Boys cross country: Lowell’s Jake Rakoczy named P-T Coach of the Year
By Josh Lichtenfeld Post-Tribune correspondent November 28, 2012 11:26PM
Leading the Lowell Red Devils to the state finals this year, coach Jake Rakoczy is the Post-Tribune Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 30, 2012 3:55PM
LOWELL — Coaching a cross country program to its first-ever state meet appearance was one of the easier things that Lowell coach Jake Rakoczy did this fall.
While Rakoczy was busy leading the Red Devils down a new path, he was also embarking on a new venture at home, where he and fiancée Amy Mattingly welcomed their first child, Mason, in August.
Juggling different roles was a season-long battle for Rakoczy.
“The biggest challenge for me was feeling like I wasn’t able to give someone my best effort,” Rakoczy said from the couple’s home in Valparaiso. “Being gone a lot from here, I felt like I was short-changing people at home. And when I’m at practice, after it’s over the team would want to hang out and talk, but I had to get home. At times, I felt like people weren’t getting my best.”
“Even before we had Mason, I’d see him getting tired,” said Mattingly, who studies fine arts at IUN and works at the family-owned Roots Organic Juice Café in Valparaiso. “He’s pretty dedicated in everything he does and he beats himself up when he can’t give his best to all areas of his life. I could see the tiredness on his face.”
But the fatigue didn’t affect Rakoczy’s meticulous planning as a coach, and it’s those plans that carried Lowell’s program to new heights and earned Rakoczy the nod for the Post Tribune Coach of the Year.
“He was so organized,” said Lowell senior Garrett Corning, one of the runners under Rakoczy’s direction. “You could ask him right now what we’ll do on April 5 for track practice, and he’ll look in his notebook and be able to tell you exactly what we’re going to do.”
That organization included the smallest of adjustments, as Corning recalled. “He had us walking barefoot at the beginning of practice to strengthen our ankles. He’s consistently doing things like that to help perfect us.”
Rakoczy’s thorough plans also carried over into races, where he was very specific about how he wanted his runners to compete.
“I think what helped us most was having a race plan,” he explained. “In years past, at these postseason meets, we’d just go out and run our best and try to beat everyone we can. This year, I was meticulous about all of the races.”
Rakoczy said he was optimistic about his team’s fortunes in 2012, but it was at the NCC meet at the end of the regular season that helped him realize what the Devils were capable of.
“At that meet, I knew we could hang with those other teams. Even though we finished third, it was by the closest of margins and I told them: ‘Don’t be surprised if it’s the top three NCC schools and Crown Point competing for the final spots (to state).’”
His forecast proved to be accurate, as Lowell won the final state berth with a sixth-place finish at the New Prairie Semistate. The team’s score of 209 was barely ahead of Munster’s 210 and Crown Point’s 211.
Corning gave all of the credit to Rakoczy.
“He worked with all of us for four years to take us to state. If I wasn’t on that team, I probably wouldn’t have made it past regionals by myself.”
While his face still lit up when recalling the team’s success this fall, Rakoczy said the opportunity to spend more time at home with Mason, Mattingly, and Mattingly’s 9-year-old Kayla, is a welcome change.
“It’s nice to be able to come home after school when I want to,” he said. “Everyone needs a break.”