Tag Archives: Features

Running to the Top: How Coach Turner Transformed the Cross Country Program

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Coach Turner speaks and prays with the Mount Saint Joe Cross Country team.

Three years ago, when the current seniors were freshmen, the cross country team was struggling. 2012 was the worst year in recent memory for the Gaels, with the team finishing 3-6 for the season and 12th at the league championship. The team’s top runner ran the course in a solid 17:50, but the team only had four runners who could finish under nineteen minutes. With only three seniors on the varsity team, this was a rebuilding year to say the very least.

Now, three years later, Coach Turner has done the impossible and won an MIAA Championship title.  I asked him a few questions about how the team has progressed from where they were a few years ago.  He said, “We have come extremely far. To have won an MIAA championship in my first three years of coaching is a blessing and a testament to the work of the guys in this program. We have kids who have dedicated themselves to excellence. That’s a special thing. ”

The beginning of the transformation of the program started after the 2012 cross country season.  Indoor track started a week after championships, and the distance team members met their new coach, Mr. Phil Turner, who was beginning his first year of teaching at MSJ. He wasted no time implementing his new standards for the team. The one-mile warm-up was replaced by a three-mile run, and the fifteen minutes of stretching before workouts was cut down to five. The first practice immediately built on this rigorous warm-up with four 100-meter sprints and then 4×800 meters at controlled times.

Coach Turner saw potential in the team that fall and began to push the team through the winter and spring. He hoped to build them into contenders for a top-three finish in cross country next fall.

After productive track seasons under Coach Turner, the cross country team returned in the fall of 2013 with him now as head coach. The team appeared to be in good shape after having practiced two days a week during the summer at Patapsco State Park.

Coach Turner decided to test their fitness by starting the season with a two-mile time trial. Even with the summer training, the team was not where he wanted it to be. Sophomores were passing the top seniors. Earlier that spring the team had five runners under 11 minutes for the two mile, and now they only had three under 12 minutes.

Coach Turner saw that more needed to be done and started having practice off campus at Patapsco during the school year. These were hard practices that included five hill sprints that lasted for three minutes and eight-to-nine-mile runs on hilly trails.

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Photo Credit: Milesplit Maryland

The team worked hard that fall and had many personal records. Four runners beat the time of the top runner from the year before. The team finished 6-3 but finished fourth at championships, just missing the third-place trophy that Coach Turner thought they could win.

The track season through winter and spring was very eventful that year. The team tied for the outdoor regular season championship and distance runner Dominic Genuario set a new school record in the mile.

The next year, the team was completely new. Five of the top seven runners had graduated, but this was no concern to Coach Turner. Track season had brought the arrival of sophomore Justin Russell and freshman Alex Whittaker, who emerged as the team’s top runner.

Now a year older, they, along with three-time varsity runner Dan Jordan, team captain Jacob Campitelli, improving sophomore Carter Williams, and team favorite Todd Skintges, looked to win that third-place or second-place trophy for the first time in a decade.

Sadly, that season fell apart after Carter, the team’s 2nd best runner, suffered a stress fracture in his foot late in the season. That, along with some struggles for Jordan and unpredictability for Skintges had the Gaels finish sixth in the conference that year.

Last year was chalked up as a rebuilding year of the team because they only lost three of its seven runners.  However, it should have been a much more successful one. Coach issued an ultimatum: practice will be held three days a week, and if you want to be on the team, you have to show up to 80% of the practices. The team stepped up to the challenge and had more people at practice on the worst day then they did on the best day a year before. He commented, “We never failed to have fewer than fifteen kids at a summer run, and we ran really early in the morning. I left every run exhilarated, knowing that we have a culture of distance runners at our school.” By working them hard that summer, Coach Turner seemed to be trying to solve his problem of having the team break down at the end of the season. By getting in solid miles during the summer, the runners would have a good base, avoid injury, and stay fit throughout the season.

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Photo Credit: Milesplit Maryland

It appears Coach Turner knew what he was doing all along.  The team had incredible success this year, including winning the Scorpion Crawl Invitation by a point against rival Loyola. They finished second at Georgetown Prep and Seahawk Invitational and fourth in the Bull Run (the hardest race east of the Mississippi). In the end, the Baltimore Sun ranked the Gaels fourth in the area. The team finished 6-1 and only lost to Loyola.

However, the greatest victory came at the MIAA championship meet when the team won the title.  This is the first ever Championship for the team and the only Championship that the school has won in the past two years.

Coach Turner has completely changed the culture of running on the team.  Originally, if you were a sophomore, there would be little to no chance that you would be on Varsity. Now, there are three sophomores, two juniors and two seniors on the Varsity team. Times have dropped significantly from the start of his coaching to now. Eight runners have run faster this year than the team’s top runner three years ago. The team also has also managed to get multiple JV runners under nineteen minutes, which is a good sign for the future of the team.

From Day 1, Coach Turner has tried to reshape the team into a championship contender. When asked how he managed to change the culture of running, he said, “My first goal was to get kids to love running. I wanted to share my passion for the sport and show the guys what it means to love to run. I did this by running each day with the team and even pushing the pace in workouts. I tried to show the guys what it meant to run not just for fun, but also with passion and heart. Once we had developed a program where the guys loved to run, it was not tough to get them thinking about their goals and developing dreams of being championship-caliber runners. ”

Cross country now is truly a meaningful sport at the Mount. As long as Coach Turner is still here, the cross country team will continue to improve and look to be one of the best teams in the state. When asked what the future holds for the team, Coach Turner said, “We have a base of really good kids and really good runners. They all love the sport and love the team. A combination like that is a coach’s dream.”

MSJ Drama Club Presents: “Get Smart”

Since September, the Mount Saint Joseph Drama Club has been working nearly every day on its fall play, Get Smart. A large cast of students from both MSJ and Mount de Sales Academy are participating in this wacky 60’s classic- and loving it!The script of the production follows an elongated version of the pilot episode of the hilarious series, in which the good agents of CONTROL are constantly combating KAOS, the “International Organization of Evil.” What makes the show so outrageously funny is that the protagonist agent’s name, Maxwell Smart (played by Junior Henry O’Toole), couldn’t be more of a misnomer. He is very clumsy and rarely takes his job seriously, much to the annoyance of his cynical boss, the chief of CONTROL (played by Senior Colin Howard). However, with the help of his partner and love interest, agent 99 (played by Mount de Sales student Hannah Angelela), Smart never fails to save the world, thanks to what appears to be pure luck. Filled to the margins with out-of-this-world technology, convoluted schemes, and memorable characters, this staged adaptation is a perfect fit for our energetic club. Directed by Mr. Michael Hartsfield, the secret agent satire of this play is sure to have the audience howling.

Because this year’s play is so interesting and humorous, students should take advantage of the opportunity to attend the performance. The dates for the show are November 20th at 7pm, the 21st at 7pm, and the 22nd at 2pm. Tickets are only $8.00 and can be purchased from the Business Office or from the Box Office before each performance.  Come out to support your classmates and have a great laugh at the same time!

Written by Stephen Kirby, Class of 2017.

Check out a few clips from rehearsals and check out the play this weekend!

Meet the Teacher: Mr. Scavilla

Mr. Nate Scavilla '09
Mr. Nate Scavilla ’09

Ever since Mr. Scavilla took Mr. Hughes’ Physics class during his Junior and Senior years as a Mount student, he has been in love with the promulgation of the study of physics. Mr. Hughes encouraged Scavilla to pursue Physics in college during his time as a Mount student, and greatly influenced his decision to teach. He has been mentored by the legendary Mr. Tom Hughes during his first years teaching here, and has drawn on a lot of Mr. Hughes’ teaching methods.

With the retirement of Mr. Tom Hughes forthcoming, the leadership of the physics department is falling on the shoulders of Mr. Nathan Scavilla, Class of 2009. Mr. Scavilla started teaching physics at the Mount two years ago, and has established himself as a large presence within the physics department. He is beloved by students and faculty alike, and is known for his energetic teaching style in which he makes sure every student is following what he is lecturing about.

In the video, Mr. Scavilla talked about the challenges associated with teaching the subject of physics and how Mr. Hughes has influenced his teaching style, and the school community as a whole.


Tommy John Surgery: A Student-Athlete Goes Under the Knife

Junior Nick Viennas throws a pitch. He will be unable to do so for the next year, as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery.
Junior Nick Viennas throws a pitch. He will be unable to do so for the next year, as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery.

We are facing an epidemic that has been a bane to our youth and sports stars: I am talking about Tommy John surgery. Most people who follow sports, specifically baseball, have probably heard of this surgery.

In 1974, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John permanently damaged his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow, and his career was up in the air. Dr. Frank Jobe, who was the Dodgers team orthopedist at the time, came to John with the idea of a revolutionary surgery that could potentially keep his career alive. This surgery involves the grafting of a replacement tendon from another part of the body to the humerus and ulna bones in the elbow. Ultimately the surgery was a success, and Tommy John went on to play fourteen more seasons.

On October 30, I will be undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Back in 2012, I tore my UCL ligament pitching in a baseball tournament. I immediately knew that I had a significant injury after I threw the pitch. I went to an orthopedist and underwent an x-ray, and when the results of it came in, the doctor told me that my UCL could have ruptured. Because of my young age, my doctor told me I did not require surgery, but I could undergo a six week rehab treatment.

After the six weeks, I was able to resume throwing and my baseball career. Then this summer, while I was pitching during a tournament in Florida, I felt another sharp pain in my elbow. I knew that something was wrong, and I pulled myself out of the game.

When I returned home, I saw the same orthopedist I had seen in 2012. He thought that I had sprained my UCL and wanted me to get an MRI  on my elbow. Being the teenager I was, I thought nothing would come of it, so I passed on the MRI. I thought to myself that it would heal on its own and I’d be okay.

Well, was I wrong. During the first fall baseball game of the season, I pitched and felt a worse pain then I felt during the summer. I finally realized that this was serious and went to get that MRI.

One week later, I visited my doctor to receive the results of the MRI, and he told me that after I tore my UCL in 2012 the tendon never fully healed. To fill the space there, I had a major calcium build up that was preventing me from straightening out my elbow. I had the option to either undergo surgery if I wanted to keep playing baseball or just go on the rest of my life with this condition and say good-bye to baseball.

For anyone who knows, it is hard to say good-bye to something you love. For me, it was too hard to say good-bye to my first love, baseball, and end it this way. I will be updating you on the progress of the surgery and the rehab in a follow-up story next month.

Nick Viennas can be reached at @TheQuillNickV on Twitter.