Mustang Report

Taking the Reigns

Mustang Athletics coaches Sara Mackenzie, Caroline Walters and John Smith file for the camera.
Mustang Athletics coaches Sara Mackenzie, Caroline Walters and John Smith. Photo by Joe Johnston.

By Eric Burdick

Over the past year, several new coaches have taken over in some of the top posts within Mustang Athletics. Meet the new leaders working to take Cal Poly teams into a winning future.

Sara MacKenzie, Director of Strength and Conditioning

Last fall, Sara MacKenzie became one of just two women among NCAA Division I schools with a football program to serve as director of strength and conditioning.

“I am really excited to have the opportunity to further my career at Cal Poly,” said MacKenzie, who worked at Cal Poly as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for six years before her promotion. “My goal is to continue to build well-rounded, hard-working student-athletes who can find success in the classroom, on the field, and in the weight room.”

“She had the full support of our head coaches and sports medicine staff,” said Don Oberhelman, Cal Poly’s director of athletics. “After a national search, we determined the best candidate in the country was already working with us.”

Caroline Walters, Women’s Volleyball Head Coach

In December, Caroline Walters took the helm of Cal Poly volleyball, one of the university’s most successful programs, after a decade on the team’s coaching staff.

“The framework is in place to keep moving forward with business as usual,” Walters said. “Our program has been headed in the right direction for a while now, and I eagerly anticipate helping us achieve new milestones.”

Walters first started as an assistant coach at Cal Poly in 2009, a role she held for seven seasons until she was promoted by former Head Coach Sam Crosson to associate head coach in 2017. Since then, Cal Poly volleyball has seen some of its best seasons — a combined record of 31-1 in Big West Conference play, back-to-back conference titles, and consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2006-07.

“Coach Walters was part of the building process from the very beginning and has been instrumental in getting this program to where we are today, which is competing for Big West championships every year,” Oberhelman said. “She will be able to help continue the incredible momentum that we currently enjoy.”

John Smith, Men’s Basketball Head Coach

Cal Poly’s new men’s basketball head coach, hired in March, brings more than two decades of coaching success at the Division I and junior college levels — and he’s been looking for a school like Cal Poly.

“This is a program that I’ve had my eye on for a while, and it’s a type of program you want to land at,” Smith said. “Cal Poly has high-character players who are academically driven. Those are two things that are a precursor for success. We have a competitive group of players who are capable of being successful within the Big West Conference.”

Smith arrived at Cal Poly after serving as associate head coach at Cal State Fullerton from 2013-19 — a period of historic success for the Titans. Cal State Fullerton earned postseason berths during each of Smith’s final three seasons, including an appearance in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Basketball ties in the Smith family run deep. Smith’s son and nephew play for the Mustangs, and his daughter is a guard at University of Louisville. His father, Fred Smith, was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the sixth round of the 1968 NBA Draft while his brother, Steve Smith, is a veteran WNBA coach with stints with the Connecticut Sun, Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock.