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Mark Conover

Director of Track and Field/Cross Country
Second Season (Track), 15th Season (Cross Country)
Humboldt State 1983

After coaching the men’s cross country team to seventh straight and 10 Big West Conference Championships during his tenure, Mark Conover was named Cal Poly's Director of Track and Field / Cross Country on Dec. 30, 2009

Conover is currently in his 15th season at Cal Poly and has led the Mustangs to 12 appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, six of those as a team. He has coached the men’s team to four top-20 finishes, including 13th in 2003, 10th in 2004, 13th in 2006 and 11th in 2007.

“I am honored to be selected as the Director of Track and Field and Cross Country at Cal Poly,” Conover said in December. “To be in the position to lead the program into the next decade is a coach's dream. Cal Poly offers everything that is necessary when it comes to having a successful program due to its prestigious academic standing and the 'learn by doing' experience that is offered to the student-athlete in a setting that is second to none.

“I look forward to providing a positive environment that will allow the student-athlete to obtain academic and athletic excellence. I also look forward to recruiting and coaching bright, energetic and passionate young men and women who seek the outstanding education and athletic opportunity that Cal Poly offers.”

Conover has been named the Big West Conference Men’s Coach of the Year eight times and the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) West Region coach of the year twice (2000 and 2003).

During his tenure at Cal Poly, Conover has coached a pair of two-time All-Americans in both track and cross country. He has coached 23 NCAA West Region men’s and women’s track and field qualifiers and 28 individual NCAA All-West Region men and women in cross country.

Conover also has coached 26 Big West Conference individual champions in track and cross country, produced three Big West Conference Track Athletes of the Year, seven Big West Cross Country Athletes of the Year, two Freshman Track Athletes of the Year and seven Freshman Cross Country Athletes of the Year.

He has coached 27 men and women to Cal Poly top-ten all-time track and field marks, including the school record-holder in the men’s 5,000 meters and women’s steeplechase

The women’s cross country team, which he assisted before assuming full duties, had their highest conference finish in eight years in 2009 (third). Women’s cross country also earned NCAA All-Academic team honors in 2007 and won the 2004-05 and 2007-08 Big West Conference team GPA awards.

“Cal Poly has a long-standing tradition of excellence in the sports of track and field and cross country, with numerous All-Americans as well as alumni who went on to become Olympians,” Conover said. “That fact, combined with the number of successful coaches who came before me and the number of alumni who are currently successful high school and collegiate coaches, truly make it special to be the Director of Track and Field and Cross Country at Cal Poly. The program has a special place in the hearts of many alumni and fans of the sport who have been associated with Cal Poly.”

Conover coached the Cal Poly athlete of the year in 2007 as well as the Big West Conference scholar-athlete of the year in 2005 and the Cal Poly scholar-athlete of the year in both 2005 and 2008.

Conover was a nine-time All-American distance runner at Humboldt State, and earned the rare distinction of becoming an All-American in all three NCAA divisions (I, II and III). He was the national champion in the 10,000 meters in track in 1981 and in cross country, also in 1981.

In 1988, Conover was the Olympic Trials Champion in the marathon and went on to run at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He competed professionally from 1984-96 and was a four-time U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier.

A graduate of Miramonte High School in Orinda, Calif., Conover earned his bachelor’s degree in natural resource planning and interpretation at Humboldt State in 1983 and earned his master’s degree at Cal Poly in city and regional planning in 1989.

Conover, who survived a battle with Hodgkin’s Disease in 1993 and 1994, was inducted into the Humboldt State University Hall of Fame in 1993.

Prior to his coaching stint at Cal Poly, Conover was an assistant planner with San Luis Obispo County from 1989-92 and editor of a magazine, The Runner’s Schedule, from 1992-95. He served internships in the planning departments for the city of San Luis Obispo in 1985 and Morro Bay in 1987.

Mark lives with his wife, Kelly, in San Luis Obispo. They had triplets in May 2007 -- two girls, Audrey and Marley, and a boy, Cordell.


Kelly Bean
Arizona State, 2002

Cal Poly track and field director Mark Conover completed his staff during the 2010-11 season as the Cal Poly Athletics Department announced that former University of Washington assistant coach Kelly Strong has joined the Mustang program in a similar capacity.

Strong arrives on the central coast following a nine-year stint with the University of Washington, where she helped form one of the nation’s elite distance programs, accentuated by the women winning the 2008 NCAA Team Championship in Cross Country. Over the past two years, due to Strong’s involvement in recruiting and coaching, UW garnered two Pac-10 titles, two podium finishes, four Olympic Trials qualifiers, and 27 All-American honors in cross country and on the track.

Much like Coach Conover, the former Arizona State graduate has a history of elite success both as a runner and as a coach. After helping build the distance program as an athlete in Tempe, the Oregon native went back to the Northwest to help guide the young women in Seattle. In her nine years as a coach, the Washington teams qualified for NCAA’s all but twice, and the last three finishes (8th, 1st, 3rd) were highest in school history. 

Her reputation as one of the nation’s best recruiters, as well as her ability to connect with student-athletes played a large part in that success, and it is the reason Conover is excited having her take part in the growing distance tradition in San Luis Obispo.

"Kelly is a great addition to the staff, said Conover. “Her experiences as a top-level athlete and coach are assets that will be valuable to the program. Her ability in recruiting, aiding in daily operations of a program, along with her skill in helping the student-athlete find success have all been proven. She fits all the criteria I had for this position, so ultimately we can continue to provide a great overall experience for our student-athletes both academically and athletically at Cal Poly."

The newest Mustang is a 2002 graduate of Arizona State. During her collegiate career, she earned five All-America honors and three Pac-10 titles, and she set five school records. Following that, she ran for Asics, and represented them in three Olympic Trials. In 2008, she also set the American record in the 2,000-meter steeplechase (6:25.98), and ranked seventh in U.S. history in the 3,000-meter steeple (9:47.68).

She was recognized in 2002 with ASU's Pac-10 Medal, and was ASU's Athlete of the Year in 2001-02.

 “I am overjoyed with the opportunity. In a place like Cal Poly, there are so many things that are distinct. San Luis Obispo is such a beautiful town that is fifteen minutes from the Pacific Ocean, hosts an elite institute of higher learning, and has a history of great distance running. Mark’s coaching ability and success speaks for itself, and I am enthusiastic about how our styles will mesh in helping the Mustangs continue to rise to the top. I think we have a lot of good things to look forward to, starting with Cross Country 2010.”