By: Brandon C. (’17)
Today we chat with esteemed head coach, Albert Caruana, of the Crystal Springs Cross Country team. After joining the track team at Cappuchino as a freshman, Caruana immediately fell in love with the sport and hasn’t looked back since. Caruana has been both coaching and teaching at Crystal Springs for over 20 years now and continues to develop our successful running program. With the California State Championship right around the corner, the CSUS boys cross country team––currently ranked #6 in the state––looks to improve upon last year’s finish and capture a vaunted podium spot.
1) How did you get into coaching?
I think I knew I would be a coach during high school. I was always curious about the coaches and watched how they handled practices and meets and asked a lot of questions. The head track coach once told me that I was limited to three questions per day. I told him, “Only three?” and he replied, “yes, and now you have two left.” I also remember we had a track ‘will list’ and for me, they willed a clipboard so my teammates must have known as well.
2) What was your own athletic experience in your youth? Favorite sports?
My parents were not into sports at all so I had to discover them on my own. When we moved here from Malta, I remember watching the 1981 Super Bowl as the 49ers won their first NFL title. My first ever athletic competition that I remember was a cross country race during 8th grade. It was at Mills high school, and what I recall, was slipping on a downhill section and sliding down the hill. I was 12 years old as a freshman at Capuchino high school and wasn’t planning on doing any sports. I wrestled my first two years, a mighty 4ft7in/85 pounds as a freshman. During the winter of my freshman year, we had a 12 minute test around the track and I ran 7.5 laps. At the end of class, the PE teacher who was also the track coach said that anybody who ran over 7 laps should considering joining the track team. I joined the track team and finished last in every race (so it seemed). I joined the cross country team as a sophomore and after a summer of running, I made all-league as a sophomore. My best season in cross country was as a junior since I had a great training group of seniors. My favorite sport in high school fluctuated between cross country and track and field.
3) Did you coach at any other schools before Crystal? Highlights?
My first coaching job was in 1992 when I became the head XC coach at San Mateo HS. The previous coach, who was beloved by the school community, had passed away during the spring. I coached there for 2 years (both XC and TF) before a teacher requested to coach the XC team before my 3rd season. I coached XC and TF at Burlingame HS the following season before coaching both sports at Westmoor HS for 7 years. During the winter, I was an assistant basketball coach at Half Moon Bay HS from 94-96. I would say my biggest highlight was coaching some terrific students at all the schools mentioned above that I am still friends with to this day. Other highlights include coaching an individual league XC champion at San Mateo HS my first year. At Westmoor, the cross country team qualified to the state meet in 1996, the only time in school history. At HMB, we won CCS in 1994 and 1996 and qualified for NorCal both seasons.
4) How long have you been teaching and coaching at Crystal? What do you teach?
I started teaching and coaching at Crystal in 1996 which makes this my 21st year. I have been a physical education teacher and coach. Along with cross country and track and field, I have also coached, basketball, soccer and swimming.
5) What does a typical training week look like for your runners?
A little known fact is that our training is dictated by the van schedule. Since there are rarely any competitions on Mondays, we are able to drive off campus on that day. Monday is typically a workout at Seal Point Park, and with typical Saturday competitions, our Monday workout consists of longer reps a bit slower than race pace. Tuesday is typically a medium run along with a circuit in the fitness center. Wednesday is usually another workout day with the repeats a bit shorter and faster than Monday. Thursday is typically our longest run of the week. We have used Sawyer Camp Trail for those long runs in the past but that was not available to us this year. Friday is typically more of a recovery run followed by another strength circuit in the weight room. Saturday is usually a meet day. With a non-meet Saturday, we typically do a workout. Sundays are usually an off day although students have the option to run or do something active on their own if they like.
6) The team just won its third consecutive CCS championship––can you walk us through that race? What are your takeaways from the meet?
During the week leading up to the CCS meet, I was feeling pretty confident that we would do well against our competition. I felt like we had a pretty big cushion considering our fine performance at the WBAL final but there is always some doubt. At the Crystal Springs course, you can get a pretty good gauge after the mile mark and we seemed to be in a good position at that point. I don’t think we ran our best race but it was good enough for the win. My biggest takeaway from the meet was that we won another section title and after the race, it seemed like all the boys were disappointed about their performance. We have had two good weeks of training since then and are looking forward to the state meet.
7) Leading up to the California State meet on November 26th, what are the team’s goals for the race?
Our best finish by the boys before last season was two 10th place finishes. We performed very well at last year’s state final and improved our best finished to 6th place. I believe that we have a better team this year and would like to improve on our finish from last season.
8) What do you feel have been the keys to success at Crystal during cross country season?
I attend a lot of coaching clinics and one thing that is hammered home by a lot of coaches is that the three most important factors in cross country is June, July and August. When you can get your athletes to run during the summer, you will have a better opportunity to field a contending team. The other factor was starting the Track and Field team in 2002. Most successful XC runners participate on the Track and Field team in the spring. It’s another opportunity to build your fitness and get faster as a runner as you really learn how to race during track. I think another key is that we have hard working, academically driven students at our school. The same traits that contribute to success in the classroom are also the same traits that it takes to be a successful runner.
9) What would be your best advice to a young coach, starting out and with ambition to run a great cross country program?
Coaches are very lucky to have a lot of information at their disposal if they want to run a great program. They can reach out to any coach in the country and ask them what it takes to be a better coach. They can read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos etc. They also have the opportunity to attend coaching clinics which are available throughout the year. Once you have your own team, you have to go out and recruit students to join your team. It’s rare for students to identify themselves as cross country runners before high school so you have to encourage students to at least try out the sport. Recruiting is the lifeline to successful teams. One coach said that there is a state championship team at every school. The key is to get those students to join your team. Once the season starts, have a plan. What do you want to accomplish during the season? Work backwards from your biggest meet. Communicate with your runners and get feedback from them. Be enthusiastic. Be creative.
10) Anything else you would like to add?
I have been very lucky to work with some outstanding coaches after high school including Harry Marra (San Francisco State), Steve O’Brien (Burlingame), Ron DiMaggio (Westmoor) and Dave Nutting (Half Moon Bay). They deserve a lot of the credit for any success that has been achieved by my teams. I also want to thank all the athletes that I have coached for all their hard work and for trusting me as their coach. It’s been a great ride.
Thank you very much for your time Coach Car!
–Brandon Chu ‘17