Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Catching up with Monte Vista coach Mike Davis...

This week, we chat with Monte Vista Cross Country and Track and Field coach Mike Davis (standing on the right with '08 graduate Bhavik Kanzaria and family). The boys' team just ran at the Stanford Invitational winning the Division I race just edging section rival College Park. The MV girls finished in 2nd place trailing only NCS Division I favorate Castro Valley. An outstanding effort by both teams. The boys' had a spectacular '07 Cross Country season winning the ultra competitive NCS Division I XC race and then went on to place 10th at the state meet. The team's DMR team also ran a spectacular 10:16.36 to finish 3rd at the Arcadia Invitational.

1) How did you get involved in the sport of distance running?

It’s more accurate for me to say ‘mid-distance’ running. I played baseball in Junior High, even though I was pretty terrible at the plate and played second base only because the throw to first was the shortest! I believe in 8th grade they made everyone run the 600 yard dash as part of the President’s National Fitness test. Without really knowing what I was doing, I came in first. Somebody suggested I should check out track and field next spring in high school, which I did. XC wasn’t even on the radar my freshman year! So my first distance running really started the next fall, as my track coach insisted that I take part in cross country.

2) What is your running background such as your high school and college experiences?
Four years of high school track, running everything from the 100 to the mile. The 800 was my focus event. I also ran 3 years of HS cross country. I grew up in central MN, went to a small school, but we had a great coach and a pretty good team, especially my senior year. Training through Minnesota winters is something these Cali kids just can’t appreciate!

I went to college at Drake University (Des Moines IA), best known as the host of the annual Drake Relays. I ran two seasons at Drake (D1), running mainly the 400 and 4X400 relay, which was not the most successful thing I’ve ever done. But I was good enough to make the traveling squad, and I made many lifelong friends from Drakes track team.

3) Who were/are your coaching mentors?
Monte Vista coach Carrie Amaral first approached me to become an assistant coach. Former MV head coach Mike Huntsman was the most responsible for my development, mentoring me for several years before stepping aside and handing me the program. All the coaches in the league I consider to be mentors, especially Tim Hunter from San Ramon Valley and Peter Scarpelli from Amador Valley. The coaches in the EBAL are very open and encouraging of all the teams, and this helps elevate our league. I have former college teammates who coach and have provided me with input, as well as a number of standout coaches who belong to my running club – the Asics Aggies. Yet it is my own high school coach, Fred Rupp of Cathedral High in St Cloud MN, who I have tried to model my own style after the most. Fred continues to inspire his kids, 30 years after I ran for him, and still inspires me today.

4) How did you get involved in coaching at Monte Vista HS?
My own son (Ben) and daughter (Jenni) ran cross country and track at Monte Vista, and I started innocently enough as a parent volunteer. The first time I watched them run in a HS race, the strong memories of how wonderful our sport is came flooding back to me. Over their running careers, I became more involved with the team, although I did not offer to become an assistant coach until after they had graduated. Since I don’t teach at the school, I had to work out a deal with my managers at work (IBM) in order to structure flexible hours. Work has been very supportive, although it is often a struggle to get to practice each day!

5) What was the state of the team when you took it over?
I really had a great situation handed to me here at Monte Vista. The team was (and is) the largest in the league and the program had a great ‘buzz’ to it at the school. Lots of people heard cross country was ‘fun’, and came out for the team. So we had good numbers to choose from. While the boy’s team had not experienced any real team success for many years, there had been good individual runners. The girl’s team had been NCS Champions as recently as 2003, so there was some recent history to try to draw on. And Mike Huntsman waited for several years while I got used to both high school coaching and this team, before he stepped aside and handing me the reigns. He continues to help us out today. That is nearly an ideal situation!

6) What changes did you have to make to bring the team to the level it is today?
There were not that many big changes that I had to make, it was more tweaking of what was already in place. Mainly it was raising the expectations of what it meant to be a contributing member of the Monte Vista team. It started with an increased focus on the summer program, with the major change being a summer running camp for our top runners. As Chuck Woolridge mentioned in his interview, we attended the Humboldt State running camp, and now have two years of positive results from it.

We started going to Stanford and Mt SAC to raise the level of competitions. We started using a special “varsity uniform” that kids don’t own – they are given as long as they stay on the varsity squad. We reviewed rankings and lists, poured over Track and Field News… in general, we started doing the little things that can change the expectations of the team. The kids have learned how a season long running program can help them succeed, and each of the varsity runners buy-in to the training philosophy and work required. This last part did not come overnight – this is my 5th year of working with the varsity squads, and only last year did it start to gel.

I was also very focused on keeping the aspects of the program going that were responsible for the large numbers and positive team experience. Keeping a large, motivated JV and FS team was a big part of it. I was fortunate to have coach Austin Glimme offer to assist with those squads. Coach Austin has led a real transformation of these teams (along with departing Coach Martha Breen) in terms of the amount of training we expected from them. Our JV and FS teams seek the league titles in those divisions with almost the same passion as our varsity group chases theirs.

This season Coach Scott Camp has joined our coaching team, assisting with the varsity squads. He brings an intensity of training and insight of racing that will really help us keep the program elevated.

7) How do you attract runners to run cross country and track and field?
Since none of the coaches are on-campus during the day, I do miss out on a chance to talk to kids and get them interested in joining the program. I also don’t have the ‘coach’s classroom’ that I would love to have. We get around that by maintaining great word-of-mouth about the team and current runners help recruit friends and others at school into the program. Former coach Huntsman is still on campus, and that also helps. If we keep getting around 130 kids each year, then I’m optimistic that we’ll have enough of a talent pool to draw from.

We also keep up a simple but fairly active web site which helps market the program to potential athletes. We get good PR from that.

8) What do you do to inspire your runners to run during the summer?
Once a varsity or top JV runner has figured out that running is a year round program, it gets a lot easier to inspire them to put in the work required in the summer months. To help them along, we started two (and continued a third) summer running events that have now become annual activities. As mentioned, we take 20 or so kids to running camp around the end of July. Going to camp forces you to train to be ready for that experience, so that helps insure June and July are productive. In August we hold an alumni cross country race, which has proven to be very popular, especially with the recently graduated runners. We had our 3rd alumni race this year. Right before the start of the regular season, those involved in the summer running program do a run to the top of Mt Diablo, starting from a trailhead only 1.5 miles from our campus. Having these events makes for a busy summer and long season, but it seems to provide a little extra reason to train over the summer.

9) What do you consider your key workouts during cross country season?
My team would be upset if I didn’t say - jump ropes! Seriously, starting last season, we spent at least one day per week working on speed development drills (speed ladders, striders, drills). In our cross country shed, there was a box of jump ropes, so I brought them out, more for entertainment. The kids became convinced it was a secret weapon! There were a couple times when the San Ramon Valley team ran by our school to workout on the Oak Hill course, and as they ran by, we were jumping rope… I’m sure it looked like we’d lost our minds.

10) Your boys' team had quite a season last year during Cross Country and Track and Field seasons. Did all the success exceed your own expectations?
In cross country, our boys team started the summer program with very high goals and expectations – much higher than one would think appropriate for a team that finished 6th in our league the year before. We had 5 seniors, many who had been 4 years on the team, and they were ready to do what it took to reach for the highest levels. Inexperience and injuries had derailed us in 2006, but we felt we had a strong group coming into the season. However, as any coach knows, lots of things can go wrong on the way to the big dance, so while I had high expectations, I was certainly surprised and pleased when it all came together at the end of the season. I’ve said it to anyone who will listen – chasing Amador Valley all year long was probably the best thing that could have happened for us. Had we been the league favorites, I’m not sure we would have pushed through those final weeks of preparation with the intensity that the competition with AV demanded.

In track, I will say that they did some things that totally surprised us. Our DMR squad at Arcadia was a race that I’ll remember for as long as I am coaching. I’ve read T&F News for over 20 years, and never imagined seeing Monte Vista’s name on a national leaders list! We didn’t see that coming, for sure. While we ended up somewhat frustrated at the NCS MOC (two 5th place finishes will do that), the depth of their performances during the season was very gratifying.

11) Last year, Division I in NCS was unbelievably competitive with many teams battling for two state meet berths. How is the division looking this year for the boys? girls?
I don’t see anything that suggests the division will be any less intense. In fact, on the girl’s side, the D1 race might be more competitive than last year! However, our own league – EBAL – will be the more immediate challenge. Adding De La Salle and Carondelet into the mix really raises the bar for all the teams, as both are traditional State powers.

On the boys side, Amador Valley will be even stronger than there excellent squad from last year. Granada returns almost everyone and is very tough. SRV has lots of talent and has a great program. Foothill has some of the top individual runners in the league... So striving for a high finish at league will help us when it comes time to battle for the two NCS spots. Certainly Amador has the early season nod, with that second spot wide open as of now.

On the girl’s side, Castro Valley and College Park have dominated D1 girls for the past 4 or 5 years at Hayward - longer I’m sure. Both of those teams have started the season strong, especially CV. We hope to have our girl’s team ready to make a run at them this year, and I’m encouraged by our early season results. Both Granada and Cal are right there as well, hence the comment about how tough the D1 Girls race at NCS could be!

12) Anything else you would like to add.
I’ll repeat what you’ve already heard – your web site adds real value to the sport of cross country here in Northern California! I know I’m addicted to it - keep up the great work!

Thank you very much Mike. AJC!

1 comment:

Unknown said...


Jump ropes!?! Double dutch?


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