Rocky Capello is entering his second year as the distance coach at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond after spending several years producing several state champion squads at Ascension Catholic High School.
LRC: Coming from a small high school squad, how was the transition to coaching at the D1 level?
RC: The transition was actually pretty smooth. From a training perspective, my High School kids actually had a training program pretty similar if not more difficult than the training being done by my college returners. It was great to see how well the College kids adapted and embraced my style of training.
LRC: How would you rate your first year as a college coach in terms of reaching your goals?
RC: I thought we had a successful year. Our Men’s goal was to average 26:30 at the Conference Meet for the 8K race. We came close and averaged 26:44 which was a nice improvement over the 27:58 average from the previous year. The Women’s team did really well considering the circumstances. For most of the season, we only had 3 distance runners on the girls squad. At the Conference Meet, we raced 6 girls including a sprinter, pole vaulter and Tennis player. Despite this, we were able to beat 3 teams.
LRC: How has the recruiting process been and how did your first class shape up?
RC: My first recruiting class looks solid on both the Boy’s and Girl’s side. We added a lot of quality and should be really competitive for the next few years. On the Boy’s side, our top signees were Adam Cortez (15:21, 5K/ 9:25, 3200m), Jonathan Respress (1:52, 800m/ 16:33, 5K), Anthony Cordero (1:57, 800m/15:45, 5K), and Parker Phillips (15:45, 5K/ 4:24, 1600m). In addition, Devyn Keith (1:53, 800m/ 4:16, 1600m/ 14:55, 5k) has decided to transfer to our school from Tulane, so he is expected to be a huge contributor to our program. On the Girl’s side, our top signees were Sophie Daigle (18:18, 3mile/5:20, 1600m), Tara Stuntz (18:21, 3 mile/ 5:19, 1600m), Breanna Bernard (19:12, 3 mile/ 11:59, 3200m), and Lindsey Hutcheson (19:31, 3 mile).
LRC: How long each week do you spend recruiting?
RC: After I was hired last Summer, I spent about 15-20 hours each week either recruiting or researching recruits. It seems to have paid off. We have 13 new distance runners on the squad this year. Of the 24 distance runners who will be on the 2017-18 team, only 1 is a Senior. Because of that, I haven’t spent nearly as much time recruiting for the 2018 class. We are hoping to sign 1-2 guys and 2-3 girls for next year’s class.
LRC: What is your vision for the future of the SLU distance program?
RC: As I told Coach Brady when he offered me the position, my goal is for SLU to compete for Cross Country Conference Championships every year and to have one of the top 5 programs in the Region.
I also look forward to training Track athletes looking to be NCAA Regional and National qualifiers.
LRC: What does a typical training week look like for your team during cross country?
RC: During the Summer, it is all about building a stamina base by increasing mileage and adding in long Steady State Runs and Tempo Runs before arriving to campus in August. In August, September and October, depending on the race schedule, we will generally do easy runs on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and have either a Tempo, Interval or Fartlek session on Tuesday and Friday. On Sunday we do either a Long Run or Steady State Run.
LRC: What advice would you give to a high school athlete who isn’t sure if they want to run in college?
RC: If you believe you have the talent to be a college athlete, you should accept the challenge. You won’t ever regret trying. You will probably regret not trying. There are so many talented runners out there who are not in a training program which will generate recruitable marks. I would encourage anyone who has a dream of being a college athlete to try to find a program willing to give them a shot.
LRC: If I was a top high school athlete, what stands out about your program that should make me choose SLU?
1. SLU is a great university with many quality academic opportunities at an affordable cost including one of the best Freshman Scholarship programs in the State.
2. The Cross Country squad is a tight knit family and the 24 members are very supportive of each other.
3. The training program is a science-based, progressive system designed to maximize the potential of each member of the team and not just the superstars.
4. In my program, the well-being of each athlete will always take precedence over anything else.
LRC: Is there anyone on your team who you feel is ready to have a breakout year?
RC: As far as returners, I expect Grant O’Callaghan to have a huge year. Last year, he was one of the top Freshmen in the Conference, running 15:16 in 5k and 3:55 in 1500m. I think he will easily exceed those marks and compete for Conference honors in XC and Track. I also expect Junior, Clarissa Smith to have her best Track season of her career. She will redshirt this XC season, but she should be one of the top Steeplechase competitors in the Spring. In addition, without mentioning names, I think 5-6 incoming Freshmen have a chance to score at a Conference Meet this year.
LRC: What is the biggest lesson you learned this year?
RC: I learned that you have to sometimes let go of the reins and trust the athletes to prepare themselves. Coming from a small HS setting, I micro-managed athletes training them from 5th grade until 12th grade. That just isn’t possible in a college setting.