Friday, January 01, 2016

Catching up with St. Francis, Mt. View coach, Philip Pompei...

Today we chat with St. Francis, Mt. View coach, Philip Pompei. He is a 2008 graduate of the Lancers and returned back to his alma mater after graduating from the University of Illinois. His boys' team won the CCS Division II championship this past season after finishing 2nd behind Bellarmine in the WCAL final the previous week.

1) What was your sports experience before high school? When did you first get involved in running?
I played a bunch of different sports growing up including soccer, baseball, and basketball. My first love was soccer but I also played basketball up until high school. I started running primary so I could win the annual Walk-a-Thon at my elementary school (following in the footsteps of my older brother) and enjoyed it so much that I continued in middle school by participating in both Cross Country and Track & Field.

2) Looking back at your high school sports experiences, what were some of your proudest accomplishments?
 I was fortunate enough to be on two CCS championship teams during my high school career. First, as a sophomore in 2005 and again as a senior in 2007. Those two team victories up at Crystal Springs are my proudest accomplishments.

3) Who were your high school coaches and what did you learn from them?
 I was coached by Brian Curley and Mike Saso in high school.  I learned, and continue to learn, so much from both of them. Coach Curley taught me the value of summer training, not just to build fitness, but also to build camaraderie among teammates.  Since I started coaching, I have worked to develop a summer program that is both challenging and fun for our guys.  Coach Saso taught me to embrace a team-first mentality.  Whether it's in cross country or track, we want our guys to be competing for their teammates and focusing on how they can contribute to their team's success.

4) What led you to choosing the University of Illinois? What are some of your most memorable running experiences in college? Who was your coach and what did you learn from him?
I ultimately decided on Illinois because they had a solid Broadcast Journalism program, were located in the state where I was born, and were willing to give me a shot to walk-on to their Cross Country/Track team and compete in one of the top distance running conferences in the country.  Getting the call from the coach that I had made the team after my "try-out" was my first great memory of collegiate running. My senior year, I had a few break-through performances, the most memorable being at the University of Washington's Husky Invitational where I ran my 5k PR of 14:02 to finish second in my heat.  I had two coaches while in college, Wendel McRaven for my first three years and Gavin Kennedy for my senior year. I learned a ton about running, coaching, and life from both of these men. Most notably, from Coach McRaven, I learned the importance of consistency in training as a means of building confidence for competition.  From Coach Kennedy, I learned some strategies to build mental toughness in training that can translate to competition.  

5) What were some of the biggest adjustments for you in terms of training from high school to college? What would you do differently, training wise, if you could run in high school again?
The transition from high school to college was tough. I was used to taking the whole winter off from running to focus on soccer so that first winter of training in Illinois was a big shock to my system.  Ultimately, my legs adjusted to the increased work load and I made a big jump in overall fitness.  I think the major change I would make if I could go back to my high school running career would be to stretch and ice more.

6) How did you end up back at St. Francis as a teacher and coach? What do you teach there now? 
I started volunteering with our summer program the last two summers I was in college. That experience inspired me to pursue a coaching position under Coach Curley as I began a Master's program at Santa Clara University. Unfortunately, his health forced him to retire the year I returned so that opened up the head coach's position along with a position in the Religious Studies Department.  I'm still working on my Master's in Pastoral Ministries, but even so, Saint Francis graciously offered me a full-time teaching position after a short stint as a long-term sub. I teach three sections of our Sophomore Scriptures course and two sections of Senior World Religions.

7) What was the state of the cross country program when you took over the team? What changes did you make from the previous coaching staff? What were some of the challenges during the first season?
Coach Curley managed a great program for more than two decades during which time we won seven section titles and one state title.. That being said, the team had struggled a bit during his last few years so there was definitely room to improve. The main changes I made were cultural.  I was committed to helping Saint Francis return to the level we enjoyed while I was a student-athlete. I received some push-back but for the most part, the guys knew me from summer training so they were excited to work hard and pursue some lofty goals. For some perspective, the seniors on the 2013 CCS Championship team saw Saint Francis fail to qualify for CCS when they were freshmen, finish 9th when they were sophomores, and finish third when they were juniors, before they led their squad to the title as seniors.
8) What do you feel went well for your boys this past season and what did you learn yourself? A side question, what did Craig Virgin tell your boys before their CCS race?
 I think our senior leadership was a big part of our success this year which was really lacking last year, having only one senior in our top seven.  We had a group of guys who knew what it was going to take to achieve our goals and were committed to doing everything possible to achieve those goals. Our ability to peak during Championship season affirmed our training program and taught me that we need to keep trusting that program. Craig Virgin came over to our team tent before our guys warmed up and shared with us the importance of our sixth and seventh finishers.  It was a poignant message because one of our normal scorers was a little under the weather entering the race so we needed someone to step up. That someone was senior, Preston Yadegar, who ended up fifth for us, and 25th overall.

9) What are your expectations for your runners in the summer? What do you feel are the keys for your team's success? What do you think your team could do better?
As I mentioned earlier, summer training is a big part of our program, both for building fitness and building friendships. I want them to enjoy time off from school and time with their families but I also hope that they recognize the value of the summer program enough to place it up near the top of their priority lists.  Our team is full of guys who work really, really hard and will do anything for each other.  We have a great time at practice but also know when to turn on the focus. There are always going to be areas we can improve upon. I think one of those target areas for the upcoming track season is going to be integrating the Varsity guys more with the rest of the squad so they can share their wisdom and model positive habits to the next group of Lancer harriers.

10) Who are your current and past coaching mentors? Who do you lean on for advice during the season?
All of the coaches I've mentioned thus far I consider mentors: Coach Curley, Coach Saso, Coach McRaven, and Coach Kennedy. Legendary Saint Francis Coach Tom Tuite has also been an amazing supporter and mentor to me since I started coaching. I lean most heavily on my own staff throughout the season for coaching advice, especially my brother and roommate Sam Pompei, who ran at Saint Francis and then UNC-Chapel Hill. I also bounce ideas off former college teammates who are now coaching at both the high school and collegiate level throughout the country.

11) Some quick hitters. Favorite XC invitationals? Favorite XC course? Favorite XC workout? Favorite TF event? Favorite TF workout? Favorite free time activity?
Favorite XC Invitational: Clovis, XC Course: Crystal Springs, XC Workout: 1k Repeats, T/F Event: 3200m, Track Workout: Ladder Workout, Free Time Activity: Reading Biographies

12) Anything else you would like to add.
Thank you for all you do to promote our sport!

Thank you very much for your time Philip! AJC


Chanman195 said...

It makes me smile (and feel old) to see WCAL athletes like Phil and Sam Pompei at St Francis, Nick Alvarado at St Ignatius, and Ron Dimaggio at Serra come back and coach at their alma maters. And shout out to Riordan sprinter alum Matt Ilarina, who is coaching XC and T&F.

-Andy Chan, Sacred Heart Cathedral

Anonymous said...

My son runs for coach Pompei and I can confirm that the boys have completely bought in to his system, as evidenced by SF winning 2 CCS titles in the last 3 years. The boys work very hard and much is expected of them, but they have great love and respect for Phil and his coaching approach. While the team is losing a lot of great senior leadership, there are many underclassmen, currently being developed by Phil and his brother, Sam, who are ready to step up to continue the recent success.

Anonymous said...

First, great interview. And in case you didn't know kids, 14:02 is very fast. A few follow up questions:

"The main changes I made were cultural. I was committed to helping Saint Francis return to the level we enjoyed while I was a student-athlete. I received some push-back but for the most part, the guys knew me from summer training so they were excited to work hard and pursue some lofty goals."

What was the cultural issues you had to deal with? What specifically did you do to change the culture?

What was the push back? Was it from athletes? Parents? Administration?

What were they pushing back on? How did you deal with that?

Coming in with no coaching experience what is the biggest thing you have learned over the years? How have you changed as a coach?

How did your brother become such a good yeller? I can here him cheering the guys on miles away.

Anonymous said...

Can you go into detIls about the system? Can you describe his coaching aproach?

Philip Pompei said...

Thanks for the follow up questions. The main issue we dealt with was accountability (not shocking considering I coach high school boys). When I graduated from college, I was in a place in my life where I could offer the time and energy necessary to hold our guys accountable to the individual and team goals they set for themselves. Once the shift took place among the Varsity guys and they started seeing results, there was a trickle down effect to the younger guys.
The only push-back was from a few veteran guys who weren't ready to be held accountable. They had become satisfied as Varsity athletes on a middle of the pack team. They weren't prepared to raise their level of commitment and unfortunately for them, most of those guys lost their spots to younger guys who were eager to put in the work and willing to be challenged.
All I did was lay out the program and see who stepped up to the plate. I tried to be as fair as possible in establishing workout groups and race line-ups, basing everything on current fitness and race times rather than experience or previous performances.

I've learned so much about coaching in the last few years, mostly because of all the mistakes I have made. I think the biggest change I've noticed is in my overall perspective on high school athletics. I wanted to win every meet my first year. Now, I am able to see the bigger picture a little bit more clearly. I see the year to year development, I notice the opportunities to teach life lessons, I observe which alumni come back to visit and why. At Saint Francis we focus on developing the whole person, and I'm constantly trying to keep that focus in mind as I make coaching decisions. I still want to win, but I want it to be a byproduct of a well rounded program, not singular focus of the program.
Sam brings a lot of fire to the table. He loves our sport, our school, and our program, and he also knows what makes each of our guys tick. He's always been pretty loud in general, but now he is able to use it to inspire our guys. They count on him to be all over the course keeping them engaged with the race. I think most of his training comes in the form of yelling at the TV during UNC basketball games.

Philip Pompei said...

I'm not sure which of our outstanding parents commented, but I feel like I can provide an adequate response to your question. We thrive on aerobic strength. Some guys come in with great speed and some with average speed. There's only so much a coach can do to improve pure speed. The good news is, great strength beats great speed any day in cross country and every guy comes in with plenty of room to improve in terms of aerobic strength. We focus on mileage and strength work for the vast majority of the season, only dipping into true speed work as Championship season approaches.

Anonymous said...

A great read... Makes me very proud to have been part of the Lancer tradition, and I look forward to the continued success of the program.

Dave Frank

Anonymous said...

Coach Pompei, thanks for the insights, congrats on a great win at CCS, and good luck next year!

Anonymous said...

Head-to-head SF beats Bell 25 to 30 in 2017. Obviously there is a lot that can happen between now and then but, considering returners in 2017, SF's current frosh/soph group is 5 points better than Bell's. Good for WCAL to have a little competition?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I know, right. Hard to believe that SF has better F/S right now. But it's true.

Anonymous said...

No, your joke that SF will beat Bellarmine.

Anonymous said...

Not a joke at all. If you look close at the sophomore class, Bell has the top kid but SF has more depth. SF also has an edge between the top freshmen. If neither team adds an impact starter in the next 2 years, the 2017 season, when these kids are seniors and juniors, will give us a very close finish between Bell and SF for the top spot.

Anonymous said...

@4:39 & 10:56. I agree that it will be a close duel, but you should to recheck your numbers and confirm your grade levels specifically current freshman & sophomores. I predict Bell 23 - SF 34. But that's a long ways off.

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