Coaching Champions: Sue O'Malley - Father Lopez Boys

In this series we take a look at state championship coaches, their outlook on the team, and 2015 season. Coach Sue O'Malley has been at Father Lopez for nine years, but is in her fourth as the boys coach. This year the team won their first ever district, regional and state titles.

Flrunners: What kind of training did your team get in over the summer months leading into the season?

Coach Sue O'Malley: Father Lopez summer training went extremely well this summer. We have core of four strong seniors who helped the team together for their workouts. We trained 6 days a week in trail, hills and the roads. We attended Embry Riddle cross country camp as s team the middle of June for a week. In July we added tempo runs, lots of hills and extended our longer runs to 1:30-2hours in length. We didn't speed work for the summer. The boys spent a lot of time doing activities after practices together.

FLR: How did you train the team in the final weeks leading up to the state meet?

CSO: In the final weeks before states we did not taper for our district meet and used this meet as a good steady workout. We then started a taper for our region meet and then of course for the state meet. We added track workouts 2x's a week with a mix of 400's and 200's. The weekend in between district and states we did 20x200 meters in under 35 seconds with a minute race in between each 200. The week of states we did 20 minute runs and a day of 4x400 repeats at race pace and a day of 6x200's at race pace. The day before the state meet we ran one loop of the state course with some striders.

FLR: What chances or belief did you have in your team's chance and ability to win the state title?

CSO: I believed in this team 4 years ago when I took over the boys program as the head coach. I knew I had a very special group of talented hard working young men who loved to run. I think they were having a hard time in believing in me. Being a female coach and coaching a male dominated sport was hard for them. It wasn't until last season they  finally understood  that I really did know what I was talking about.

FLR: What advice or points of emphasis did you give your team prior to the race or the week leading into the state meet?

CSO: The week before states we talked a lot of team strategy and how important everyone is going to play part in a win if we had a chance. I am also preaching about believing and trust in yourself and your team mates. Since we are a Catholic school spirituality plays a big factor in our training and everyday lives.  

FLR: What was the race plan for the state meet and how did you feel it was executed?

CSO: We had a team meeting the night before the state meet and I let the seniors and the team express what they felt they wanted a game plan. We knew what we were up against two big Giants for the day-the weather and McClay High School. We were going to use the weather to our advantage since it is a lot warmer in Daytona than in Tally. Our team strategy was not to take it out so hard and let the other runners set the blistering pace and keep McClay and Bishop Snyder in our sights. We love pack running so we were going to keep everyone as close together as possible until the end and then just all guts for the finish. This plan really paid off! We defeated the giants just like the Bible story David and Goliath.

FLR: Who do you feel really stepped up individually the most for the team at the state meet?

CSO: Junior Noah van der Burgt definitely was a key for us. He had an injury occur in the middle of September and was doing a lot of cross training up until the district meet. He probably only ran maybe 15-20 miles for the whole month of October but filled the rest of his time with biking, swimming and physical therapy. Noah has a God given talent for running. His team mates surrounded him with a lot of support and Noah even came to all the practices to support his teammates. Senior Chase Massi was also a huge key. Chase all season was intimidated by his peers but after several talks with Chase he really started to turn it around. He ended up running an all time PR and placing 3rd on the team at the state meet.

FLR: What were your feelings and emotions when you realized your team had won or during the awards?

CSO: I was stunned and in disbelief and cried for about half hour. These young men ran for me and gave me a gift I will never forget! I still do not believe it! My medal is on my bed stand and I wake up every morning with a big smile on my face!  And I said for the last time "Hey guys I just did a virtual meet?' The final score was Father Lopez 118 McClay 131. We are state champions! Look running joke all season long with my virtual meet stats every day!

FLR: What were the biggest challenges for this year's team?

CSO: The biggest challenge we faced was a actually having the athletes believe and trust in themselves and team mates and 4 of them had been together 3-4 years and knew of each other weaknesses and strengths. They knew we had to do much harder and intense workouts not like in the past years. Commitment for every practice and sharing their talents with their team mates became a priority every day. When someone was slacking or having a bad day the athletes embraced that and used it to become the best they could be. They knew we were a dark horse but were willing to give everything they had to make their dreams come true.

FLR: How would you best describe the group of kids that you coach?

CSO: Fun loving group of young men. Their sense of humor, their story telling and their antics would send tears to your eyes with laughter. I think their sincerity and strong work ethic is what also helped them achieve their dream. They were like a big box of crayons-all different but yet shared and embraced everyone to create the most awesome picture drawing of all-a state title!

FLR: What role do your assistant coaches play with the program?

CSO: My assistant coach this year was brand new. He is an avid runner himself. He was eager to learn from my method of training was all about and always asking me questions why I was doing what I s doing. His daughter a freshman was our number runner this season and took 3:30 off of her 5k time form the beginning of the season to the end of the season. He was great to have to run with the athletes too. I have not been able to run let alone walk for the past two years because of a very severe reaction from the flu shot which I am still recovering form. He was able to run to the different parts of a course during a meet and help assist the runners as they ran by.

FLR: What role do your parents have with the program?

CSO: My parents are the very best! We talk about our team as one family, one team and this had one very big dream! (Winning a state title). The parents have supported me and welcomed me from the very start. They are definitely a rock for this team and keep me grounded in many ways. I have had parents say that I will be the first living saint- "Anyone that can get my child to want to get up early during the summer or at 5:00 am for our morning practices during the school year, deserves to be a saint!)

FLR: Who were the leaders on your team and what was the importance to the squad?

CSO: I ask all the upper classmen to do their part as leaders. Everyone on our team plays a major role to the first to the 41st runner. We include everyone on the team in some leadership role at some point of the season. Sharing the responsibility makes everyone feel as one.

FLR: Every state championship team seems to have a special or unique makeup that makes them state champions. What were some of those characteristics of this year's team?

CSO: Collectively they have enjoyed running which I love so much as any team I have seen and coached. They wore me out at times, asking for more more and more! Don't you guys want to go home? Don't you want to eat and study? I don't think so because you have stayed late, got up early all summer long and twice during the past three months before school, worked hard to improve and just had fun. As a team they have done everything I have asked of you this yr. you have made enormous leaps in improvement while I challenged you to give up some of your bad habits and take on new ones. They were willingly to try new and different workouts in order to help yourself and the team. You have been patient through the past 6 months, Been on time and accepted personal responsibilities. This was huge! The past yr and the past 4 years for 4 of u had been a wonderful journey of learning the sport of running. This yr I no longer saw 4 individual runners on the running courses but I witnessed 4(total of 9 seniors on the team) seniors running together with teammates as one team. Each one of us learned that as a team we got better by correcting, reminding, encouraging, lifting each other up and congratulating each other. This created a team chemistry and mutual respect you will remember for a long time and hopefully carry it with u into your future. Lastly, the one most important lesson they learned about themselves is that u never quit on each other. We had our ups and downs at times, some close calls and quitting would have been easier but not with this group. This is why this is my DREAM TEAM-MCLOPEZ USA!

FLR: What are your expectations for next year's team? 

CSO: We return 3 from the top 7 and will try and win it again!

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