The Spain Park boys are poised to have one of their best seasons in years. We spoke with Coach Micheal Zelwak to find out how the team was progressing this year.
1. How many years have you been coaching high school cross country (and at your current school)?
This will be my 14th year coaching cross country- all of which have been at Spain Park.
2. What do you attribute as the main reasons for the success of your program?
The athletes believe in the system we have here. The athletes are committed to the program and to each other.
3. What would be the best way to describe your style and philosophy of coaching and working with high school runners?
My philosophy of coaching is simple - I try to use running to teach them lessons about life. I attempt to provide an atmosphere where individuals will be challenged to push beyond their perceived limits and grow not only as runners but as people. I believe high school athletes are unique because they are figuring out what really matters in life, who they are and developing a sense of who they will become and what they can accomplish and running is a great metaphor for those lessons in life.
4. What are your core beliefs in your training plan and workouts for your cross country squads?
Consistent training will lead to results and if the athletes do the work- they will improve. Our training plan attempts to develop athletes through phases that will build on each other to peak in November. We usually try to stimulate different energy systems at different times throughout the season and each team has different needs and abilities so I try to adjust each training plan accordingly to maximize their training.
5. How many runners do you return from your top 7 from a year ago?
We return all of our top 7.
6. Who is your projected top 7 heading into the cross country season?
Morgan Becker, Charlie Trower, Jacob Warner, Cole Dillard, Isaac Shore, EJ McKinley and EJ Moses are all listed as our returning top 7 and Andrew Gedgoudas, Kai Ozug and Sam Gray have all had great summers. I am curious to see what the order will be this season as they all are ready for a breakout season.
7. Who are your team captains or leaders and what stands out about them as examples for the rest of their teammates?
We are in a unique position because most of our guys can step up and lead in some way that can positively impact the rest of the team. They have all relied on each other for so long that it is going to be interesting to see which individuals emerge as a leaders everyone wants to follow.
8. Who have you been most impressed or surprised with their improvement and/or fitness from their summer training?
The guys have all had a solid summer. They have been consistent and getting stronger in a lot of ways. Charlie and Jacob seem to have had improvements in their fitness. Andrew seems to be running with some confidence and I am excited to see how the hard work Sam Gray and EJ Moses have put in will impact their season.
9. Any impactful freshmen or transfers to join the team this season?
Not that I am aware of just yet. A few guys are on my radar- we will see what happens.
10. What are the top invitational meets that your team will be attending this season?
We will attend the Memphis Twilight and if the guys are continuing to run well- we will take a trip to the Clovis Invitational in California in October.
11. What will be the biggest obstacle or challenge facing your team this season?
Trusting each other.
12. What will be the biggest reason why your team is successful this season?
They have been working toward this year for a long time. They all can sense we are on the verge of greatness. They are all believing great things are possible this year and backing it up by putting in quality work over the summer.
13. What is a favorite annual or common pre-season workout or run for your team?
A standard summer run/pre-season run to test their strength is what I call the 31 Run. It is a 7 mile run where the first 4 miles are a grueling up-hill climb to a peak overlooking Homewood and Mountain Brook. We also have added some longer tempo runs this year to test their fitness. These are good guides for me to determine what work we need to do once the season officially begins.
14. What is a favorite annual or common mid-season workout for your team?
A staple workout for us once the competition phase begins would have to be K Repeats. We run reps of either 1000 meters (1200m later in the season) with active recovery to assess where we are. These are done around the lake at Veteran's or through the hilly woods section depending on our needs.
15. What is a favorite annual or common championship season or end-of-season workout for your team?
We usually have a mix- workout where we mimic the demands of the race. We usually vary the pace and distances in order to prepare for the stresses of the upcoming race.
16. What are your top 3 goals for this year's squad?
1. Surprise everyone