Head Track & Field Coach
What the athletes say…
"There are many knowledgeable coaches, but what impresses me most is that Russell not only has this incredible knowledge and experience, but he also has the ability to relate to each individual team member on a personal level. He knows us as runners, but more importantly, he takes the time to get to know the true person inside."
"Russell has had a big impact on my life in college. He welcomed me to the Westmont community. He encourages his team to persevere in all aspects of life, and be the absolute best that they can be."
"Even when we weren’t performing at our best, Russell looked to our potential and knew we could do better."
Coach Russell Smelley has served as the head coach in track and field at Westmont since his arrival in 1979. His tenure has produced numerous NAIA All-Americans and NAIA All-American Scholar-Athletes in both cross country and track and field.
Smelley guided the women’s cross country team to national prominence and was named NAIA National Coach of the Year in 1995. His men’s and women’s teams have won 15 conference titles. Smelley was inducted into the NAIA Cross Country Hall of Fame in November of 1999. Smelley has also served as the President of the NAIA Cross Country Coaches Association.
Asked to describe himself as a coach, Smelley replied, "Hopefully I am a philosophically based, kinesiology based coach so that there is reason and facts to support my coaching decisions. I seek to be a teacher who can convey hope and concern for the student-athlete as a person in all aspects of their lives."
The Westmont track and field teams have also been successful, with at least one athlete claiming NAIA All-American honors in 25 of the last 27 years, including each of the past 20 years. In 2013, the men’s team claimed their first Golden State Athletic Conference championship and Smelley was named the GSAC Coach of the Year.
"I would like athletes to be able to compete at a higher level than they have before," continued Smelley. "In the four years they are at Westmont, I would like to see student-athletes maturing and coming to know themselves more realistically. I hope to challenge them to be culturally different in their discipline and in the affections, and to be emotionally healthy, strong, resilient individuals who can follow their dreams. By culturally different, I mean different than the milieu of their peer group – not tied to what their generation considers successes or important."
Besides his coaching duties, Smelley is a tenured professor in the Kinesiology Department. His classroom work earned him the distinction of being named "Teacher of the Year" in 1988 and again in 2002. Coach Smelley carries that quality of teaching over to his work with the Westmont cross country and track teams. He takes special pride in developing the potential of each individual athlete academically, athletically, and spiritually.
"Ultimately, it is important to help the students improve their self-image and confidence in order to enable them to become more self-reliant and thus reach their greatest potential," says Smelley. "This is development of the mind, body and spirit and it produces outstanding people who can succeed in academics, athletics and life."
Prior to coming to Westmont, Smelley earned a BA degree in English and Physical Education, and an MEd in Education at the University of Richmond where he was an All-American middle distance runner for the Spiders. He spent two years serving as head women’s cross country and track and field coach at Richmond, and as assistant men’s coach.
Smelley and his wife Allison are the parents of eighteen-year-old Travis and of Alyssa who lost her battle with a brain tumor on July 4, 2006 at the age of 15.
Assistant Track & Field Coach
An assistant track coach at Westmont since the spring of 1989, Jason Oatis brings both technical knowledge and the heart of a mentor to the Warrior Track and Field program.
"Sprinting and jumping are my specialties," said Oatis. "I help athletes to develop their speed and the techniques needed to maintain speed. As far as jumping, I help athletes to put their bodies in kinesthetically the right position to gain optimal distance."
Oatis is also concerned to help athletes have a focus on competition. "Not a focus on your competitors," explained Oatis, "but your competition towards yourself. It’s a learned skill to compete with yourself to do your best."
As a mentor, Oatis seeks to "be someone with whom athletes can have honest and frank conversations. I want to help them grow spiritually and as people."
"Jason is a loyal assistant coach and good friend," said head coach Russell Smelley. "He is good with our athletes individually and helps to bring consistency to the program."
Before coming to Westmont, Oatis served as an assistant football coach at UC Santa Barbara for two years, and for eight years at Santa Barbara City College. He also coached track and field for four years while at SBCC. As a professional athlete, Oatis was a wide receiver with the San Diego Chargers for two seasons.
In addition to his responsibilities at Westmont, Oatis has served as Physical Education Teacher and Emergency Safety Coordinator at Cold Springs School since 2001. During the spring of 2011, Oatis served as interim head coach while Smelley was on sabbatical. Oatis and his wife Judy have a son, Matthew, and a daughter, Rachel.
John Larralde brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Westmont cross country and track and field programs. His coaching resume includes 21 years at Carpinteria High School, four years at Santa Barbara High School, three years at the University of California Berkeley, and two stints at Westmont. Added together, Larralde has coached 33 cross country seasons and 37 track and field seasons.
"My role is in training and in teaching racing tactics and skills," said the veteran coach. "I believe athletics is a major part of the education process. It gives students an opportunity to understand and discover themselves and provides an opportunity for personal growth."
"I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with a close personal friend [in Coach Smelley]," said Larralde, "as well as the opportunity to grow and improve as a coach. I believe that coaching is a never ending learning process."
A native Santa Barbaran, Larralde participated in track, football, baseball and basketball at Santa Barbara High School. After graduation from high school, Larralde attended Santa Barbara City College where he played basketball for two years. While at SBCC, the team had an opportunity to play the freshman squad from UCLA that included Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Lynn Shackelford. After SBCC, Larralde served in the Air Force for four years before returning to his educational pursuits first at the University of Nevada Reno, and then at UC Santa Barbara. For more than 20 years, Larralde served as a production manager at Rincon Publishing.
A 2008 alumna of Westmont, Lindsey Connolly serves an assistant coach for the Warrior Cross Country and Track and Field teams. Connolly, an NAIA All-American in the 3,000 meter race walk, seeks to help each student-athlete reach their potential.
"I want each individual to have personal successs in their running," said Connolly. "Each race is a chance to improve and see how far you can push your limits. I think that both cross country teams have the potential to do well on the national level. The track team has many individuals that are capable of qualifying for nationals and I would like to see our largest group go (to the national championships)."
Connolly believes she brings an important persepective to the coaching staff.
"I think that I have a unique position on the coaching staff because I was also on the team not too long ago," noted Connolly. "I can bridge the gap between athlete and coach because I understand where both sides are coming from. I hope I can use what I learned while on the team to help the current athletes accomplish their goals and reach their potential."
"Lindsey Connolly has proven herself to be an able assistant coach by patiently and dutifully taking care of the myriad of details necessary for a team’s success," said Smelley, "She is knowledgeable about the distance training program and she quietly observes the traits of individual athletes in order to best encourage and coach them. She is a good advisor on training, travel arrangements, athlete’s needs and anticipating problems."
"I really enjoyed my time on the cross country and track teams while at Westmont and want to continue to be a part of the future of Westmont Cross Country and Track and Field. The coaching staff and athletes are quality people that I enjoy working and being with. I’m thankful for the opportunity to experience the coaching side of running and to learn more about running tactics and planning workouts."
A native of Santa Barbara County, Connolly grew up in Carpinteria and competed for Carpinteria High School. Connolly also works at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Ty Warner Sea Center where she serves as an Exhibit Interpreter and Floor Supervisor.
In addition, Connolly has teamed up with Rebecca Costa to open an elementary school (K-5) in Mirebalais, Haiti. Their non-profit organization will open the school in September of this year. The school is funded through two thrift stores operating in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara.
"Our mission is to raise the Haitian children above the pain and suffereing that their country endures and provide for them a future of love, hope and faith," said Connolly.
Josh Priester is the director of the Women’s Athletic Performanc Foundation (WAPF), which has made its home at Westmont. He also serves on the Westmont Track and Field coaching staff in recruiting and coaching student-athletes.
WAPF is the only organization in the United States devoted to training elite level female heptathletes to compete on the world stage. More information regarding WAPF can be found at http://www.wapf.us.
Priester served as the Associate Director of Track & Field at the University of California, Santa Barbara unitl the summer of 2012. During Priester’s tenure at UCSB, he helped the program reach new heights in track & field, which culminated in a 2012 Big West Conference Championship.
While at UCSB, Priester coached the women’s and men’s sprints, hurdles, horizontal jumps and combined events. In four years with the UCSB Program, Priester coached four NCAA Division I All-American performances, 16 NCAA qualifiers, 11 all-time UCSB records, three USA National Championship qualifiers in the heptathlon, and one USA National Team member. In 2012, Priester was nominated as a West-Region Assistant Coach of the Year.
Prior to UCSB, Priester coached at his alma-mater, George Fox University, where he worked with the combined-events, sprints and hurdles. During his time at GFU, the sprints and hurdles group had great success in the Northwest Conference. In 2008, GFU athletes won conference crowns in both the men’s and women’s 400 meters, 400m hurdles, 4×100 meter relay and the men’s decathlon. At the national level, GFU qualified seven sprinters and hurdlers for the 2008 NCAA Div. III Championships.
Priester has been a speaker and clinician at many track camps and clinics for athletes of all ages. In 2012, he worked to establish the Sam Adams Combined Events Invitational held at Westmont. The meet is named after long time UCSB and Westmont track coach Sam Adams who was an integral part of decathlon development in the United States.
Priester holds a Bachelor of Science in health and human performance from George Fox University and a Masters of sports management from the United States Sports Academy. Priester is a native of Walla Walla, Washington.