The first California state cross country meet took place on Saturday, November 28, 1987. Since then, some of the state's brightest and most successful cross country coaches have amassed multiple team and individual championships. Of course, the roots of cross country in California go back FAR before there was a state meet, and this state was a breeding ground for legendary coaches in the "pre-state meet" time period. Some of the Golden State's best have bridged between the two eras, starting before the state meet came into being and continuing to coach to this day. Every week through the end of cross country, we will feature one of these Coaching Legends, a past or present figure that helped shape the sport in the Golden State and make California the best state in the nation for cross country!
Among that last group of coaches is longtime Jesuit HS (SJS) coach, Walt Lange. On our cover photo, Walt is 2nd from the right and is flanked by assistant coaches from left to right, Nick Lai, Tom Witzgall and David Zielke. Coach Lange has openly given great credit to many of his past assistant coaches and it's only appropriate that this cover photo features his current staff.
Lange graduated from St. Pius X in Downey, California. He continued his education at Loyola University in Los Angeles and graduated in 1965. Before Jesuit HS, Lange coached at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Ray from 1964-1968. He started as a teacher/coach at Jesuit HS in 1970 where he taught mostly Social Studies, primarily US History for 30 years. He retired from his teaching duties many years ago but he continues to lead the Marauders to this day.
His teams have worn the same distinctive gold shorts and scarlet racing tops since he started at the school. According to Northgate coach, Peter Brewer, "I like the look of the Jesuit cross country uniform, which has not changed since Walt took over in the '70's. That's tradition, if not absolute disregard for the effervescent fashion swings of the moment."
During his tenure as a coach at Jesuit HS, Walt has amassed an incredible list of accomplishments. At the top of Walt's accomplishments are the nine state team championships that his boys have won which ties them for the all-time CA boys' lead with McFarland HS. Those state championships all took place in Division II during the following seasons.
1989, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006.
Along with the state team titles, Jesuit under Walt's helm has had multiple individuals finish in the top 10 at state including one state individual title for Matt Farley in 1993. His teams also qualified for the Nike Team Nationals (now NXN) in 2005 and 2006.
Peter Brewer, "I like the look of the Jesuit cross country uniform, which has not changed since Walt took over in the '70's. That's tradition, if not absolute disregard for the effervescent fashion swings of the moment."
At the section level, Jesuit has been even more dominant with 26 section team titles starting out in 1974. Before the state meet era and divisional competition, Jesuit won their section titles as the best team in the Sac-Joaquin Section in 1974, 1979, 1983, 1983, 1984 and 1985. The majority of the rest of their titles took place in Division II except for the three section titles won in Division I, noted below:
1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 (Division I), 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2013, 2015 (Division I) and 2016 (Division I). 15 in row from 1992-2006!
During that same era, Jesuit also won 42 varsity league titles with their last taking place last year as the 2016 team won the Delta League before claiming another section crown.
For all of his accomplishments, Walt has also received multiple honors that I found on his school bio courtesy of Jesuit HS:
1981 California Coach of the Year (California Coaches Association)
Sacramento Meet of Champions Hall of Fame
2008 CIF Model Coach Award
2010 National Cross Country Boys Coach of the Year (NHSCA)
2010 Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame
2010 Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational Hall of Fame (photo above from 1985 Mt. SAC Invite)
2010 The Doug Speck Award (in recognition of the greatest passion for and contributions to the sport of Cross Country)
2013 Legacy Coaches Award (USATF Pacific Association)
2015 Sacramento Running Association Hall of Fame
Aside from his cross country accomplishments, Lange has also coached 7 state individual state track and field champions in the 1600 and 3200 (Mark Mastalir 1600 '86, Michael Stember 1600 '95 & '96, Eric Mastalir 3200 '86, Paul Thomas 3200 '87, David Welsh 3200 '89 and Matt Farley 3200 '93). His school's all-time lists in the same events are eye-popping. Back when mileage was king, Jesuit also had it's fair share of marathoners and their school marathon record was set by Tom O'Neil in 1977 at 2:24:32. In 1986, Jesuit's Distance Medley Relay team set a then national record and now still standing California record of 9:56.3. The Jesuit track has very deservedly been named after Coach Lange so that future generations will remember his incredible work at the school.
Lange has also been quite innovative as a coach and videotapes all of his competitions which other competing teams can also observe. Lange has made interactive maps of many California cross country courses which you can view at this LINK on YouTube. He has spoken at many clinics and has never been afraid to share what he does with his teams. Many of us in the coaching community are indebted to Walt Lange for all of his tireless work in improving our two sports for everybody.
Current Bellarmine coach Patrick McCrystle ran for Walt and Jesuit in the late 70s and early 80s and his thoughts on his coach are certainly echoed by the many boys that have had the pleasure of being coached by one of the very best coaches in California history.
"So many (recollections)…but I would say that after many years a few of the things that stand out to me would be: in terms of technical coaching, he differentiated practices, breaking all the runners into ability groups and devising sometimes radically different workouts according to fitness level, which allowed him to develop so many students who might otherwise have never improved to the level that they did; on the level of intangible coaching, he fostered a sense of confidence that imbued his runners with a powerful sense of possibility and potential. We knew that he believed in us, and we wanted to succeed to prove him right. Also, despite his outwardly Teutonic personality, he had the patience to allow us to be teenagers, creating a fun environment that made us want to work hard and to care for one another…like he tacitly but palpably cared for us."