Season preview: New coaches to keep team on track (and field)
Despite a batch of new coaches and the departure of key runners, Palo Alto High School’s track and field team is gearing up for a strong 2013-14 season.
Last year’s boys’ long distance coach Kelsey Feeley has replaced Jason Fung as boys’ head coach this season, while Kyle Jantzi, Taimur Khan and Taylor Monts have filled in new openings as high jump and hurdles, sprints and long distance coaches, respectively.
In 2013, the boys’ team won the De Anza League competition, while the girls’ team came in second. In that season, then-senior long jumper Victor Du, then-junior sprinter Nick Sullivan and the 4 x 400 relay team made it to the California Interscholastic Federation State Championship preliminary round. The Vikings are currently preparing for the team’s first meet on March 13 at Gunn High School and hope to maintain a similar level of success.
“[My main goal is] just to perform at the standard that Paly has been performing at for years now,” Feeley said. “We’ve set such high standards in past years, so [the goal is to] just stay on par with that.”
Significant sprinters, shot-putters and jumpers, such as Jayshawn Gates-Mouton, Michael Johnson, Camden Santo, Eilon Tzur and Alexia Garcia, whose personal records made the athletic.net Top 10 personal record list for the De Anza League, graduated last year. Consequently, there are some gaps left on the team’s roster, particularly on the boys’ side. However, the Vikings do not believe this deficit will be an issue, according to Feeley and senior boys’ captain Nick Sullivan, who helped the 4 x 100-meter relay team place fourth at last season’s CIF Central Coast Section finals.
Sullivan believes that the boys’ team will remain strong, despite the loss of principal runners.
“As a team, I think we can win CCS on the boys’ side,” Sullivan said. “The 4 x 100 will be a lot different this year with us losing three of our four runners in that event from last year. We just need to practice our handoffs and things should be fine.”
According to Feeley, the season’s biggest change is the emergence of a solid group of mid-distance runners.
“We have a legitimate mid-distance group of people, whereas in the past, it’s been sprinters and distance, so it’s nice that I can focus on runners inclined to run mid-distance,” Feely said. “It’s nice to be able to do specific training for that group of kids and give them a little more attention than they’ve gotten in the past.”
This new concentration on mid-distance runners has benefited the overall strength of the girls’ team, which senior captain and mid-distance runner Audrey DeBruine believes has a chance at coming in first in the league this season.
“On the girls side, we didn’t lose too many runners so I’m really excited for us to improve this season,” DeBruine said. “I think our distance and mid-distance teams have really been improving over the past few seasons, so our team is definitely more well-rounded. I’m hoping that we can take a shot at winning the league this year — that would be awesome for my senior season.”
Additionally, Feeley noted that many upperclassmen have taken on new leadership positions.
“[In] some of the older athletes, I’ve seen a change just from last year to this year — how they’ve stepped up and taken on a bigger leadership role,” Feeley said. “Especially Nick Sullivan. He’s one of our captains and one of our high impact runners. He has really stepped up and has taken a great control over the sprinting group.”
Paly’s Hod Ray field underwent renovations last season, preventing any track meets from being held at Paly. However, this year, there will be three home meets during the regular season after the upcoming meet at Gunn.
“Our first meet is at Gunn, and if we can beat them, that would make me really excited for the remainder of the season,” DeBruine said. “Personally, I’m just super stoked that we have home meets again this year, and I would definitely like to PR [personal record] on the Paly track.”
The new coaching staff will be a major change for the track team.
In addition to coaching track, Feeley has coached soccer and boys’ cross country. She ran track from her middle school to college years, participating in the 800-meter and 4 x 400-meter relay, and also played soccer. Feeley reflected that she has always enjoyed coaching throughout her experience with sports.
“In my last year of college, I was more of an athlete-coach because I was injured,” Feeley said. “I’ve always taken on more of a coaching role than an athlete role. I loved to run workouts… and [to] encourage my teammates to do better.”
Prior to coaching at Paly, Monts, the long distance coach, was an assistant high school track and cross country coach in San Marcos, Texas while he attended Texas State University and coached privately in Arkansas and in the Bay Area. In high school, Monts ran varsity track and cross country and picked up running again during his senior year in college. Since then, inspired by the marathon distance, Monts has trained to qualify for the Olympic trials for the event, he said.
Jantzi, who is coaching the high jumpers and hurdlers, did high jump and hurdles in high school and for a couple of years in college. He currently teaches third grade at El Carmelo Elementary School and looks forward to coaching the field events that he enjoyed growing up.
“I’ve always loved high jump and hurdles and was looking for an opportunity if they needed help here, and they did,” Jantzi said. “It’s a hole that I can fill and I’m excited to be out here and work with these kids.”
Khan, who will coach the sprinters, ran the 400-meter, 4 x 100-meter relay and 4 x 400-meter relay throughout his track career at Lynbrook High School and at University of California, Los Angeles. Khan also participated in Olympic training for Pakistan and appreciates the fun he has coaching.
“As far as coaching goes, it’s one of the things that makes me happiest,” Khan said. “Every job that I’ve had hasn’t compared to how much fun I have with the kids out here.”
Ultimately, the new coaching staff hopes that athletes will grow over the course of the season.
“You have so many kids coming out, all who want to be part of something,” Khan said. “But as a coach, you have to evaluate where their talents lie, make sure that they understand what they could be good at and, if possible, take them out of their comfort zones and make them better at things that maybe they thought they wouldn’t be good at.”
Furthermore, Khan wants athletes to be content with their performances by the end of the season.
“I’m happy with whatever the results end up being as long as they [the athletes] are satisfied with their improvement,” Khan said. “My goal is to make sure I made them better runners in the end of the season as compared to where they were at the beginning.”
Monts also emphasized the importance of students learning from their experiences in track.
“My main goal is to simply have everyone learn about hard work, dedication, overcoming, perseverance and how it can translate from the track to everything else in life,” Monts said. “Perhaps having a little fun while we’re at it as well.”