Catching up with Bellarmine coach Patrick McCrystle

Today we chat with Patrick McCrystle (photo credit: Jan Richards). He has been a teacher and coach at Bellarmine HS since 1989 and has been the cross country coach for the past 19 years and the head track and field coach for the past 11 years. Coach McCrystle has been one of the most successful coaches in the Central Coast Section with 7 CCS XC titles including the last 6 and several TF team section titles with Patrick as the head coach. His boys have also posted multiple top 10 finishes in the uber tough Division I state meet race including last year where they finished in 7th place with one of the youngest team in the field.

This year, Bellarmine is projected to be one of the top cross country programs in the state and is ranked nationally in the pre-season. They will be led by junior Colin Peattie who swept the two distance races at last year's CCS Track and Field final and finished 2nd in the state in the 1600m behind state champion, Matt Strangio.

You can check out another interview that I did with Coach McCrystle in 2008 that details his athletic participation as a youth and how got involved in both teaching and cross country. You can check out that interview at this LINK.

1) Your team has been consistently one of the top Division 1 XC teams in California. What do you feel are the reasons for your team's success?
I think the primary reason for our success is the culture of support that our student-athletes have developed over the years, and which now the upperclassmen work so hard to perpetuate. That culture creates an environment in which a majority of the students who come out eventually feel empowered to realize their potential. I also think that it helps that we work hard to get a lot of students to come out for the team; partly, because we find a lot of talent from kids who have never run before, but it also really helps in training when your training group is 25-50 kids of similar fitness. The support of having so many teammates working hard every day definitely helps build confidence and makes running more enjoyable. Another super important factor is that all our coaches are on-campus, and have relationships with the students that go beyond just coaching. All the other coaches are also completely on board with the values upon which we have tried to build our program, and they are comfortable articulating those in explicit ways to the students on the team, which helps to create an environment of accountability. We've been in the top ten in DI at the State Meet for 9 straight years, and I think these are some of the key reasons why.

2) Your XC team finished in 7th place last year at the state meet with several sophomores on the team. How satisfied were you with that finish and with the prospect of the upcoming season with a fairly young team?
I was very happy with our 7th place finish, especially as you point out because we had 4 sophs in our top 5!  Of course, that points to high expectations for this year...but, paper is just paper. You have to run in the offseason, train and race hard in track, and then really be committed to both running and doing all the 'little things' in the summer, or else "4 of top 5 returning" means nothing, especially in California where so many programs know what to do and are always improving. I am happy to report that our returning top 20 or so runners have worked very hard, and the competition for Varsity spots will be intense. We won't know anything until we can race, but right now I am very excited to compete for a League title on all 4 levels, to battle for the CCS title, and then, if we qualify, to mix it up at State with the best California has to offer!

3) Colin Peattie and Nolan Topper finished off the 2019 Track and Field season in spectacular fashion with a 2nd place 1600m state finish for Colin at 4:09.99 as well as 9:09.17 3200m. Topper finished right behind his teammate 9:09.89. What was your reaction to their efforts and results at that meet and did you have any inkling of what they could do at the state meet?
My reaction was exultation!! I actually was not at the State Meet (John Maloney also coaches distance at BCP and he was at the meet) because my younger daughter was graduating from Brown that weekend, so I streamed the meet and watched on my laptop. The 3200 happened at 1:00 am Eastern time, so I was out in the hall of the hotel going crazy! I had an inkling that Colin was going to do well in the 1600 because his training was going really well and we had waited so late in the season to really start hard speed work, so he was pretty fresh but strong, and when he ran so well in the trials I was thinking he might sneak onto the podium. My inkling was also based on the fact that Colin is most very competitive but also very positive and coachable--talents he was born with but that he also developed as a freshman under the tutelage of teammates like Meika Beaudoin-Rousseau, Alex Scales, and Neerav Gade, to name a few. Our plan for the race was to get in lane one and wait as long as possible to really kick. We believed that race plan could work because the three Northern Californians we knew well--Liam Anderson, Matt Strangio and Chris Middleton-Pearson--are such tough competitors that we anticipated an honest, fast pace. In the final, Colin ran a close to perfect race, in my opinion. If you watch that race again, you'll see that with 450 meters to go one of the JSerra runners makes a move and the field reacts and gets antsy. Colin steps into lane two and then you can see him think, "wait, patience, stay in lane 1..." He stepped back into lane 1 and waits until 200 meters to move out into lane 2 and kick. In the 3200, I knew Colin would give it everything he had left, but Nolan just blew me away. Going into the meet his PR was 9:25 from WCAL Finals, but I knew he would run faster than that...but I was thinking 9:15. But Nolan is such a ferocious competitor that in a race like the State Final he just jumped on the train and hung on as long as could, and it was a fast train, so a very fast time. Colin did the same and the two 9:09's are a testament to their toughness, in my opinion.

4) Those two runners really stood out for your team. What were some of your other highlights from the season?
Highlights from track included winning the League title on both levels for the 10th consecutive year, having 7 sophomores under 10 in the 3200, 45 runners breaking 5 minutes in the 1600, and keeping 315 students on the team until the end (400 came out, but about 85 couldn't make the commitment to making it to practice every day.)

5) Looking ahead to this XC season, has your team ranked #23 in the pre-season. As you look ahead to the upcoming season, does being nationally ranked change your season plans as far as training or race scheduling? How much do you keep up with the rest of the nationally-ranked teams or do you just focus on the improvement of your own team?
Being ranked nationally has zero impact on our preparation for the season, and really any aspect of the season at all. First off, right now we have 215 students on the team, and my responsibility is to all of them, not just the top 7 or so guys, so as I plan the season I am thinking of the whole team. Secondly, if I as coach ever focused on something like national rankings, we would never accomplish any of the goals that we--the team, the other coaches and I--set, because none of those goals have anything to do with national rankings. I don't follow XC outside of California too much, though I do follow the Central Catholic Rams of Portland Oregon very closely--their incredible coach Dave Frank is a close friend--and I watch to see if other Jesuit schools are doing well nationally, but I do follow California XC very closely, because one of our yearly goals is to finish in the top 10, and because I am a fan of the sport and a proud native Californian.

6) I ask this question to all the coaches I interview. What do you feel are some ways that California can improve the sports of Cross Country and Track and Field? What do you feel really works and you are glad to be a coach in California?
I am very proud to be a California HS track and cross country coach. I love the competition and depth in the State, and I know that with such a wealth of excellent coaches in the State we are always going to be pushed no matter where we end up racing. That being said, I sure wish I could change a few no particular order of importance:

A) School size equity at the State Meet in XC just has to be changed. There are 564 schools in the Southern Section (this year, that means 84 schools in DI, eg), so when they determine their relatively equal-sized divisions they are establishing a standard that the rest of the State should adopt, and each Section should do their best to bring their divisions into alignment with that. So when a DII school from the CCS, eg, goes to the State Meet they are running against schools of a similar size; as it is now, Arroyo HS is 2049 students in DIII in the Southern Section, and let's say Soquel, with 1185 students qualifies from the CCS out of DIII, they would match up against a school almost twice as big. Clearly, each section gets to determine its own divisions and each has its rationale, and even if I don't agree with them, they have the right to do that...which is why the State should adopt Walt Lange's proposal--and I'm not saying that because Walt was my US History teacher or my track/XC coach in High School, but because it makes sense. Quickly, his proposal is to allow every section to determine their qualifiers to the State Meet in any fashion they want, but then once all qualifying teams to State have been determined, the top 23 teams by CBEDs would be placed in DI, the next 23 largest by CBEDs would become DII, etc., with all schools under 600 protected to be in DV no matter what.

B) We need more XC courses to race on in the South Bay. What I wish would happen was some wealthy Tech exec's kid would go out for XC, and the parent would become frustrated with the lack of quality courses, and they would buy a 3 par golf course and turn it in to a dedicated XC course...but I doubt that is going to happen, so I am open to other ideas.

C) Qualifying for CCS track needs to change. I personally believe that the top two finishers from each League should qualify, and then after that the field should be filled out by the 16 next best marks achieved at League meets. The at-large standards could still apply, to protect athletes in the very unlikely event that in one year more than 33 athletes could hit an at-large mark...that would be one heck of a year!

D) I think anonymous internet trolls should be banned, since most of their slanderous claims are really just libel, and are fueled by misinformed rumors or poor sportsmanship or petty disappointment and jealousy. The issue with last year's WCAL Track Finals and the rerun is a great example: so many anonymous individuals weighed in and blamed X, Y, and Z, when in fact not one of the 'posters' actually knew the real story, and that the decision was out of the hands of the WCAL and the CCS; any coach who felt that an error had cost their athlete a chance to keep their season alive would have at least looked into the process available to them, and that is what happened, and the CIF rules commissioner ruled on the issue based on precedent...and none of the accusations were evenly remotely true. I don't think people would have been so quick to speculate about what happened if they were forced to put their names next to their words.

E) I think for cross country, the San Francisco Section should be folded into the CCS and the Oakland Section should be folded into the NCS, and all those schools would have the opportunity to compete in their CBED divisions to qualify to the State Meet, and the two spots from those sections could then be used for 2 more at large DI spots. I know that Lowell would be very competitive in the CCS in DI (their CBED is around 2700), and if the 'reshuffle' proposal described above was ever used, Lowell would be DII, where they would also be competitive at the State level. 

7) Anything else you would like to add.
I would like to add that I really appreciate the community of coaches that I get to spend time with because of coaching cross country and track. The coaches in the WCAL are great people and coaches, and competing against them helps our team develop year in and year out. I have gotten to know great coaches in the CCS, NCS, Sac-Joaquin and Southern sections, and their expertise has been a great influence on me as I have grown as a coach. Thank you, Albert, for all you do for the sports of cross country and track, through your site and your coaching and your friendship!!!

Thank you very much for your time Patrick!