Since coaching at APU, Hoyt has noticed that while recruiting satisfies the competitive nature of his job, the most fulfilling component is the process of building relationships with his players.
In 1982, Jack Hoyt was a student from Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif. He was seeking a collegiate athletic scholarship for soccer and eventually found himself touring APU. While he was impressed with the campus, he ended up taking a different route in pursuit of a competitive soccer program.
“I was always a soccer player in high school, and ultimately I chose Seattle Pacific University, ‘cause ultimately they had a great soccer tradition there,” he said.
Eventually, his love for soccer went away. Before he even made an appearance with the team, he decided to step away from the sport and focus on academics. However, it didn’t take long for him to miss the spirit of athletics. He wanted to compete, and the only team that was an easy walk-on was the track and field program. Hoyt believed it was the perfect alternative for him; it was an opportunity that didn’t place too much pressure on him, while also allowing him to compete and stay active.
This was his introduction to track and field — a sport that has ended up engulfing his life to this day.
Through training, he discovered that he was strong in several different events. He became a decathlete, and he made an immediate impact for Seattle Pacific. Hoyt broke the program’s record in the high jump in 1987, which he still holds over 30 years later. And in ’92 he competed in the Olympic Trials, as he was coached by former UCLA director of track and field Mike Maynard.
In 1990, he broke an American record with his high jump performance in a decathlon event after a 7-2.75” finish. He even competed as a decathlete into his 40s, where he broke another American record in the over-40 age group. Competing in Spain, he won a silver medal as he was still able to reach over 15 feet in the pole vault and 6-5” in the high jump.
He had simply fallen in love with the process of training, and it influenced Hoyt to pursue coaching immediately after graduating with his BA in psychology. He stayed put, becoming an assistant coach at SPU where he had the pleasure to work with some of his biggest confidants in the sport.
“I went into coaching because of what those coaches did for my life,” Hoyt mentioned. “Every day they challenged me to get the most out of myself, in everything that I did. That even through hardship, I had every opportunity in front of me to grow as an athlete. And at the end of the day, I got to work with my mentors. It was an exciting profession for me then, and it still is.”
With experience in every event, he coached nearly every athlete on SPU’s roster as an assistant, and in 1999 he was promoted to the head coaching position. In his final season with his alma mater, he led the Falcon women to a 13th rank at the NCAA DII Outdoor Championships, along with an eighth finish indoors. And once his career came to a close there, he was a five-time Conference Coach of the Year and produced 36 DII All-American athletes.
He earned the opportunity to coach in a more high-profile position in 2005 when he was hired as an assistant coach for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s DI program. Again he experienced marvelous success, highlighted by his development of heptathlete and high jumper Sharon Day-Monroe. An Olympian who competed for the US in the ’08 and ’12 games, Day-Monroe had one of her greatest years in 2013 as she set personal records in a multitude of events. During the USA Championships, she finished with a 6,550 score, which was the third-best finish in the world.
That same year was also Hoyt’s inaugural season with UCLA. Hired as an associate head coach in ’13 under Maynard, he was once again asked to focus on jumps and multi-events. He coached seven DI All-Americans and 22 National Meet qualifiers for one of the most illustrious track and field programs in the nation.
However, the overwhelming workload and training philosophy among the Bruins staff left him dissatisfied, and he was simply exhausted. Recruiting was an every-hour-of-every-day commitment, and in order to find the best talent, Hoyt needed to travel all over the world. His traveling schedule was quickly becoming too overwhelming for both him and his family, and he was in need of a change of scenery.
“It was more of a business working for those programs. When you work for a DI program, you simply need to get the best of the best in order to compete. It just became a big recruiting game, and I started missing the developmental and relational components of track,” he mentioned.
When he first stepped onto APU’s campus as a curious high school senior, he had no idea how powerful the campus environment could be. Luckily, Hoyt would find himself back at APU several times as a competitor and coach throughout the 1990s, and it didn’t take him long to notice just how special the environment was.
He recalled his relationship with former APU head coach Kevin Reid, who was the face of the program for over two decades. They had several connections together, whether it be on or off the track. Yet, the one thing that always stood out was Reid’s character — which Hoyt still attempts to mimic to this day.
“I will always remember bringing my teams to compete here and Kevin was always just so warm and welcoming. He really understood the value of meet management and how to make everyone comfortable,” Hoyt said. “He understood the bigger picture of the sport. Everyone involved in his coaching staff was using God’s image to develop an athletic program that allowed competitors to showcase their talents to the best of their abilities. And that’s something I will always try and imitate.”
When he was looking for a better fit in terms of his style of coaching, APU was an obvious destination for him. He interviewed for the head coaching position after Reid’s departure, and with his incredible resume of coaching experience, it was an easy choice for Gary Pine and APU’s athletic department. In July 2017, it became official, and Hoyt had the chance to create his legacy in an illustrious program that had won 30 NAIA titles and produced 14 total Olympians, including an Olympic gold medalist.
“That winning tradition is such an important part of APU’s program. Yes, we are making sure that our athletes are having a worthwhile and personable experience, but we also are training them to win. We are preparing our people to have a shot at the Olympic Games — to compete and coach at the highest level. And our tradition shows that we are successful at doing that,” Hoyt said.
So far this season, Hoyt and his program have lived up to those intimidating expectations. With a coaching staff full of all-caliber minds, such as sprints/hurdles coach Andrea Blackett and recent hire Sean Smith who works with distance runners, the Cougars 2021 season has already been one for the record books.
One of the biggest reasons for this is Amanda Fassold, who is currently the No. 1 pole vaulter in the nation. Fassold jumped onto APU’s track and field squad during the summer of her freshman year with zero experience in pole vaulting. With a gymnastics background, Hoyt and his staff influenced Fassold to try the event. He put a good word in with a personal pole vaulting trainer in the Portland area, which is near where she lived at the time. After just a few weeks, the coach reached out to Hoyt, “I think you’ve got a future national champion,” he stated.
In 2020, Fassold beat a 20-year school record as a sophomore, breaking Stephanie McCann’s previous record-breaking tally of 13’ 1¾” with a leap of 13’ 3½” at the Mines Alumni Classic in Colorado. In her third year on the roster, she has conquered that record twice already. In the first meet of 2021, she beat her own record with a 13′ 9 ¼” finish. Two meets later, she improved her record again as she cleared a leap of 14′.
“She has the personality, the will and the drive to earn a shot to try and make the Olympic team or the national team,” Hoyt believes. “She has everything you could possibly want in an athlete. She listens to her coaches and she’s eager to learn. But she also has patience in the process, and she knows that there is still room for improvement.
Beyond Fassold’s awe-inspiring performances this season, the team has seen several splendid efforts from all of their talent. On the track, two names that have stood out throughout this early season on both the men’s and women’s side are Jenny Sandoval and Daniel Bessolo. Bessolo, a junior, has run a provisional mark in each of the team’s three meets this season, and currently, he is ranked No. 4 in the nation in the 400-meter event. Sandoval, a transfer from San Jose State, conquered a program record in the 5k event this season to continue her already impressive campaign, as she defeated Jaime Canterbury’s 2009 record with a time of 16:01.41.
Seniors Weston Ellis for the men’s side and Elle Alexander for the women’s side have been more than strong in their discus competitions. Alexander has already reached provisional marks in the discus and the hammer throws while Ellis has reached several personal best throws this season.
Four-year hurdler Jaylah Walker has had arguably the best start to any of her previous seasons, as her 14.07 time is the fastest time in the nation for the 100 hurdles event. She also ranks second in the 400 hurdles, and her contributions have been a massive reason for the women’s team being ranked first in the NCAA Division II Women’s Outdoor Track & Field National Rating Index.
Nevertheless, it is the young talent on both rosters that hints at the success of this program being a long-term ordeal. The robust sophomore duo of Jermel Jones II and Raymon Harper is destined to make the Cougars a constant threat in field competitions. The same can be said about junior field players Nicole Warwick, a heptathlete who was finally fully healthy entering into 2021, and sophomore Chin Agina on the women’s side.
The track is full of young talent also. Kiayra Holmes, a freshman, is a sprints/hurdles athlete who has already been named a USTFCCCA Indoor All-American. And for the men, Dider Sandoval is a true freshman who has the potential to be one of the best long-distance runners in DII after his stellar 5k finish in the Team for Titus Invite.
Nonetheless, it appears that the most exciting prospect for the Cougars is Mechaela Hyacinth. A sprints runner from Saint Lucia, Hyacinth has already qualified for the Outdoor Nationals later this spring after her 11.51 finish in the 100 meters — a personal best. When she made it to Azusa, there was confidence that they could turn her into one of the greatest sprinters in program history. One could argue that she has already become that, as this year she has claimed first in four separate races.
“This team simply gels so well together. They’re a really tight bunch,” Hoyt said. “From a talent perspective, this roster is one of the strongest I have ever worked with. But more than that, they are crossover athletes. One athlete doesn’t just care about the teammates who compete in their event; everyone supports everyone, which isn’t always normal in track and field. And watching everyone develop has been a blast.”
For Hoyt, what makes his job so special is the ability to set goals for the individual athletes he trains. Whether it be working on Fassold’s initial steps towards her approach or assisting Hyacinth on ways to increase stability during sprints, it is the closeness of the training that makes the sport so wonderful to Hoyt. With that, every time he recruits an athlete to his team he is also committing his time to make them better people. Every day his first thought is not ways to improve his competitors into better athletes, but instead into better humanitarians and believers in Christ.
“This job is never-ending because I always try and find ways to help my athletes improve in their event. I constantly watch practice film and send over my thoughts on ways their approach can improve, or I’ll send YouTube videos to them to show how another athlete may do something, and how they should try and replicate what they do. But when it comes to APU, all of that gets thrown to the side because you have a real opportunity to change your life for the better here. That component is what is always on my mind,” said Hoyt.
In several ways, track and field is a selfish sport — both in terms of individual results and training. When you train, you do it for your own progression as a competitor. And while the point totals are added by the team’s end results of each meet, for several athletes they are competing for their own agenda. With the program Hoyt is building, though, he wants to throw this narrative out of the window entirely.
Rather than selfish, he wants the sport to be completely inclusive. Run, throw and jump for yourself and your teammates. Train for both your body and your mind. Use your skills both on and off the track. And, most importantly, use your competitive spirit to succeed in meets and in life. Every day Hoyt attempts to teach this philosophy, and he would be the first to acknowledge how blessed he is to do so in the God-loving environment that APU has to offer.
“I love my job. It’s the sort of job where I don’t need to get paid to do it. If I wasn’t reliant on the money, I would just come to the track and volunteer as a coach every day,” he said. “And the biggest reason I love it is because of the administration who runs our meets. I love meeting the people involved, and I love introducing them to Azusa Pacific. Our university is lucky to have that Christian family feel to it, and it opens up a lot of doors for us. We aren’t just looking for the best talent. We want someone who wants to be a part of our community as well.”