Interview with new Valpo girls Coach John Arrendondo
IndianaRunner.com Interview: John Arredondo
The Valparaiso girls cross country teams have won five team state titles in school history (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004), which ranks the program second behind only Carmel HS in all-time championships. As of just two weeks ago, Valparaiso HS has a new head coach for girls cross country: John Arredondo. Previous head coach Adam “Boomer” Nellessen left his CC coaching position to take an administrative position within the new Valparaiso natatorium. We caught up with Coach Arredondo to introduce the state to the new head coach of this perennial powerhouse program from Northwest Indiana. (Interview conducted by Derek Leininger.)
Leininger: First of all, congratulations! The head cross country coach at Valparaiso HS is, in my opinion, one of the best jobs in Indiana. You are pretty much a celebrity in Northwest Indiana, but not everyone around the state would be as familiar with who you are. Can you just give us some background on your running and coaching experiences thus far?
Arredondo: Thank you for the kind words. I am extremely honored to be selected to be the next Girls XC Head Coach at Valpo. The hiring process was stressful at times, but I am obviously ecstatic with the result. I'm fairly certain I am not a "region celebrity", but I am more than happy to sign any autographs, Ha! As you said, it is one of the best jobs in Indiana & I am hoping to continue the legacy that has been established here.
Coaching wise, this fall begins my 12th year coaching at the high school level. I began my HS coaching career in 2008 at the school I teach at and graduated from, Portage High School. I was Coach Erickson's Assistant XC Coach on the boys’ side for 6 years. During that same time, I was a member of the Girls Track & Field staff for 5 years with 1 of those years being the head coach. In 2014, I made the move over to Valparaiso Girls XC & made the full transition to Valpo when I joined the track staff in 2015. I also coached for 2 years at the AAU level with the Calumet Region Strider program before I started at the HS level.
Running wise, I am probably a better runner now than when I was in high school! I was a very average high school runner. I ran 2 years at Portage in the 1990's. My biggest running regret is not running all 4 years at PHS. My senior year, I watched my teammates celebrate a state championship (1992/1993 season). Regardless, my teammates were the likes of Jason Casiano, Jason Stepanovich, Dan Allen, etc. I was thrilled for them & of course Coach Wilke when they won that championship. Once I graduated from Ball State (1998), I started to run recreationally & have been non-stop since. I am most proud of my 1:24:56 half marathon time at the 2017 Indy Mini. I can say though that my competitive love affair with running started in high running with those great Portage runners & Coach Wilke.
Leininger: You have been part of the coaching staff at Valparaiso for several years, so you are very familiar with the community and the team culture. This is a girls program that boasts 31 state meet appearances, including 5 state championships and 17 podium (top 5 team) finishes. What makes Valparaiso such a special place to coach?
Arredondo: "Valpo" is truly a running community. The community embraces not only good health but also activity. We have wide sidewalks that even in the wintertime are cleaned in a timely manner. We have a fantastic running store (Extra Mile Fitness Company) in town that hosts lots of fun runs & races for adults and students alike. All that said, I think what makes Valpo such a great running community is the people. Many have lived here years & KNOW the Valpo running success. Young kids grow up running because their parents are runners or ran at VHS at one time. We also have good middle school programs with great coaches who instill the values & hard work it takes to be successful in this sport.
Leininger: Valparaiso girls are always a team to watch in the New Prairie Semi State and the IHSAA State Finals, but 2011 was the most recent podium finish for Valparaiso girls (with a near-miss 6th place finish in 2016). You return virtually your entire varsity squad from a team that finished 13th in the state finals one year ago. What are the expectations around the program heading into the 2019 season?
Arredondo: The expectations are high...but they always are at VHS. When we set goals, we talk about winning the DAC, Sectional, the Regional, & the Semi-state. We talk about going to Terre Haute & getting on the podium. Obviously, we have fallen short of completing all of those goals but we feel this squad has as good a shot as any team to make a run at a podium spot. Last year’s state meet was not a good one for us. The bus ride home after was one of happiness of what we accomplished but there was also a lot of disappointment. Expectations? The ultimate goal is to win the championships listed above, run well at the state finals, & put ourselves in the position to be on the podium.
Leininger: Let's talk about your front runner, Ava Gilliana, for a moment. She has been one of the elite distance runners in Indiana over the past 3 years. What has her summer training been like and what individual goals has she set for her senior season?
Arredondo: Ava has been doing some neat things this summer. Minutes based training, cross training (swimming), & a few days a week of double runs. She spent a few weeks in Colorado this summer for training out as well. She is very excited about her senior season. She lost a shoe in last year’s XC state finals, then gets tripped up and falls 300 meters into this past year’s 1600 final...just some weird stuff. That said, as with the team, she has some high expectations for herself. She would like to break 18 this year & get that elusive XC medal. Beyond that, she would like to give Footlocker and/or Nike Nationals a shot to see what she can do. On a personal level, from a racing standpoint, she says she wants to race more "fearlessly".
Leininger: What are the keys to success for Valparaiso girls this fall? Where do you see opportunities for excellence with this team?
Arredondo: In order to reach our goals, we absolutely have to stay healthy. We have talent on this year’s team but we have to keep our core group healthy. Obviously, Ava is going to need run fearlessly (as she put it) & be our low stick. In regards to our 2-7 runners, I'd like to see them close the gap between our scorers. They will obviously be the key to our season. The great thing is they (Worthington's, Maldia, Brandy, Tsagris, and Foreman) have had a nice summer of training which I obviously hope pays off. You can tell those athletes are a year older as they are definitely training with a purpose.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about our team & I appreciate the well wishes to me. I'm very much looking forward to the season!
Coach John Arredondo aka "Coach A"