Tom Youngs, Suffolk’s 2011 Coach of the Year in Girls Cross Country, has earned 10 consecutive League and Division titles in 10 years coaching at Setauket’s Ward Melville High School. He attended Rocky Point High School and ran NCAA Division I track at the University of Houston. Youngs has coached 27 All-Americans, most recently Michelle Seibert and Suejin Ahn (Duke), MK Anselmini (Stanford), Brigid Paddock (Sacred Heart), Bridget Reilly (Albany), Andrea Tingue (Boston University) and Caroline O’Hea, who will attend North Carolina. Anselmini and O’Hea were National Champions, Anselmini twice in the difficult steeplechase.
Long Island Pulse: Does one great runner lead to another?
Tom Youngs: You know what they say: Tradition never graduates. These girls take each other under their wings, pass along the secrets, then leave big shoes to fill and records to break.
LIP: Is there a strong correlation between good students and good distance runners?
Tom Youngs: It’s rare when we have a team grade point average under 98. It’s a combination of talent, the type of kids who run and the discipline they bring to everything. I’d always rather have hard workers than talent, especially in cross country. Running takes more than just a good set of genes. That helps, but this takes hard work, dedication and a high tolerance for pain. The year before I took over this program we were the second worst team in the county. The next year we were third best and started the undefeated dual-meet win streak that survives to this day. They weren’t super talented, just a bunch of selfless kids who loved to run for each other. They trusted me. I’m not a guru when it comes to training regimens. Our success comes from getting the kids to believe in their abilities and to test their limits, to take advantage of their gifts.
LIP: I’ve seen t-shirts that claim your sport is other sports’ punishment.
Tom Youngs: A lot of athletes don’t like to run. We’re the crazy ones who do. It’s not for everybody, you know. It’s hard to run long and fast. I love it when I see athletes from other sports fall in love with running.
LIP: Girls at Ward Melville won four Suffolk County titles this fall (swimming, soccer, gymnastics and cross country). Is it something in the Three Village water?
Tom Youngs: This was an extremely strong senior class all-around. I saw some of them come through [Paul J.] Gelinas Junior High as seventh-graders. Caroline O’Hea, Lizzy Rullan (Navy lacrosse/soccer), Caysea Cohen (Cortland golf), you knew they were going to be special. Plus, they support each other on the field and off. That says a lot about this community.
LIP: Is running year-round at Ward Melville a way of life?
Tom Youngs: We start on the Fourth of July and finish in late June. I’m fortunate to have such a supportive and loving wife who understands my passion. Some of these meets in New York City can last all day and we have three kids at home. It makes it tough to be away so much.
LIP: Is there a particular philosophy you adhere to in training?
Tom Youngs: Summer is where we build up our mileage, not super fast, but we get used to long runs. Overall, we’re not a high-mileage program, maybe even a little less than some top programs. We have the girls all year, so we try to avoid injury and we don’t want them to fizzle out early in the spring.
LIP: Got any advice for beginning runners of any age?
Tom Youngs: Start slowly and be patient and consistent. Running too fast and too far can lead to injuries and a loss of interest. Build your volume of work slowly. Vary your routes, remembering trails and grass are the best surfaces.