I liked coach Nick LaCapria from the get-go. He's a home-boy from Brooklyn, an Italian, no less. I was trying to understand his Zen and how, under his tutelage, the La Cañada High School girls' cross-country team took third place in the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships, Division IV.
"Coach, tell me about the state meet. How did they do it?" I asked. I had little time, so I pulled the mantra of Dragnet's Sgt. Joe Friday: "Give me the facts, just the facts."
After speaking with the coach for well over two hours, I realized that success is a moment in time, yet its analysis begins at the beginning.
As Ben Franklin contended, it's the small things that define an outcome. Coach Nick kept his eye on State while his team did the small things and their extraordinary season evolved. The statewide meet was incidental to the journey the team had just completed.
I sensed that the pivotal moment of the season was when Katie Scoville returned to the team after convalescing from a soccer injury.
"The team is amazing," Coach Nick said. "They just wanted to make it to State and Katie Scoville was dead set on making it happen."
It's not always the fastest who wins the race; there are too many variables to contend with during a long cross-country season. Yet winning is a mind-set and I sense its possibility was implanted by Coach Nick well before the day of the race. Sun Tzu, the author of "The Art of War," said, "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and seek to win."
Professional soccer great Mia Hamm's words express the ethos of the La Cañada girls' varsity cross-country team: "I am a member of the team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion."
La Cañada High senior Kallie Rushing, freshman phenom Ellaney Matarese and Adena DiPaolo solidified the team and were examples of girls sacrificing for each other. Madison Pirkey, Sarah Auther and Lynette Aslanian believed in the dream of placing at State. Kayley Bond, also a freshman phenom, had the team's best time.
"During the race, what are you thinking?" I asked Bond.
"I'm coming for you," she answered. "I want to leave everything I have on the course."
In the tactical scheme of competition, whether it be battle or sport, every advantage is temporary. Consequently, what then becomes essential for victory is the competitive edge. At the end of my conversation with Coach Nick, he revealed the team's competitive edge. I had found the Zen of the girls' cross-country team: it was a limo bus, and it was the Knutson sisters who made it happen.
Coach Nick told me that, as the team journeyed to Fresno for the state meet, their spirits soared. Somehow, the limo bus was the conduit that enabled the team to relax, enjoy and bond. The Knutson sisters — Savannah, Ashley and Kylie — were instrumental in fundraising $4,000 by selling raffle tickets. You might have seen them at Starbucks. Under the supervision of David Adida, a member of the La Cañada High Boosters, the girls championed the initiative and made the limo bus trip for the team a reality.
I met the Knutson sisters and was impressed by their zeal and devotion to the cross-country team, although none of the sisters are members. Their loyalty and determination to raise funds to purchase the limo bus ride were exemplary.
There are many variables that determine a successful outcome and I am happy to have purchased a raffle ticket from one of those variables.
After the meet and when the cross-country team took the stage to receive their accolades, Katie Scoville exclaimed, "I can't believe this is really happening."
It was. High fives to everyone involved.