The chance to compete for NCAA championships in cross country and track & field drew Kelly Phillips back to the Sunshine State in June of 2015, when she took over as the Florida State women’s cross country and distance coach.
Phillips is entering her second full season with the Seminoles, back in Florida where she launched her career and plans to conclude it.
A veteran of 15 collegiate seasons, Phillips re-united with Florida State head track & field coach Bob Braman, who provided the New Jersey native with her first full-time coaching job at the University of South Florida in 1997. Phillips quickly jump feet-first into the task of retooling the Seminoles, who had become a national player in both cross country and on the track over the past decade.
Working with a lineup dominated by freshmen and sophomores, the Seminoles were seventh at the 2015 ACC Cross Country Championships and outperformed their ranking with a fourth-place NCAA South Region finish. Freshman Carmela Cardama Baez led the way, earning All-ACC honors and was joined on the All-South Region team by sophomore Bridget Blake and senior Christine Griggs, a former walk-on.
Phillips’ first season with the track program produced more than a handful of top 10 FSU all-time marks. Indoors, Chelsea Jarvis broke the school record in the 800, qualified for the NCAA Championships and was part of the No. 9 DMR which finished second at the ACC Championships and narrowly missed an NCAA berth. Blake, also a member of the DMR, registered the 10th-fastest mile in program history while Griggs moved to No. 8 all-time in the 5000.
Outdoors, Blake added her name to FSU’s impressive list of NCAA Championship qualifiers in the steeplechase with the No. 6 mark in school history, while Griggs cracked the top 10 in the 10,000.
While the Noles were demonstrating steady improvement throughout the year under Phillips’ watch, she was hammering the recruiting trail in search of pieces to restock the roster with national-caliber talent. She landed a trio of newcomers – Bulgarian Olympian Militsa Mircheva and state-side talents Hailey Hendry and Megan Mooney – who figure to provide the backbone for the near future.
Phillips arrived at FSU from Miami of Ohio, where she spent the six seasons as the women’s cross country and track & field head coach, leading the Redhawks women to a pair of Mid-American cross country titles. Her 2013 team snapped Toledo’s three-year run of MAC titles, as the Redhawks placed four runners in the top 10. In those six seasons the Redhawks never finished worse than fourth, while her track & field teams have produced a combined five top-four MAC finishes between the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Twice Phillips was selected as the MAC Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year (2009, 2013), each time after leading the Redhawks to the title in arguably the most competitive mid-major cross country conference in the nation.
In addition to team successes, Phillips also mentored outstanding individuals, including NCAA Championship cross country and outdoor track & field qualifier Rachel Patterson, who re-wrote the school’s distance records both indoors and outdoors in multiple events. Patterson was just the eighth female RedHawk in school history to make the NCAA Championships in 2010 and came within three seconds and six places of earning All-America honors, as she finished 46th. She also broke the 6K school record at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional where she was fifth.
Patterson continued to progress under Phillips in track, earning a berth in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 5000m run, where she was an Honorable Mention All-American. Patterson also won three MAC titles in her final year at Miami, capturing the 5K and 3K indoors to earn Most Outstanding Track Performer while winning the 10K at the MAC Outdoor Championships. She also broke the school’s indoor and outdoor 5K records under Phillips’ watch.
As a team, Phillips led the 2011 Redhawks to third-place finishes at both the Indoor and Outdoor MAC Championships, with the indoor finish tying for the best in school history. For the second straight year, five RedHawks also qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds, including Patterson and Tori Paterra, who made the NCAA Championships. Eleven RedHawks garnered All-MAC honors in track in 2011 as well, including four individual MAC champions outdoors and two indoors.
In her first season guiding the track & field program, Phillips saw four school records fall during the indoor campaign, including the mile run, the 3000m and the 5000m. Kelley Miller won the Indoor MAC Championship in the mile while the RedHawks’ distance medley relay team also captured a MAC indoor title under her guidance. Outdoors, Phillips helped her athletes break four more school marks while Amanda Mirochna repeated as MAC champion in the steeplechase and Miller claimed the 1500m.
Prior to her arrival at Miami, Phillips spent four seasons as an assistant for the women’s cross country and track distance assistant at Purdue (2005-09), guiding the middle-distance and distance runners. During that time the Boilermakers took down the home 5k cross country course record and notched the second-fastest 6K time posted. The women’s cross country team earned USTFCCCA All-Academic Team honors each year she was there and took home Purdue’s President’s Cup, awarded to the team with the highest grade point average, two consecutive seasons.
During a three-year coaching hiatus, she founded the Claremont Trails Running Camp in New Hampshire, growing the camp exponentially.
Phillips’ first full-time coaching stint came at USF, where she was hired by Braman in 1997 as the associate head coach for men’s and women’s cross country and track & field. After three seasons as the top aide, she ascended to the head coaching position when Braman left for Florida State in 2000 and enjoyed remarkable success with the Bulls, leading the women’s team to a pair of conference cross country titles and the men to the 2000 Conference USA crown.
Along the way she collected three Conference USA Cross Country Coach of the Year honors – twice with the women and once with the men – and picked up CUSA Women’s Track & Field Coach of the Year honors in her final season. She was also awarded three consecutive NCAA South Region Cross Country Coach of the Year honors (1998-2000).
In all, Phillips guided 33 Bulls to the NCAA Championships. She also made sure her teams were achieving in the classroom, as the women’s cross country team earned USTFCCCA All-Academic honors from 1998-2000, while the men’s team achieved the distinction in 2000. For her efforts, Phillips was named Conference USA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year twice and Men’s Coach of the Year once, as well as the league’s Women’s Track and Field Coach of the Year in her final season with the Bulls. From 1998-2000, she also was awarded the NCAA’s South Region Cross Country Coach of the Year.
Phillips also served as the meet director for Conference USA’s Cross Country Championships in 1998 and the league’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2001. In addition, she helped fundraise over $70,000 during her tenure to help support the South Florida cross country and track and field teams by organizing road races in the Tampa Bay area.
Over the course of her coaching career, 41 of her athletes have qualified for NCAA Championships competition in cross country and track & field.
In the classroom, Phillips’ teams have earned USTFCCCA All-Academic distinction eight times.
A Toms River, N.J. native, Phillips (nee, McDonnell), enjoyed a brilliant collegiate career at Auburn, establishing 14 school records and earning All-American honors indoors in the mile and outdoors in the 3000-meter run as a senior in 1991; the first middle-distance or distance runner to gain that distinction in program history. She earned her degree in marketing in 1991 and spent the next two seasons as a graduate assistant for the Tigers.
Post-collegiately, she qualified for the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials at 1500 meters, claimed gold at that distance in the 1995 Olympic Festival and also placed fifth at the Pan American Games in Argentina.
She trained in Washington, D.C. with the Reebok Enclave under the guidance of renowned coaches Frank Gagliano and Ron Helmer, who were also instrumental in shaping her as a coach.
Phillips has two sons, Michael and Connor, who are standout distance runners on the high school level.