In the 20 years since Bill Vice took over the helm of the boys and girls cross country teams at La Costa Canyon High School he has become one of the most successful coaches in one of the most successful high school athletic programs in San Diego.
Between them, his two squads have collected nine CIF team titles and finished second seven other times while dominating the Avocado League West and becoming a regular factor at the California State meet. Count LCC Athletic Director Kari DiGiulio among his fans.
“Bill is a wonderful coach to work with and his teams’ competitive record speaks for itself,” says DiGiulio. “He demonstrates a strong work ethic daily and expects the same from his student-athletes, which is one of my favorite things about him. There is a reason cross country continues to win — they have a tremendous leader.”
Coming off the first race of the 2017 season Sept. 9, the Connecticut native and UConn graduate took the time to talk with the Encinitas Advocate about the method behind his Mavericks’ success, what this year’s teams will look like and how he balances coaching and teaching.
Q: Five years ago, you called 2011 a “dream season.” How would you describe where LCC Cross Country has gone from that point?
Vice: That was the first time both teams won a CIF Championship in the same year and I would say it’s been “good dreams” since then. Every year’s been great. We’ve won four CIF titles in the last five years on the girls’ side and two more with the boys.
Those 2011 squads were very, very special, but we’ve continued to have fantastic teams. We’ve been fortunate to get good runners in our program and I’ve been blessed by being the right place at the right time.
Q: Both teams are coming off back-to-back CIF crowns. Talk about what the returning rosters look like and how you expect to fill the gaps.
Vice: Both teams have a good nucleus of returners.
The girls bring back three of the top five individuals at the 2016 CIF meet. Junior Kristin Fahy is the reigning CIF individual champion, winning last year’s race by more than 30 seconds, McKenna Brown, our only senior this year, was second and junior Jessica Riedman was fifth.
We have a pair of freshmen — Sydney Weaber and Emma Welch — who I think could be right there in the top five at the end of the year. Sydney may be ready to score for us right now and Emma, whose father Greg was a great triathlete (former winner of the Ironman in Hawaii), has the genetics and a lot of potential.
McKenna’s a little banged up right now but she’s hoping to be ready to compete in about three weeks. With her back and us healthy, we should be No. 1 or No. 2 in the state (D-III).
On the boys’ side, the best runners are a pair of junior brothers, Jacob and Garrett Stanford who were second and fourth respectively at last year’s CIF event. They are mirror twins and run together in races. I have to check out their shoes to tell who is who. A senior, Gavin Alshire, has been slowed down by injury issues in training but when he’s right, he could be our No. 3. Two sophomores, Anthony Seifert and Asher Savage have shown signs that they could play bigger roles. Anthony had a great spring in track and field, clocking just over 2:00 in the 800, and Asher is a decent little runner. Josh Cullins, another senior, is coming along as well. We’ve got a nice core and some promising freshmen.
Q: After a month of training, your 2017 season started Sept. 9 with a pair of strong performances at Rancho Bernardo’s Bronco Invitational. How would you assess your teams coming out of pre-season?
Vice: Well, it was a solid start with the girls’ team taking the team title and Fahy finishing first and Jacob and Garrett and Jacob Stanford going 1-2 in the boys’ race. They finished third while missing two key people.
If we’re healthy, I believe we are capable of being the No. 1 Division III girls’ team in the state. With the boys, it’s pretty much the same story. If everybody’s in top form, we’re talented enough to be part of the state’s upper tier. I think both should be the best teams in San Diego.
Q: In a program that’s been able to maintain the type of level yours has, do you have aa kind of standardized set of goals every season?
Vice: We do. The culture’s been built over the 20 years I’ve been here. There are high standards but everything’s laid out — what you need to do, what you can’t do and it’s really been the kids who have created that tradition. They can look back at a year like 2011 and we just kind of say, “this is the way we did it then, this is the way we do it now” and the system has proven itself.
Q: Every year’s teams are obviously different, but what are three words that you think best describe the culture of the team year-in and year-out?
Vice: I think one would be “committed.” We run pretty much year-round which demands a certain level of dedication on its own. “Goofy” would be another and I say that because who wants to do what they do? We were here at 5:45 a.m. this morning. It was pitch black. We warmed up and did our run in the dark and when they came back, the sun was out. You have to be a little goofy to do that. “Unquestioning” would be the third. The kids know about the past success and figure that we know what we’re doing and that makes it a lot easier.
Q: We’ve already talked at length about LCC’s extended tradition of success in cross country. How does that history affect/benefit the current team?
Vice: There’s always somebody on the roster that’s been part of the past success, so its’s the new kids that have to buy in. With returning leadership in place that’s never been a problem. You change a little bit each season, the science of the sport changes and you adapt to new trends but being able to point to the legacy our past teams have built is certainly an advantage.
Q: Looking to combat injuries, burnout, etc., a lot of other sports — both individual and team — have been putting emphasis on being more efficient with practice time. Is that something you’ve seen in your sport or done with your team?
Vice: I think that’s true but we’ve never been a “big mileage” team. Our kids don’t have the time to run 70 miles a week. Right now, our girls are at 50 and that’s fairly high for our program. We had Katy Andrews, who finished second at the State Meet and went on to run for BYU, she ran 35 miles per week. I don’t think it’s how many miles you run but what you do with them.
Everyone has their own philosophy and there are usually many ways to achieve an end. We typically have a lot of very bright kids who are looking to excel academically and get into top universities. I’m really not sure how we could do a whole lot more and still give them the time they need to thrive at both endeavors.
We do adapt and I do compromise and individualize based on what I’m seeing and hearing from my runners because this is something of an individual sport and everybody is a little different. Where I want it to all be the same is when they get to the starting line — they need to be ready to go.
Q: What are some of the little, more nuanced things that you try to work on with your team?
Vice: My hope is that they’re running when they’re my age, so it’s not always about the competitive stuff as much.
I don’t put a lot of things in their heads. So when we race, a lot of times I let them figure it out. I don’t tell them, “at mile one you have to be here, at mile two you have to be here, at mile three you have to be here.” We give them a little bit of advice but kind of leave them alone and then afterwards we evaluate and make necessary adjustments.
Q: With your record at LCC and beyond, you’ve certainly had to have had opportunities to coach at the collegiate level. Is that something you would ever be interested in doing?
Vice: For a long time, my dream was to be a college coach. I’ve never really pursued it and at this point, I’m not really interested. I was a head high school basketball coach at 26 years old and was lucky to have had some very good players so I got exposed to the life of collegiate coaches through the recruiting process. I saw them bounce around from job-to-job, saw what they had to do during summer and it wasn’t coaching, at least my idea of coaching. I just want to coach. I would never want to be an administrator. I just want to work with kids — and at the high school level, I have that opportunity.
Q: You also teach history at La Costa Canyon. What is your favorite period in history? Do you have any figures from the past that you particularly admire? Does your teaching carry over in some way or benefit your coaching and vice-versa?
Vice: My favorite era used to be the Civil War and I still really like Civil War history but I’m starting to become more interested in the Cold War period, probably because I grew up through a major part of it.
Lincoln is my favorite president. My favorite book is “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. In it she focuses on how he intentionally surrounded himself with people who were backstabbing him. Although he was aware of the situation, he said, “This is what is best for our country right now,” in explaining his rationale. In think that’s cool. Sometimes I look at us coaches and can relate, seeing how we are trying to beat each other on the field of play but we’re also sharing ideas and helping each other at the same time.
As far as coaching and the classroom, they’re exactly the same. I’m coaching in the classroom and teaching out here. There’s also carryover from having some of my runners in my classes—we both get the opportunity to see each other in a different light and one environment helps the other.
Q: Teaching and coaching are both time-consuming professions. What does Bill Vice do for fun?
Vice: Besides running, it would have to be the Dollar Bill Band. Believe it or not, I’m the lead singer in a band that covers classic rock songs and has a number of originals. The band consists of three other teachers and our drummer is a former student, Emily Darling.
From a more big picture perspective, I had open heart surgery in May to replace my aortic valve so everything I do now is fun!!! Life is good.