions under Woods’ watch: Alyssa Smith ‘13 took the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2013; Beth Shope ’99 won Geneseo’s first-ever national title in the hammer throw in 1999; before Kim DePrez ’03 swept the indoor and outdoor high jump titles; and Melissa White ’03 took top honors in the indoor 5,000-meter run all in  2003.

Although the Geneseo athletics family continues to mourn the loss of Woods, his legacy and “SUNY G Believe” will live on in the cross-country and track and field programs for years to come.