ASU track and field distance runner shoots for the stars this outdoor season

Freshman Michael Coccia is finishing his first year on the team, after expecting to redshirt

Freshman track and field distance runner Michael Coccia was expected to redshirt his freshman year, until cross-country head coach and track and field assistant coach Louie Quintana needed depth in his roster.

Quintana said when he realized how thin ASU’s men’s cross-country roster was, he decided to run Coccia and hoped he would gain valuable experience.

“Cross-country was rough, we were so thin as a team we had to run him,” Quintana said. “In normal years, I would totally redshirt the kid.”

While Coccia gained experience, he was overall not satisfied with how his first cross-country season went.

“The cross-country season was so and so,” Coccia said. “I had a couple of good performances but overall I wouldn’t say I was too happy with the season.”

Quintana said he felt that Coccia’s struggles running in cross-country helped his development.

“I think in fact if anything it is going to speed it (Coccia’s development) up,” Quintana said. “Put him in jersey, give him some good experience this year.”

After the cross-country season, Quintana decided to redshirt Coccia for the indoor season and potentially run him in the spring.

“I think the plan was to always go in jersey for outdoor season,” Coccia said. “But to definitely not go in jersey for indoor season.”

However, after Coccia returned from winter break, Quintana began to reconsider his original plan.

“We came back and he was in pretty good shape coming back from Canada,” Quintana said. “Within two weeks I was like, 'yeah we’re going to run you'. It was a pretty quick decision.”

Many college freshmen spend their first year in school living on campus, but Coccia decided to make a change in his living arrangements to focus on track and moved out of the dorm for the spring semester.

“A lot of freshmen live in the dorms the whole year,” Quintana said. “(Coccia) took it into his own hands and moved in with the guys. He wanted to take that initiative.”

Coccia said his issues stemmed from the essence of dorm life. 

“I just found that I couldn’t live the best lifestyle in the dorms,” Coccia said. “It’s pretty loud in the dorms, you’re stuck on a meal plan.”

One of the biggest advantages of moving out of the dorms for Coccia was being able to cook his own food.

Redshirt freshman Kyle Shinn lives with Coccia and quickly noticed his skills in the kitchen.

“He’s a little chef. He loves cooking every day,” Shinn said. “After practice, usually in the mornings, we sit down and we have breakfast and I turn around and it feels like he has the whole kitchen table filled with everything he is about to eat.”

After two meets completed in the spring track season, Coccia is hoping to cook up something special for the final season of his freshman year.

“I’d really like to run 3:44 or faster in the 1500. My PR from high school is 3:49, so it’s five seconds which is not just a little bit,” Coccia said. “I’d really like to make the finals for Pac-12’s, and last I’d like to make it to the regional meet, but if I run faster than 3:44 that should happen.”

Shinn wants to see Coccia in the Pac-12 Championships, NCAA Regionals and possibly the NCAA Championships, and said Coccia talks about being the best daily.

“He’s always talking about how he’s going to be NCAA champ and stuff like that,” Shinn said. “I know he is focused on being the best so I hope he gets there.”

Coccia was not shy about his aspirations and said not setting his sights on a national championship would be the wrong, maybe even abnormal, thing to do.

“Just about anybody that has trained at a high level has thought about winning a national championship,” Coccia said. “About maybe going to the Olympics, winning the Olympics.”

Quintana shared Coccia’s optimism, saying that he hoped Coccia could run 3:45 at the championship meets in May.

“He can certainly be a scorer on multiple levels in the NCAA, run sub four minutes in the mile,” Quintana said. “I think that is all achievable for him, and then put himself in position in 2020 to see if he can make the team for Canada.”

However, Coccia still has room to grow as a runner before he can step onto the Olympic stage.

Quintana said that Coccia still has a lot to learn when it comes to being patient during races, citing Coccia’s last race at the Baldy Castillo Invitational as an example.

“He ran 3:54, which is a solid time to open up, maybe not the best,” Quintana said. “He was a little too eager and ran a little too hard in the first 800 instead of just saying, 'listen I’m going to sit back and just let this race develop.'”

Coccia was scheduled to run in the 1500-meter race on Saturday at the Pac-12 vs. Big-10 challenge, but was later scratched from the race with an injury that limited his involvement during practice.

He said he hopes to be back in action on Friday, April 7 for the 38th Sun Angel Classic.


Reach the reporter at jzaklis@gmail.com and follow @JoshZaklis on Twitter.

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