Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Catching up with St. Francis (Sacramento) XC coach, John Du Cray...

Today we chat with St. Francis, Sacramento cross country and track and field coach, John Du Cray.  This past season, his varsity girls team had quite a season as they were the first Northern California girls' team to reach the podium in Division I at the state meet with a 2nd place finish.  They were not only the 2nd best team in Division I but the 2nd best girls team in the entire state trailing only Great Oak.  With their impressive performance, the Troubadours were also invited to the Nike Cross Nationals.  Previous to the CA state meet, the St. Francis girls won the 9th SJS championship in school history.  John has been the only head cross country coach at St. Francis as he started the XC team in 1982.  Coincidentally, he also started the TF team in 1977.

1)  What was your athletic experience during your youth?  What sports did you play?  Highlights?
I was a football, basketball, baseball, and a little track and field athlete in my youth and high school days...Highlights-Athlete of the Year, in 8th grade at St. Mary's...Athlete of the Year, in 9th grade at Kit Carson Jr High...MVP in football, in 10th grade, at Sacramento High School...Prep of the Week, twice, in football, my senior year, at Sacramento High School...My position was Quarterback.

2)  What led you into coaching?  What else do you do besides coaching?
Quite often I was the captain on the many teams I competed on and had a good feel on leading my teammates.  From being a captain to coaching was an easy transition.  I enjoy the chess match with other teams and coaches.  I have a small house painting business with a partner and I'm also a retired elementary PE teacher.  I retired 4-1/2 years ago.

3)  Who were your coaching mentors when you first started coaching?
My dad was my first mentor as he was my football and baseball coach when I was young.  He told me one very important principle which was, if you don't get the skills mastered by game time, you will be in big trouble.  It's too late to try to teach the skills during the game.  Coach Walt Lange (Jesuit) helped me out in my early days at St. Francis.

4)  What was your first coaching job?  What did you learn from that experience?
My first coaching job was coaching middle school (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) football at St. Mary's School, in Sacramento, in 1970.  What I learned from that experience was the need to scout my opposition better.

5)  How did you end up at St. Francis?  How long have you been coaching there?
I had been coaching T/F at St. Mary's (3rd-8th grade) for six years and for most of those years my girls teams were pretty dominant.  Most of the 8th grade girls would go to St. Francis, which was just down the street from St. Mary's.  Three of my former athletes came to me in the Fall of 1976 to tell me they had just found out, there was high school track and could I come to St. Francis and try to start a team.  I went over and talked to the principal and I ended up starting the T/F program, in the spring of 1977.  I then started the XC program in 1982.  I have been at SF for 35 years.

6)  What is the size of your team in a typical year?  What is the running experience of most of your runners as they enter high school?
We have gone from 35 athletes in 2010 to 55 in 2012.  Normally, we would be around 35 but I hope to stay above 50.  I get all range of running experience from the girls as they enter St. Francis.  The range is from zero experience to four years.

7)  What are your expectations for your runners during the summer?  Is there a summer camp?
Run, run, and run some more.  We have 4-days of fun runs scheduled each week from the middle of June, to the start of the season.  I encourage the girls to make the fun runs whenever possible.  The more experienced runners will hopefully be running 5 days a week.  I keep my fingers crossed.  We do have a summer camp in the first week or so in August.  This year it will be in Truckee.

8)  How do you go about putting your racing schedule together?  What determines what races your team attends?
About 75% of my racing schedule is the same from year to year.  There are some races that I really like and I go back to them each year.  The other 25% are the bigger meets like Mt. SAC, and the coaches get together and decide if the girls are ready to travel and compete on the bigger stage.  What type of course, distance of the races for all three divisions (F/S, JV, and Var), how far to travel, all works in to determining which races we attend.

9)  Your girls finished in 4th place in the 2011 XC season.  Where did you think your girls should be ranked going into this past XC season?
With the 4th place finish in 2011 and only losing one senior, I thought we would be ranked in the top four.

10)  Tell us a little about this past season and how it unfolded and ended.
With 6 of the top 7 coming back and a pretty good track season in the spring, the coaches thought we could have a good to very good year.  Well, the season started even better than we thought.  Five wins in a row, and the big one was winning the seeded race at Stanford.  That was a first for St. Francis.  By October, it was, okay coaches, let's not mess this up.  The biggest worry for all coaches was staying healthy.  We got lucky and stayed quite healthy all season.  We were aiming for a top 3 finish at State and maybe a shot at Nike Nationals.  We finished 2nd and got invited to Nike.  Great finish for this year.

11)  What does a typical week look like for your girls training wise during the early part of the season?
In the early part of the season, it's building miles, 2 types of hill work, and 2-3 types of tempo running.

12)  What changes as you approach the section meet and then the state meet?
Good question.  We did change our approach after the Clovis Invite for the Varsity.  The girls had been rock solid in all their races from the beginning of the season, so we decided to eliminate one race to give them a mental break before league and section championships.  The coaches believed it worked great.  We might have worked a little too hard approaching State.  That was my call and I probably will change the training for next year.

13)  Who are the programs in the SJS who have helped push your girls to their current level?
In our Delta River League, it has been Oak Ridge and at the Section level, it's Davis High School.

14)  What is your advice for coaches who have aspirations to make the podium at the CA state XC meet?
My Dad would say, you always need a couple of blue chippers to compete at the top so, we/coaches keep trying to get the best possible athletes out that are at St. Francis.  Having good numbers coming out helps.  Some way, you got to convince the girls to train during the off-season.  That's key.  Run track and have a sound training plan.

15)  Anything else you would like to add.
I want to say thanks for picking me for this interview.  I'm grateful.  I have a great coaching staff in Mason Myers, Rich Willett, Joe Poggi and Megan Quirk.  But, all the credit goes to all the girls who ran and raced for St. Francis.  They worked extremely hard in a sport that doesn't always get a lot of press.  One of my former Asst Coaches, Tom Laythe, said it succinctly a few years back, "I didn't even had to run a step".  Thanks again.

Thank you very much for your time John!  AJC


Anonymous said...

Very impressive program and a great 2012 XC season!

Ghpadd said...

Jon is one of the humblest coaches I have ever met and watched. Many of my club athletes have run for St. Francis over the years and have continually informed me of how Jon helped them in their personal lives as well as their athletic lives. Always with the time to talk to a student, an athlete, a parent, another coach...as unassuming a coach as ever there was. I think he and Walt Lange from Jesuit HS in Sac. were cut from very unique stone. My hat is off to Jon...and to all other coaches that have toiled for meager pay, long hours, kid and parent problems, injuries, budget cuts and everything it takes to get one athlete to the line. A big thanks to my coaches, my kids coaches for being so important in the development of so many wonderful human beings!!

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