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Seitz enjoying his quick ascension in DI coaching ranks

Forest Grove grad Josh Seitz coaches Colleen Quigley to an NCAA steeplechase title

Note: This is the second half of a two-part story. The first part ran in last week’s News-Times.

In the wake of Karen Harvey’s abrupt resignation this past March as the women’s cross-country and track and field distance coach at Florida State, her assistant, Josh Seitz, said there were some pretty heavy hearts in the program — his included.    - Josh Seitz

“She was an extreme mentor for me, so I was pretty devastated,” the 2007 Forest Grove High School graduate says.

But Seitz also quickly started thinking about the path forward. He talked the situation over with volunteer assistant Terry Long, and the two decided they needed to support their athletes. So Seitz geared up to tell head coach Bob Braman that he and Long felt capable of training the female distance runners for the immediate future.

He discovered how Braman felt during a meeting.

“I get into the office and I’m thinking about how I’m going to present it to him,” Seitz recalls. “He walks in and he’s like, ‘As far as I’m concerned, everyone, Josh is the new women’s distance coach for the time being.’”

So at the age of 26 and just a few years into his coaching career, Seitz found himself leading his own distance group, albeit on an interim basis.

He got off to a good start. Less than two weeks after the turnover, senior Seminole distance ace Colleen Quigley recorded her highest finish at the NCAA indoor meet, taking third in the mile behind two opponents who broke the meet record, including winner Leah O’Connor of Michigan State.

But that was just a beginning for Quigley — who would eventually turn the tables on O’Connor — and for Seitz.

As it turned out over the spring outdoor season, Seitz and Long, with complementary strengths and personalities, made an outstanding partnership, especially for Quigley. Long, the former Florida State head coach and a skilled hurdles coach, continued to instruct Quigley on hurdling technique for the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Seitz handled the distance training logistics.

“Coach Long has been around for ages, whereas Josh is a little bit newer, but coach Long doesn’t have as much experience with distance runners in particular, whereas that’s Josh’s specialty and that’s where his own personal experience comes from,” says Quigley, the 2013 NCAA steeplechase runner-up. “So they work together perfectly as a team, balancing each other out.”

Seitz had a good template with which to start, as Harvey had mapped out Quigley’s training plan before her resignation. But Seitz and Quigley often found themselves on the same page, adjusting that plan regularly, tweaking a workout’s content or changing up the order in which they were done.

He also became a sounding board for Quigley.

“It was so easy to talk to both of them (Seitz and Long), but Josh in particular,” she says. “If I had anything that I was concerned about, I felt like he was so easy to just either pick up the phone and call or just go to his office.”

Quigley’s greatest triumphs came near Seitz’s old stomping grounds, as Eugene was the site of both this year’s NCAA outdoor meet and U.S. championships.

In mid-June during the NCAA steeplechase final, Quigley and O’Connor, the defending champion, broke away from the field and hit the final water jump together. Quigley took it better and exploded down the homestretch to win in a personal best and school record time of 9 minutes, 29.32 seconds. O’Connor faded to third.

Sue Fleskes, who coached Seitz to an all-state cross-country career at Forest Grove and attended the meet at Hayward Field, rushed from her seat in the grandstands and found Seitz behind the awards podium. Seitz himself had just caught up with Quigley.

“The look on his face, I mean his eyes were just huge,” Fleskes says. “And of course, she just grabbed him by the face and took his face in both of her hands and just thanked him. It was really wonderful to see. It was really emotional for me to see too, because coaching has meant so much to me, and now ... for him to get those moments too, those coaching moments.

“It’s not just the coaching, but it’s the relationships you’ll have your entire life, and of course I feel like I’ve got that with him, and now he’s starting to develop that. It just means a lot to watch him.”

The meet was a success all the way around for Seitz. His other athlete at the competition, senior Linden Hall, also landed on the awards stand with an eighth place in the 1,500.

After the meet, Seitz returned to Forest Grove for a couple of days to unwind, then he headed back to Eugene to prepare Quigley for the U.S. meet, his final competition as her coach. Thanks to her NCAAs performance, Quigley had put herself in contention to make the world championship team, which required a top-three finish.

“We were pretty confident she could make it,” Seitz says. “It’s just you never know how someone’s going to come off of such an emotional experience as NCAAs. That was her first and only national title.”

Quigley, representing the professional Bowerman Track Club for the first time, handled it like a champ. On a blistering day, she surged off the final water jump to once again beat out O’Connor, this time for a PR of 9:24.92, third place and a spot on the U.S. team heading to Beijing for this month’s IAAF World Championships.

In the mixed zone afterward, one journalist interviewing Quigley seemed confused about who had been coaching her after Harvey’s resignation — Bowerman Track Club leader Jerry Schumacher took over after the U.S. meet. Quigley teared up as she explained.

“And then I realized ... I have to tell these people who’s been coaching me,” Quigley says. “They don’t even know. He’s not going to go brag about it, so people don’t even know he’s been the one behind the scenes. So then I was like, ‘Oh, no, no, I have a coach.’ I just started tearing up trying to tell them about who Josh was and what he meant to me.”

With the Seminoles having hired Kelly Phillips to take over as the women’s cross-country and track distance coach, Seitz will resume the role he previously occupied under Harvey through this fall.

After the first of the year, he is off to Kenya, where he will live for most of 2016 after being awarded an English Teaching Assistant grant through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. He wants to work with young runners there, and after that, resume coaching at the college level.

Before that life-changing experience, though, he has another big trip to make. Late last month, he was in the process of applying for a visa so he can travel to China and watch Quigley compete.

And to think, he helped get her there.