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 cross country and 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 cross country teams have won 16 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 grounded, 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 28 of the last 30 years, including each of the past 23 years. The men’s team has claimed four GSAC Championships and the women earned their first GSAC Championship this past season (2015).
"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 and field 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 Travis, who attends Westmont, and of Alyssa who lost her battle with a brain tumor on July 4, 2006 at the age of 15.
A 2008 alumna of Westmont, Lindsey Connolly is entering her seventh year as 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 for the athletes to challenge themselves and improve. All team members have the opportunity for persoanl growth while working towards a common team goal. It is my desire to work with individual athletes to accomplish their goals and discover how they can impact the Westmont Cross Country and Track and Field teams."
As a recent graduate, 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.
In addition, Connolly has teamed up with Rebecca Smith to open an elementary school (K-6) in Mirebalais, Haiti. Their non-profit organization, Destined for Grace, is funded through two thrift stores operating in Carpinteria and Goleta.
"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 enters his fifth year with the Westmont College Track and Field program. Priester coaches the Warriors’ combined events (heptathlon/decathlon) athletes and jumps in addition to directing the sprints/hurdles training programs.
In his first four years with the program, Westmont student-athletes in the Combined Events and Jumps have produced thirteen All-American performances, one National Champion and three National Runner-Up finishes at the NAIA Indoor & Outdoor National Championships.
Westmont school records have been broken in both indoor & outdoor women’s heptathlon, high jump and long jump. In addition to his coaching duties, Priester assists in coordinating camps and clinics on campus as well serving as the Meet Director for both the Sam Adams & Jim Klein Combined Events Meets.
In conjunction with his work with the Warrior program, Priester serves as the Executive Director and Head Coach of the Santa Barbara Track Club at Westmont (SBTC). SBTC offers track and field programs for all ages and ability levels. The SBTC provides an opportunity for post-collegiate/professional athletes to continue training within the sport.
Since its formation in 2012-2013, the SBTC has been one of the most decorated track clubs in the United States. In four years, SBTC athletes have garnered three United States National Championships in the heptathlon, as well as 23 Top-10 USA finishes in both indoor and outdoor combined events. SBTC athletes have accumulated nine podium (top-three) finishes in USA National Championship competition.
In 2016, Barbara Nwaba became the first Team USA Olympian from the SBTC when she earned the title of “America’s Greatest Athlete” after winning the US Olympic Trials in Eugene. Nwaba went on to finish 12th in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. www.santabarbaratc.com
Prior to working at Westmont, Priester was the Associate Director of Track & Field at UC Santa Barbara (2008-2012). In this position, Priester worked with UCSB sprints, hurdles, jumps & combined events.
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 and an NCAA 2nd place finisher in the women’s heptathlon which marked the highest finish by a Gaucho in the program’s history.
Priester holds a Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Performance from George Fox University (OR) and a Masters in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy. He and his wife Nicole live in Carpinteria.
MARY ELLEN BROWN
A Wesmtont alumna, Mary Ellen Brown serves as the throws coach for Westmont Track and Field. Still the Westmont record holder in the javelin at 45.97 meters (150-10), Brown ranks second in the Westmont record books in shot put and third in the discus.
After spendig a year at UC Davis where she played shortstop on the softball team, Brown transfered to Westmont. In her second and third year, Brown played on the Warriors’ volleyball team. She became a member of the track and field team in her second year at Westmont and competed for three years.
Brown is also a teacher at Goleta Valley Junior High Schook. She and her husband steve has one daughter – Kierstin.
Tom FitzSimons serves on the staff as a pole vault and sprints coach.
FitzSimons is a three-time USA qualifier in the decathlon and secured a bronze medal finish at the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. FitzSimons finished fourth at the 2015 Championships.
A native of Hamden, Connecticut, FitzSimons graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s in 2012.
FitzSimons is currently a member of the Santa Barbara Track Club where he trains for elite level international competition.
Sarah Skipper is a 2011 graduate of Jamestown College (Jamestown, North Dakota), where she earned a degree in Spanish. During her time there she competed in multi-events and was a two time All-American in the pentathlon and heptathlon. Immediately after graduation, Skipper spent one year as an assistant track and field coach at The University of Great Falls, in Great Falls, Montana. During her time in Great Falls she coached sprints, hurdles and jumps.
Skipper has had a passion for track and field since she first joined the cross country team in the seventh grade. Her passion and love of the sport is what lead her to Santa Barbara in the fall of 2013, when she began to compete post collegiately for the Santa Barbara Track Club. Skipper enjoyed much personal success and gained a great deal of knowledge during her time with the SBTC. She competed at the USA Indoor National Championships in the Pentathlon in February 2016. Skipper is also the head coach of the Santa Barbara Track Club Youth Program in Carpinteria.
“I have had a long track and field career,” said Skipper. “Through all of these experiences I have gained the ability to understand athletes of different levels and abilities. I can look back on my own career and see where I could have done better or when I grew the most. I love track and field because it is a means that furthers the development of each individual on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. It is a fun and rewarding way to learn virtues such as discipline, friendship, and perseverance. I am thankful to be a part of a program that seeks to develop the whole person, as well as guide them to their absolute athletic best.”
Originally from Rugby, North Dakota, Skipper enjoys a close relationship with her parents and three brothers. Outside of track and field she spends her time pursuing music. She plays the upright bass with a local folk band called The Riverside.
Shane Rowan serves as an assistant Track & Field coach helping with the horizontal jumps and serving as a strength and conditioning coach. An alumnus of Westmont, Rowan was a three-time NAIA All-American in the triple jump and an NAIA Champions of Character recipient.
A native of Santa Barbara, Rowan competed for San Marcos High School. Rowan trains post-collegiately as a decathlete and long jumper.
Prior to coaching the men’s and women’s track and field programs at Westmont, Rowan coached youth athletes through Westmont’s summer track & field camp, as well as private training locally. He also serves as an alternate coach for the Santa Barbara Youth Track Club.
Rowan is currently working towards becoming certified as a USATF Level 1 coach, as well as a USATFCCCA Strength and Conditioning coach.