Entering his 16th season as full-time head coach of the American University cross country and track programs, Matt Centrowitz has consistently proven himself as one of the top middle-distance and distance coaches in the country. Centrowitz has produced at least one All-American in seven of the last 14 years as well as numerous other NCAA Championship appearances in both cross country and track.
With training methods learned as a high school standout, collegiate All-American and two-time Olympian, Centrowitz has helped guide all of his athletes - be they standouts or walk-ons - to great heights. Early in his coaching career at American, Centrowitz turned unrecruited Will Rayel from a 5:00 miler in high school to a 4:13 runner by graduation. From 2000-03, he guided Sean O’Brien, a 4:14 miler in high school, to four All-America honors including a best of 3:41.29 for 1500 meters. In the winter of 2002-03, O’Brien anchored the team’s distance medley relay team of Andy Ellerhorst, Sean Duffy and Phil Gaeta to an All-America eighth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships. In that same class of 2003, Samia Akbar - who had a 5000-meter best of 16:43 entering her senior campaign - became American’s first female track or cross country All-American, running a school record 33:38 for 10,000 meters in muggy conditions at the NCAA Championships.
The individual successes of Centrowitz’s early years at American have transformed into team-wide success. The fall of 2003 witnessed American’s first ever cross country All-American when then-sophomore Keira Carlstrom strode to a 16th place finish at the NCAA Championships. As Carlstrom went on to win her second consecutive All-America award at the 2004 Championships, the men’s team did what hadn’t been done in over 30 years, qualifying for the meet automatically by way of a second-place team finish at the Mid-Atlantic Regional. Despite maintaining a roster comprised mostly of walk-ons, the team finished 20th in the country, led by senior walk-on turned two-time Patriot League Cross Country Champion Pat MacAdie and standout Sean Duffy.
Duffy, who had already garnered All-America honors as part of a relay in 2003 and just missed qualifying for the indoor nationals with his 7:56 3000, went on to rewrite school and NCAA records at the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Track Championships. Running in the first of two preliminary heats, the senior slid behind the leaders through a quick early pace and took the lead in the last 150 meters, running a new school and NCAA preliminary heat record of 3:39.42. Duffy would use the same late kick in the final to take a school-best third-place finish in 3:38.46.
Duffy’s success on the track helped usher in a new era of Eagle distance runners poised to take on league and national competition. During the 2004-05 season, sophomore Dustin Emrani set a new school record in the 800 and qualified for the NCAA Championships by way of his fourth-place finish at the NCAA East Regional. Freshman Steve Hallinan and Brendan Fennell both ran 3:50 in the 1500 and were integral parts of the team’s cross country success the previous fall.
The Eagles continued their All-America wave in 2006 as Carlstrom, now a senior, raced to two All-America honors, becoming the school’s only four-time female All-American. Carlstrom used a strong kick to take sixth-place at the NCAA Cross Country Championships - the highest finish ever for a Patriot League runner at the meet. In the spring, she set a new school record of 16:09 for 5000 meters in the prelims and then ran to a ninth-place, All-American finish in the finals. Ten days earlier the Eagles had sent five athletes to the NCAA Regional. Most notably, Dustin Emrani qualified for the second straight year by setting a school record of 1:49.67 at 800 meters. Emrani followed up his strong `05-’06 sesaon with an All-American season in `06-’07 placing 12th in the 800 meter at the Outdoor Championships.
Under Centrowitz, the Eagles have dominated the Patriot League cross country meets and distance events in track. In cross country, the Eagle men have won six of the last 13 individual and team titles. The Eagle women have taken four of the last 13 individual titles and two team titles. Indoors, the Eagles have taken advantage of the multiple relays and middle-distance events to win 48 titles in 10 years. In outdoor track, the Eagle men have won eight 4x800 meter relays and six 5000 meter titles. In addition, they’ve won five titles in the 800 and six in the 1500 meters. During the 2005-06 season, Steve Hallinan captured a Patriot League triple crown, winning the XC Individual title, the indoor 3000 meters, and the outdoor 5000 meters. In addition, the team went 1, 3, and 4 in the 10,000 outdoors led by Awit Yohannes’ win.
In the classroom, Centrowitz’s Eagles have set the standard as well with 17 athletes being named Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Over her illustrious career, Carlstrom earned six Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards, was a third-team Academic All-America honoree her senior year and was a finalist for the 2006 NCAA Woman of the Year Award. In 2002, Jen Baclawski was named both Cross Country and Outdoor Track Scholar-Athlete of the Year while Matt Seymour garnered 2004 Indoor and Outdoor Track Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors. Greta Wicklund was named Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2009 for cross country and Colin Eustis was named the 2010 Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year. John Pope was the latest Eagle to earn the honor, being named the Scholar-Athlete of the Year for outdoor track in 2014.
Outside of collegiates, Centrowitz has coached and currently coaches numerous standouts. Centrowitz coaches former American assistant coach Julie Culley, who qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team trials in both the 5000 meter and 1500 meter runs. In 2005 he coached American alum O’Brien to his first sub-4 minute mile, which made him the first New Hampshire man to break the barrier. In addition, he coached two-time Olympian Jen Rhines as well as 2003 Marine Corps Marathon Champions Pete Sherry and Heather Hanscom. Previously, Centrowitz coached for the Reebok Enclave working with, among others, John Trautman, Andre Williams and Ronnie Harris. In addition, he coached Terrance Mahon, now the coach of Team USA Running, to personal records from the mile to the marathon.
The Centrowitz name is familiar to many track fans. As a high school standout at Power Memorial in Manhattan, Centrowitz set state records in the 1500 meter (3:43.3), mile (4:02.70) and 5000 meter (14:17.0) which still stand today. In college, he qualified for the Olympics in 1976, setting a then-school record of 3:36.7 for 1500 meters. Later, Centrowitz would help Oregon to an NCAA Cross Country Championship in 1977. From his standout performances in college, Centrowitz went on to great success in the 5000 meters as a postgraduate, qualifying for the 1980 Olympics in the event and winning four consecutive national titles from 1979-82. In the 1982 Prefontaine Classic, Centrowitz out-dueled former teammate Alberto Salazar over the final 800 meters to set the American record of 13:12.91, then the sixth-fastest time in the world. Centrowitz also held bests of 3:54 for the mile and 46:38 for 10 miles. For his standout performances as a Duck, Centrowitz was inducted into the Oregon Hall of Fame in 2000. At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials Centrowitz and his 1980 Olympic teammates were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement, the highest civilian award which may be bestowed by the United States Congress.
Today, the Centrowitz name is one of the most talked about in running circles. His daughter, Lauren, was a standout for the Stanford Cardinal and in 2005 earned All-America honors in cross country as the team won the national championship. That following spring at the Penn Relays, she joined her father as an American record holder as part of Stanford’s victorious 4x1500 meter relay. Later that day, Matt Jr., also a renowned runner, surprised the favorites with a last lap kick to win the high school 3000 meter title in the third-fastest time in Penn Relays history. 2006 saw Matt Jr. become the first runner to win the 3000 and mile at the Penn Relays as he broke a 35-year old record in the latter event and was named Boys’ Athlete of the Meet for the second year. In the fall of 2008 as a freshman at the University of Oregon, Matt Jr. helped the Ducks to a NCAA National Championship in cross country. In 2010, he placed second in the 1500 meter run at the NCAA Outdoor Championships to help Oregon to a third-place team finish. He became the youngest American to ever medal at the 2011 World Track Championships with his third place finish in the 1500 meter run, marking the highest finish for a U.S. competitor in the event, and was the 2011 USA Outdoor Champion and 2012 USA Indoor runner-up in the 1500 meter. Matt Jr. also competed in the 2012 Olympics in London, advancing to the finals of the 1500 meter and finishing fourth.