The Lethbridge College Kodiaks didn’t have to look far for a new indoor track and cross country head coach, as co-coach Simon Schaerz has been promoted to the top job. Schaerz takes over from Bertil Johansson, the winningest coach in Kodiaks history, who retired in November following 32 years at the helm of the Kodiaks.
Schaerz joined the Kodiaks as an assistant coach in 2015 and was promoted to co-coach in 2017. A former Canada West track athlete at both the University of Lethbridge and University of Calgary, Schaerz is also a faculty member at Lethbridge College. He is already leading the Kodiaks in practice, helping the team prepare for its first meet of the season on Jan. 26 in Edmonton.
“We have a legacy, and with that comes a pressure that we continue to perform,” says Schaerz. “There is a little apprehension with Bertil leaving, because he’s been such a fantastic mentor. But I’m excited to get in and make the program my own, and live up to the expectation that we perform and not just go to nationals, but finish in the top three.”
Since joining the Kodiaks, one of Schaerz’s roles has been focused on recruiting local runners to the program. His efforts helped the team land 2018 ACAC and CCAA individual cross country gold medalist Sophia Nowicki, who was one of Alberta’s top-ranked recruits coming out of high school.
During his time with the team, Schaerz has helped the Kodiaks to seven ACAC cross country team medals and eight ACAC individual cross country medals, along with 27 individual and team indoor track medals in his time with the team.
“Since the day he became a Kodiak, I knew Simon had the talent, drive and determination to eventually lead the program,” says Todd Caughlin, manager of Kodiaks Athletics. “Taking over from someone of Bertil’s stature is not an easy job, but I know Simon is the right fit to bring his own ideas and will help continue the legacy of Kodiaks cross country and indoor track, while supporting the development of his student-athletes in competition and in the classroom.”
Schaerz was born and raised in Switzerland, before moving to Sundre, Alta., with his family when he was 12. He received a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology from the University of Lethbridge in 2010, a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Regina in 2013 and a bachelor of education degree from the University of Calgary in 2014. He’s currently in the second year of his PhD studies at the U of L, and teaches full-time in the college’s Exercise Science program.
As an athlete, Schaerz ran both 1,500-metres and 3,000-metres for the U of L Pronghorns for four seasons, and added an additional season of both indoor track and cross country for the U of C Dinos. He’s also an accomplished triathlete, having competed at the 2012 FISU World University Triathlon Championships.
“My biggest advantage is some of the connections I still have with local clubs and athletes and coaches I’ve worked with,” says Schaerz. “As well, being a faculty member at the college I can identify with some of the stressors that students have and I’m able to be here and be available to the athletes, which I think is a big advantage.”
Away from the track, Schaerz enjoys spending time with his wife, Lexi, and sons Luca (three) and Max (six months).
Kodiaks alumna Caylee Vogel will remain with the team as an assistant coach. The Kodiaks indoor track team will compete in ACAC Grand Prix events on Jan. 26 and March 2 in Edmonton, followed by the ACAC championships on March 15 and 16 in Calgary.