Sunday, April 15, 2012

Catching up with Great Oak XC and T/F coach, Doug Soles...

Today we chat with Great Oak HS Cross Country and Track and Field coach, Doug Soles.  For those of you not familiar with the Great Oak program, they have simply been one of the best teams in the best section in the state, the Southern Section.  His girls xc team won the 2010 Division I title following a narrow loss the previous season by 3 points.  His boys team finished in 4th place this past season showing their strength on the boys side as well.  When I asked Aron Taylor of to help describe the Great Oaks program, his reply was the following:  "They are the best coached team in the nation.  Few teams can produce the depth of a program they do.  Yeah, Fayettiville Manlius is 7-deep, Tatnall is 5-deep as are many others but Great Oak is like 10-15-20 deep.  How?  Coaching!"  I think you will all enjoy the following interview as Doug describes how he has progressed his teams to their current level of success.

1) What sports did you participate during your youth and what were some of your highlights?
I pretty much played everything when I was young, but settled in on track in middle school as my main sport. I was a sprinter, but many in my family were distance runners and I grew up running weekend 1 mile fun runs while my family members would run the 5k/10k races. My uncle Robert Durkee was a State Champion in XC in Oregon when I was younger and we grew up watching him run. My highlight athletically in high school was 2nd in State in the 4x100 and 3rd in the 4x400 at the Oregon State meet. It was great to work with a group of guys to try to win a state championship in one of those events.  Although we didn’t succeed, we all built a passion for the sport.

2) What about your college experience? Highlights?
College was a very humbling experience. What do you do when you get to college and the only athletes left to compete against are the ones that you couldn’t beat in high school? My answer was just to work hard, try to help the team in any way I could, try to learn from my coaches and teammates, and generally just try to be a good teammate. A lot of my highlights would be just the amazing opportunity to continue to run, travel, and support my teammates on all of our adventures. I was never the fastest guy on the team, but I always worked to challenge my teammates to be their best. So many of today’s athletes come in thinking it is all about them. My job today is to teach them it is more fun to be a good teammate.

3) Who were the coaches that had the biggest impact on you as a competitor?
My high school coaches Gene Gilbertson and Neil Branson probably had the biggest impact on me as a developing athlete. We were fortunate enough to have a pretty talented track team when I was in high school and we got to compete against the best in the state. This instilled in me a drive to search out the best competition for my athletes today. I still see Coach Branson at places like NXN, and he still has an amazing passion for the sport. We used to see him running everywhere around our town year round.  Nobody showed more dedication to the sport in our area than Coach Branson did!

4) What led you into teaching and coaching? Who have been your coaching
My grandfather was very important in my education and supported me in all of my ventures. I learned a lot from him about the importance of education and what it takes to be successful. I think I always knew I wanted to be a teacher/coach, as it fits my personality and was something that I enjoyed being a part of. I mean, is there a better feeling in the world than watching someone learn new skills or abilities and seeing them apply them successfully?

There have been many coaches that have been very influential in my coaching career. Steve Chavez of Murrieta Valley fame has always been a great mentor to me. Besides just sharing knowledge and workouts, Steve really has inspired a lot of developing coaches to be great! Steve set the standard high for everyone around him and challenged all of us as coaches to be great. If I ever have a coaching question, he is the first person I would call. I would also credit Becky Baker of Indio as a major influence in my early coaching career. I believe she is probably one of the most underrated coaches in

California and I am always amazed at the teams and competitive fire she creates out in the desert heat (not an easy place to coach the distances, trust me!). I learned a lot about the importance of building a program from her and why it is important to develop every aspect of your team if you want to be successful.

5) What was your first experience coaching? What did you learn from that
I started my coaching career at Desert Hot Springs High School in the Palm Springs area. Coming from Oregon, I was amazed at the heat out there. My hat is off to all of the coaches that coach in our desert areas with constant 100+ degree temperatures, it is no small feat!

I took over XC and Track in the 2nd year of the school, both of which were pretty much starting from scratch. My wife Teresa started the programs with me and we were very excited for our 1st day of practice. When a whopping 3 athletes showed up, we realized we had a lot to learn! I credit the AAF/LA84 clinics with being a critical resource for us as young coaches trying to learn how to compete with such amazing teams in California.  Without that resource, I don’t know if we would have survived. The thing that I learned most at DHS was that if you care about kids, they will buy into your program and allow you to build it into a competitive team (I believe most athletes want to be on a good team and truly care how the team does). My DHS kids were some of the most passionate kids that I have ever coached!

6) When did you start teaching and coaching at Great Oak HS? What do you teach?  What was the state of the xc and tf programs?
I started coaching XC/Track at Great Oak when the school opened in 2004. Teaching was not available in my subject yet, so I spent a year at a middle school and then moved over as a computer teacher the following year.

In my original interview for the cross country job, I think I shocked the athletic director with my passion and knowledge for what we could accomplish at the school and the goals that I set for the programs from day one. I have always believed Great Oak could compete at a national level and compete with anyone in the country. I told him that I believed we would make it to State in division 4 the very first year of the school, and was very proud of our girls when they did! We had 65 total boys and girls the first year of the school with 4 athletes with any prior XC experience. Through the hard work and dedication of our kids we have been able to compete on some pretty big stages in our young history.

7) What changes did you make that you feel helped get both programs to their
current levels?
Realistically programs don’t typically find our level of success through one person. It is almost always the hard work and dedication of many that are able to build championship teams. My right hand man from the beginning has been Daniel Noble, and he has brought many great ideas and tweaks to the program that have really helped us move up to a top tier program. One of the biggest changes he made was daily focused core routines that have helped our athletes stay healthy and perform at a higher level. He and I talk daily about what we are doing, what needs to change, evolve, and improve. He is a science teacher and brings to our team a scientific mindset that I do not have which allows me to bounce all sorts of ideas of him to see if they are realistic scientifically.

Coaches Vicki Espinoza and Linda Hernandez also are instrumental in developing the talent on our team and making connections with our athletes. It is impossible for me to be all things for all of our kids so having amazing assistant coaches to help me with that has been crucial to our success.

The biggest change fundamentally to our program was the evolution to more mileage over time. The one thing we found with our kids that was lacking in the early days of the program was a solid enough base to be able to last through the season, and as our mileage has steadily increased so have the performances of our athletes. In the early years of our program our varsity kids averaged 35-40 miles a week compared to 65-75 for this years team. It is very hard to match up with teams like Trabuco Hills, Dana Hills, or Arcadia without having very fit athletes.

8) Who were the athletes that you feel put Great Oak on the XC and TF maps in
Most coaches that were around early on knew we had Lauren Campfield who was a very solid athlete who went on to run for 4 years at Dartmouth. She really established the girls early on as a competitive team, followed by Abbey Gallaher, Jessica Barnard, Heather Wilson, and Samantha Morabe. These girls set the foundation for our State Championship team in 2010 with Anna & Katie Johnson, Jessica Hilton, Shannon Emery, and Alia Bales leading us to our first State Title. That team leaned heavily on the traditions that were set by our early stars.

On the boys side our first real top end cross country runner was Kyle Dickerson, who showed the boys that they could compete with the best of the best in the Inland Empire. Karson Fronk was our first real state level athlete in XC and track, finishing 7th in the 1600 in 4:10 in 2011. We were very excited to see this year’s senior group of boys come together for a quality run at state! Division 1 in California is so competitive and these guys really embraced the challenge of competing with the best. SR’s Michael Hewitt, Brandon Messerly, Brenden Emery, Kevin Chamberlain, and Eddie Carrillo went from a rag tag group of 9th graders, to one of the best teams in the state (4th D1 this year). It was truly amazing to watch their development!

9) What was the size of your xc team this past season? What about your current
Track team?
Our teams have always been pretty big. We were a little over 200 for XC again this season, and this spring we had to cut down to 300 for track due to the ACLU lawsuits majorly cutting funding for our programs. I was very sad to see about 70 athletes go this year, but the new laws on fees have closed some doors that were open for the underdog in the past. We always had a no cut policy and I am very sad that politics changed that for our teams. I firmly believe everyone can find a way to contribute on a team given the chance (spirit, cheering, being a good teammate, fundraising, etc.). Hopefully we will find a way to fund our athletics in the future that will again allow all the athletes that want to be on the team a chance.

10) What are your expectations for your XC athletes during the summer?
We have very high expectations for our kids over the summer. They have a very full training schedule based on their ability and are expected to complete it before the first day of practice in the middle of July (usually 4-5 doubles a week with swimming or biking a part of those doubles). The first day of practice is a 2.85 mile time trial, with the top 12 boys and top 12 girls earning a coveted spot to our team camp (usually Mammoth, Malibu, etc.). Athletes that don’t put in the work over the summer miss camp, usually fall far enough behind that they fall out of the varsity, etc. The majority of our varsity level kids understand that if they want a chance at camp, team trips, sweepstakes races, CIF & State, that they have to be doing their suggested running. We are just too deep a program to slack and not fall far from the top ranks quickly. Kids that go on long vacations with limited chances to run usually come back 10-15 spots behind where they left. We give the kids the path to success, they have to choose whether or not they are willing to run it…in 2010 our girls' B team placed 5th overall at Stanford, so we usually have 14-21 varsity level girls that can compete on the big stage. The kids know the summer is the critical piece of that.

11) What do you feel are the keys to success in XC for an individual and for a team?
In our program we preach consistency and teamwork. To me there is nothing worse for a runner than sporadic training. We go year round, focused on really changing them into very strong aerobic athletes. The biggest key for athletes is intrinsic motivation, we can’t force athletes to be great, they really have to want it themselves to truly compete with the best. We spend a lot of time working with our 9th graders trying to find the athletes that truly want to put in the time and effort it takes to be great. If you can identify athletes that want to succeed they can be developed into pretty solid athletes. I firmly believe that individuals will do better in a team environment because they not only have to work hard for themselves, but for their teammates. We have had some amazing individual performances come out of the team mindset.

We believe the biggest key to success in XC is understanding that it is a team sport.  There are so many people out there that want to push an individual agenda that it can be confusing for athletes. Getting them all on the same page working together is critical if you want to really be a great team. We had our struggles with that on the girls side this year, but that is part of the educational process and truly the joys of coaching to see children growing into adulthood and learning to work with others. Our girls have made some amazing strides in the team department this track season!

12) What are some of your favorite workouts during XC?
During XC I steadfastly believe that aerobic work is critical so we do a lot of 90-120 minute runs or 90 minutes with 3 ten minute pushes. My favorite workouts would be 7,7,7's and we have a 1200m cruise interval course that we do that has every type of terrain imaginable (sand, grass, hills, cement, dirt, cliffs to jump down, bushes, etc.).  I think the most the top end varsity has done is 12x1200 @ 88% on 2:30 rest. The biggest complaint the kids have with that is usually the heat. Hard to cool down during the summer on a workout like that so hydration is critical. Very much a Mt. SAC prep workout.

7,7,7's are something we stole from Steve Chavez and have used quite a bit in XC for LT work. We do 7 min at 70%, 7 min at 80%, and 7 min @ 85+% (21 min cycle). It is a great workout for teaching your kids to run hard when you are tired. Watching our varsity boys do this workout this year was amazing! Eddie Carrillo and Brandon Messerly would really push the other guys and it was fun to watch them pushing each other during the phases. Early season we may do 3x7,7,7 with about 5 min in between which is a pretty tough workout. Later in the season we may go 3x5,5,5 or 2x5,5,7 or 2x5,5,5 + 1x3,3,3 to focus on really pushing the speed part. It is a very flexible workout but it really allows you as a coach to watch and look for the strengths and weaknesses your athletes have and to modify it to fit the time of year you want to use it. The kids that own this workout tend to own their races too. Freshmen are very underdeveloped in their lactate threshold and I suggest even if they are superstars to move them down a group for most kids so they don't get discouraged or frustrated in these types of workouts.

13) What events do you coach during Track? What are some of your favorite
workouts for those events?
Our XC staff coaches the distances at Great Oak for both boys and girls, so 800-3200 mostly. We split our kids into 2 main groups 1600/800 and 1600/3200 to focus on their main event and then everyone meets in the middle at the 1600.

For the 800 I really like 300's for strength and anaerobic development. 9x300 is a staple of our middle distance program. For 3200m runners, our kids have improved a lot using 12-24x400 @ goal 3200 pace (based on age and ability level) 90 seconds rest. The goal is to try and hit your pace exactly each time. When you can hit 79 comfortably as a girl 24 times in a row you will be able to go out and compete in the sub 10:40 arena in your races. Definitely a great benchmark workout, but it helps to have a solid mileage base in order to be able to do it.

14) What is your best advice for a new coach in either sport and how to build a
successful program from scratch?
There really are 2 things that are critical in order to build a successful program from scratch. The first is you have to have is a plan for the culture you want to build in your program. Is it win at all costs or run how you feel today? Do you want a small team focused on elites or big team where anyone can be a part of the action? What level do you want to compete at; national elite, state elite, county elite, local champion, or whatever happens is ok with you? Really defining what you and the kids want to accomplish is the most important thing to setting the path for what you want your program to be. There are a lot of coaches out there that want to hold 60 min practices so they can get out of there and do other things and then can't understand why their teams can't compete. Success for the coach starts with putting the time in and building a culture of success with the kids.

The second critical piece is recruiting your incoming 9th graders! Once the calendar rolls over and a new crop of athletes is joining your school, you have to go out and get them.  There are so many sports and other options for kids today that you really need to go find the athletes and parents and explain to them why their child should give your sport a try.  We typically have 75+ freshmen each year trying out distance running which gives us a pretty solid pool to find athletes that truly want to be top end distance runners. The most valuable athlete on a XC team is a good 9th grade girl who can carry your program for years to come, make it a priority to find her! I think too many coaches focus on their current teams and forget about their future team. We are always planning for both at the same time which is why we enter a lot of younger developing athletes into sweepstakes races throughout the year.

15) What are some changes you think can be made to either XC or Track in CA for the betterment of either sport?
Oh boy don’t get me started! Definitely adding the 4x800 to the CIF lineup would be my first change (wouldn't mind the 4x200 & DMR as well!). I also think we don’t need to have a Masters Meet for the SS in track. Realistically how many times can we ask our athletes to go at a high level before state before they just run out of gas, trip over a hurdle, drop a baton, etc. I think we should have state qualifying standards that anyone can hit at CIF Finals and go straight to State. It would also be great to run the CIF Finals for track later in the day and under the lights like we do for Masters. The guys that run these meets do such an amazing job, I know they could make that happen. I think we would really see some amazing performances if that were to happen this year at Mt. SAC for Finals as it is always really hot there! Ultimately though I think the people that make all of these decisions in CIF do a great job for our kids and the programs they serve and I fully support them.

16) Anything else you would like to add.
It is great to see blogs like XCExpress stepping up to fill some of the voids that have been created recently in coverage for our sports. Thank you for all you do for our kids, parents, coaches, and fans of these sports! I can be reached at if anyone has any other questions about our programs.

Thank you very much for your time Doug!  AJC


Anonymous said...

oh well ...... there goes our nor cal site.

Anonymous said...

12 X 1200! Holy Crap! That is Crazy!

Albert Caruana said...

Not really. I have done interviews with SS athletes and coaches before and I don't think that took away from my coverage of the NorCal area.

Albert Caruana said...

Here are the times for Great Oak HS this track and field season.

Anonymous said...

Not to sound critical but if you get 200 kids out for xc you better be good. It's survival of the fittest, work them hard the elite rise to the top. If a few get injured no worries. The machine rolls on.

That said it takes a great coach to manage and get so many kids out. It takes a special person to keep those kids out as well.

Rob Collins said...

Doug,You Make me sound Old Now Officially! Raced against your Uncle Rob Durkee when I was a Freshman at Centennial when he was at Rex Putnam when they were part of the old Wilco League! See You up at Mammoth! Rob

Coach Small said...

Best interview yet Albert! I appreciate the candidness and how open Coach Soles was on everything from coaching philosophy to key workouts. The work ethic of this team and coach is inspiring and should serve as a lesson of the hard work it takes to be great!

Albert Caruana said...

Doug is definitely one of the best at sharing with other coaches. If you have any questions about anything in the interview, feel free to email him at the email address he provided at the end of the interview.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to see a list of Great Oak alum competing at the D1 level. Is that available?

Coach Soles said...

Hello everyone, wanted to give a list of where we have had athletes sign and compete. Nearly all of the girls that have run for us at Great Oak either graduated after running for 4 years, or are still currently competing for their school. Our boys have just gotten good enough to have guys that are being recruited instead of walking on and barely making the team so the current group should be able to run in college should they choose to do so.

Student Name - Year Grad - School - Event Group
Lauren Campfield - 2007- Dartmouth - Distances
Stephan May - 2007 - RCC - Distances
Chris Lawson - 2007 - Long Beach St. - Hurdles
Lee Darling - 2007 - UC Irvine - Hurdles
TJ Emery - 2007 - Cal Berkley - Football
Abbey Gallaher - 2008 - UC Davis - Distances
Breeanca Fleming - 2008 - UC Irvine - Sprints
Michael Wysocki - 2008 -UCSB - Distances
Alli Gallaher - 2008 - Cal Berkley - DNR
Jessica Barnard- 2008 - Long Beach St. - Distances
Alyssa Neimeyer- 2008 - Cal Baptist - Distances
Leah Johnson - 2008 - Cal Baptist Univ. - Distances
Jabin Sambrano - 2008 - Montana - Football
Ryan Houghton - 2008 - Biola University - Distances
Heather Wilson - 2009 - Cal Poly SLO - Distances
Richard Rogers - 2009 - Guilford College (NC) - Distances
Bree Anderson - 2009 - Soka University - Sprints
Chris Vordahl - 2009 - Cal Poly Pomona - Distances
Katie Barrese - 2009 - Florida Southern (FL) (transfer to) University of La Verne - Distances
Monique Belmudes - 2009 - Clayton State (GA) - Distances
Kyle Dickerson - 2009 - Idaho State (ID) - Distances
Nick Childers - 2009 - Niagara University (NY) - Distances
Will Fraser - 2009 - Idaho State (ID) - Distances
Gerard Glass - 2009 - RCC - Sprints
Blanca Lopez - 2009 - Clayton State (GA) - Distances
Aaron Bauer - 2009 - Augustana College (SD) - Distances
Maxx Mills - 2009 - RCC - Sprints
Sean Stone - 2009 - RCC - Pole Vault
Jon Kancilia - 2009 - Point Loma - Hurdles
Bree Foster - 2009 - University of Hawaii (HI) - Pole Vault
Samantha Morabe - 2010 - University of Nebraska (NE) - Distances
Kaity Malloy - 2010 - UCSD - Distances
Alec Slamal - 2010 - Sac State (transfer to) Florida Southern (FL) - Distances
Tyler Rackleff - 2010 - Boise State - Distances
Ryan Rigali - 2010 - Tulane (LA) - Distances
Jordan Storkersen - 2010 - RCC - Distances
Skyler Pray - 2010 - RCC - Throws
Bubba Luna - 2010 - Hawaii - Football
Karson Fronk - 2011 - BYU (UT) - Distances
Kyle Strawn - 2011 - CSUSB - Throws
Katie Johnson - 2011 - Cornell (NY) - Distances
Anna Johnson - 2011 - Cornell (NY) - Distances
Jessica HIlton - 2011 - BYU (UT) - Distances
Alia Bales - 2011 - UCSD - Distances
Shannon Emery - 2011 - Mesa State University (CO) - Distances
Megan McClain - 2011 - Lipscomb University (TN) - Distances
Brandon Messerly - 2012 - Kansas (KS) - Distances
Pauline Mandel - 2012 - Colorado State (CO) - Distances
Khala Taylor - 2012 - UC Berkley - Softball/Indoor Track Sprints
Carly Bauer - 2012 - Augustana (SD) - Distances
Taylor Maggiacomo - 2012 - Carnegie Mellon University (PA) - Distances
Eddie Carrillo - 2012 - UCSD - Distances
Ronke Odubela - 2012 - UCSD - Sprints
Brenden Emery - 2012 - Utah Valley University - Distances
Duane Solomon - 2012 - Verbal UCLA - Hurdles/Sprints
Michael Hewitt - 2012 - Undecided - Distances
Chris Milan - 2012 - Undecided - Sprints
Kevin Chamberlain - 2012 - Undecided - Distances

Coach Soles said...

Hey Rob,

That is so funny that you raced my uncle back in the day! I was probably like 7-8 years old, so I think that does officially make you old now! haha! I'm glad we didn't discover this in Mammoth or we never would have stopped talking! Looks like we are heading to Big Bear this year, but we will probably go back to Mammoth the following year. Congrats on all of your success, keep up the amazing job!


Albert Caruana said...

As they say, it's a small world.

Doug, if you haven't seen it already, Aron Taylor at posted a picture of you with your boys in xc on his front page.

Anonymous said...

great interview!

Anonymous said...

Great interview. What's the ACLU business all about?

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