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Coaching Connection: Coach Greg Caro of the Academy of the Sacred Heart

~ Greg Caro
~ High School Athletic P.E. / Health & Wellness Coordinator/ Head Coach: Cross Country & Track & Field Programs
~ 1986 Graduate from E.D.White - Cross Country / Track & Field
~ Nichols State University - Cross Country/ Track & Field
~ My wife, Jenny, and I started coaching Cross Country at Sacred Heart in 1997 after the Soccer coach was giving up that position an we inherited a team that boasted an 8 runner roster.  We had been coaching at the Academy of the Sacred Heart since 1991 with Middle School Softball, Varsity Basketball and Varsity Softball before taking over the Cross Country program.  After many years of trying to drum up interest again, we finally got the Track & Field program reinstated in 2004 after a 10 year absence due to lack of interest, which sounds utterly crazy when I say that with how many student athletes have participated in that program since its rebirth.
~ This is my 26th year
~ We coach ALL of the teams from 5th - 12th grade, so Middle School, Junior High, Junior Varsity and Varsity in Cross Country, Indoor Track & Field, Outdoor Track & Field and assist my wife with the Golf team also.  We have 73 runners in this year's Cross Country program ranging from 5th - 12th grades.
What is your xc coaching philosophy?  Does it carry over into any other sports you might coach?
     I have always been a firm believer, and this is just in my situation at Sacred Heart, that LESS IS MORE!  For us, that means that I like having my runners focus more on the quality of their workouts than the quantity of them.  As the years have gone by, I, like many other coaches, have begun to realize that a 2 or 3 mile race is becoming faster and that the workouts need to focus more on the speed aspect instead of focussing on long, slow distance. I also am known as the "Fun" coach or the leader of the 4:45 p.m. Snack Club.  Running is normally used in all other sports as a form of punishment for not doing something correctly, so I find that playing games with our workouts changes up the boredom that some people might find in just running the prescribed workout.  Each runner is different and I enjoy the daily challenges that come my way trying to help each one understand that they are just as important as anyone else on the team.  They all have an important role in our Cross Country Family and they deserve to feel appreciated for their time commitment to this wonderful sport.
     I do find that my approach to this way of coaching does indeed carry over into the other sports that we have been honored to coach.  Practice time is important, but quality practice time is most important.  It doesn't make sense to go to the driving range and hit golf balls for hours if you're not setting up correctly or making good contact through the ball or lining up your puts and reading the undulations of the putting service.  So yes, making sure that I am giving my student athletes the best information possible so that they can achieve their best possible results most certainly does carry over.
What is your general season goal?
     Honestly, it makes me very proud to say that our teams have been very successful for the last 26 years that we have been coaching.  I came into this position knowing that hard work and decent dedication can go a long way and that was learned during my years of running for Coach Eddie Cole while he was coaching at E. D. White Catholic high school in Thibodaux.  So when I jumped at this opportunity to coach Cross Country, my general season goal was to get a group of runners that wanted to train together when available and sometimes on their own, so that they could put forth their best effort at their last meet of the season.  Meaning, I hope that my workouts have prepared all of the runners to achieve their best, no matter what their placement on the team may be.  Each runner's success matters greatly to me as their coach.  
Do you have a key workout you use throughout the season?
     I like switching up the routine throughout the season so my runners like trying to guess what the workout will be.  I know for a fact that there are some very successful programs out there that follow a strict workout calendar no matter what athletes you may have and it works great for them.  I normally try to gauge how they are feeling and looking during the week before deciding what workouts we will be doing.  I also find that my runners put forth a much more honest effort at practices when I allow them to choose between 2 - 3 available workouts they can do.  It is always very interesting to watch them actually discuss the pros and cons of each workout on that day.  They factor in how they are feeling, how much time for recovery, how far away is the meet, etc... Team bonding at its finest, in my opinion.   
How do you handle injury? Anxiety? Apathy?
     At Sacred Heart, we are very blessed to have our athletic trainer, Bethany Burst Perez, class of 2009, on site with us starting at 12:00 everyday.  Bethany was an outstanding runner and leader of the Cross Country program and helped us capture our first 3 State Championships in 2006, 2007 & 2008 plus a Runner Up in 2004.  So she knows exactly what they might be going through physically and along with myself, she plays it on the safe side.  I try my best to constantly ask the runners that may have some higher than normal discomfort how they are doing and strongly suggest that they see me before noon and Bethany after that when she arrives.  I am also a firm advocate for the "Rest IS Best" mentality.  As for anxiety, what is that? Ha Ha, for anyone fortunate enough to coach, we all are familiar with it and it is a real thing and should be handled with care and understanding.  My personal belief is not to lie to my runners, but instead take the honest and real world approach with them.  As a former competitive runner a long time ago, I explain to them that I understand the anxiousness that comes with toeing the starting line.  I try to explain it to them during the season on an academic level.  If you have studied in class and paid attention and participated, when it comes time for the quiz or test at the end of the week, you will have prepared yourself properly for the task before you.  Don't expect to do okay if you slept or dozed off in class and you shouldn't expect to perform as well as you would have at the race if you didn't come to practice or came but didn't work hard during it.   They usually get the analysis pretty quickly and that seems to stick with them as the season goes on.
     My attitude towards the apathetic runner goes like this:  I like casting a large net at the beginning of the school year to see how many potential runners I get to bring on board.  I look at all of them as keepers and do not throw any of them back.  Snacks, Watermelon Days, Yogurtland Runs and Popsicles help to keep them coming for the first few weeks, which are the most important in my opinion, because it allows them to get their feet wet, literally in the daily ice baths.  Once you think you've "hooked" them, it is inspiring to me to see how many stay for the long haul.  These runners love knowing that there is a snack at the end of practice and that only those that participate at practice will get one.  I do have runners that lose that fire and I will chat with them about their options and thank them for taking the leap of faith into something that just might not be their thing, and that it is okay if they really are not enjoying it.  At least they tried and hopefully they had a fun time, learned something about themselves and dedication and who knows, they do come back sometimes.
How do you see athletics integrated with academics?
     Athletics and Academics have the opportunity to go hand in hand and make the student athlete understand that hard work and dedication do pay off, both on an individual and team aspect.  I always explain to prospective students and their parents that are looking into attending the Academy of the Sacred Heart or any other school for that matter, that they must be a student athlete first.  Being an "athletic  student" does them or their team absolutely no good at all if they can't keep up their grades in the classroom.  I work very closely with all of my runners and their academics to make sure they are as successful as they can be both in the classroom and on the cross country team.  Schooling should and does come first.  When any of them need extra help, we set homework sessions with our National Honor Society students or tutors to keep them on the right academic pathway.  And as it been for some time now, most Cross Country & Track members are high academic students as well as dedicated members to their teams.
What is the most important skill or value you try to impart to your team?
     Over the last 26 years of coaching Cross Country, I have always stressed, both through actively telling the runners and by showing them that every single one of them matter to the team.  Everyone gets nervous, faces the same conditions on race day and if you can go into a practice or meet knowing these variables, you can have a much better chance of doing your best on that day.  If you see someone struggling, whether on your team or not, offer them words of encouragement to help them along their journey, because it might be you the next time in need of those words.  Also, while you are capable of achieving your current best, go for it, because we never know when that might end... Life's a Journey, Enjoy the Stride and make memories that will last a lifetime ❤️❤️
As with Coach DuCarpe, we followed up with Coach Caro after the state meet to get his take on the team's performance:


The Academy of the Sacred Heart Cross Country Team ran an amazing State Championship Race on Monday in 42° temps in Natchitoches, LA.  It was a very exciting race, we finished the 3 mile race by tying Vandebilt Catholic with 45 points.  This occurrence is very rare at the State Meet due to so many different variables that can potentially come into play.  The way that scoring works in a cross country race is by taking the first 5 runners from each team and adding their place that they finish in the race.  So when Leah Varsico ’26 finished in 3rd in 19:05, she was worth 3 points for her team total.  Then it is simply adding the 5 together and you get your score.  But when it ends in a tie between the first 5 from each school as it did, then the 6th place finisher from each of the tied teams is used to break the tie.  Vandebilt’s runner was 19th in 20:59, which was a 50 second personal record and secured the title for them as Colette English ‘27  was 21st in 21:04 and gave all that she had and in the end, only 5 seconds separated them, a true nail biter.  But there is so much more to the story than just that.  The entire team on this day ran with the purpose of making a statement to all of the teams in the state.  With the addition of two more middle school runners and the high schoolers pushing themselves all season, this team proved that they are one of the top programs.  Throughout the race, Courtney Habetz ‘28 held her position from the beginning and finished where she started by crossing the line in 9th place overall in 20:13 and earning herself All-State honors in just her first year as a varsity runner.  The next four runners ran together so tightly through the first mile that only 1 second separated them all with a time of 6:42 in spots 21, 22, 23 and 24 in the race.  What happened next is what this team has worked on all season long, to continue pushing and passing other runners as a group to lower our eventual score and to increase theirs.  Over the next mile of the race,  Lily Varisco ‘27,  passed up 5 more runners, Colleen Collins ‘27 passed up 10, Vivian Real ‘26 passed 8 and Colette English ‘27 passed 4, causing our overall total to drop from 76 points after mile 1 to a much lower 53, while Vandebilt remained at 40 from mile 1 to mile 2.  These four runners continued to close the gap between the two teams and left nothing on the course and even found a little more over the last 300 meters as they made their way onto the red track surface that led to the finish line.  5 more passed for Lily Varisco as she sprinted to a new personal record of 20:31 for the 11th spot in the race, while pulling her teammates of Colleen Collins also in a new record of 20:32 for 12th and Vivian Real for an amazing season best time of 20:39 for 13th, her best time at state by nearly 1 whole minute.  During the 3rd mile of the race, Charlotte Johnson ‘26, who was pushing through her hip pain that flared up again, was able to finish what she had started and crossed in a very respectable time of 22:38 for 37th overall.  So as we waited for the final tallies to come in, we were very grateful to hear our school’s name called over the loudspeaker to please come to the infield for the trophy presentation.   Leah Varisco and Courtney Habetz were whisked away as members of the All-State Top 10 team and were honored for their individual efforts with a special medal placed around their necks.  And then the announcement was made that the race ended in a tie between our teams, which meant that we improved once again over the last mile and we knew by our own calculations that we would be the STATE RUNNER UP team on this day.  What a great way to finish the season by having 2 personal records, 1 season best and two All-State Runners that finished in Top 10 overall.  

Please help me CONGRATULATE this group of amazing student-athletes for representing the entire Sacred Heart Community with honor and respect ❤️❤️

Once again and as in the past, the future surely does look extremely bright for the Cross Country program at the Academy of the Sacred Heart


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