Gig Harbor cross country squad seeks spot among best in state history

Gig Harbor squad, bolstered by transfer Mahmoud Moussa, seeks spot among best teams in state history

t.cotterill@thenewstribune.comNovember 7, 2013 

From left, Gig Harbor’s Mahmoud Moussa, Logan Carroll, Tristan Peloquin and Wolfgang Beck are each in the top eight for the fastest 5-kilometer times run by Class 4A cross-country runners this season. The Tides are heavy favorites to win the Class 4A boys state team title Saturday in Pasco.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

With Mahmoud Moussa’s family set to move to Gig Harbor only months after he helped Arcadia (Calif.) High School boys capture the national cross-country championship, the teenager looked up the top runner in that town’s best program.

And he sent a direct message to Tides senior Wolfgang Beck on Facebook, inquiring about the team’s training regimen.

What awaited Moussa as a reply was a three-paragraph, essay-formatted notification with enough nonsense to thwart any unwanted spy.

It stated, among other malarkey, that Gig Harbor team members ran 200 miles a week, swam another 50 miles in a pool and regularly embarked on 100-mile bicycle rides.

Moussa chucked his cellular phone in anger.

“At the time, I was like, ‘This kid is dumb,’ ” Moussa said. “I sent it to my brother and he was like, ‘Dude, his name is Wolfgang – what were you expecting?’ ”

Beck soon learned about Moussa’s pending relocation to Gig Harbor, and realized the impact it could have not only on the school’s chances to add another Class 4A state team title to its haul, but how also it would impact the Tides’ chances for a national title.

Beck, Logan Carroll and Tristan Peloquin have the best three individual Class 4A 5-kilometer times this season – with Beck’s mark of 15 minutes, 6.8 seconds well ahead of the pack.

Moussa ranks eighth, and Michael Hammer is 21st – all giving the Tides a fearsome quintet heading to the state meet Saturday in Pasco.

Not only are they heavily favored to win their first 4A title since 2011, they have not lost a meet this season.

And for much of the season, they’ve been DyeStat.com’s top-ranked program nationally (They were No. 2 to start the season).

Gig Harbor has garnered comparisons to the elite 1993 Mead squad that many consider the best in the history of Washington.

“We weren’t realistically thinking about a national championship, but then we heard Mahmoud was coming and we were like, ‘Maybe we can do this,’ ” Beck said. “If you look at our team now, we have four guys who could all end up as state

champions.”

If anything, Gig Harbor is plowing the path for Western Washington schools. East-side programs own 43 of the 54 state titles in 4A, including every year since 1987 except when Gig Harbor won in 2011.

It’s not just happening at the 4A level. North Central of Spokane, ranked No. 7 in the country, has won seven consecutive 3A titles and is primed to win its eighth at Sun Willows Golf Course on Saturday.

But former Mead coach Pat Tyson said he believes this year’s Gig Harbor team belongs with the best, including his 1993 Mead squad that went 1-2-3 at the state meet, and claimed the second of back-to-back No. 1 rankings nationally.

“I would be fearful,” said Tyson, who is now the coach at Gonzaga University after leading Mead to 12 state titles from 1986-2003. “I think this (Gig Harbor) team right now – and I’m not trying to put a lot of pressure on them – might be the greatest assembled team on the West side, for sure. Then you can put them right in the mix as one of the greatest.

“If I’m a young, aspiring coach, I’m watching what Gig Harbor is doing.”

While Gig Harbor hopes its success continues beyond this year, a confluence of factors have the team thinking it can achieve the pinnacle achievement of high school cross-counry – winning the Nike Cross Country Nationals next month.

It started when U.S. Olympic team hopeful Mark Wieczorek agreed to coach the Tides in 2010. He brought instant credibility considering he’s competed across the globe, including traveling to six countries in seven weeks this past summer. Wieczorek, 28, is heading to the U.S. Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., in February.

Wieczorek didn’t instill those farfetched swimming, biking, long-mileage workouts Beck used to intimidate Moussa. Instead, he’s a firm believer in recovery.

“Just because he is such a competitive runner himself, we know he has insight,” Carroll said. “So we can take that into our training.”

With Wieczorek as coach, the Tides built a solid nucleus with Beck, Carroll and Peloquin. Then Moussa moved in and brought his national-title credentials with him.

“I just said, ‘Wait, there’s going to be four of us?’ ” Peloquin said.

They instantly expected Moussa to be a pace setter. After all, Moussa’s brother, Ammar, helped Arcadia top the 1993 Mead team’s Woodbridge course record in Irvine, Calif., in winning the 2010 California individual high school state title.

But Mahmoud Moussa wasn’t at that level – at least not at first.

Moussa had visited Egypt over the summer and came back sick and slightly out of shape – for a cross-country runner, anyway – for his first run with his new Gig Harbor teammates.

“First couple runs I was thinking, ‘OK, how good is he really going to be?’ ” Peloquin said. “But you knew he wasn’t going to come from Arcadia and not make us really good. After a while, he came to and was just another one of us.”

“It’s safe to say we talked about winning a national championship almost every single day the whole summer,” Moussa said.

And Moussa talked plenty about his own national title, too.

“Usually not twice a day,” Beck deadpanned.

It’s no longer just talk. Beck, Carroll, Peloquin and Moussa took the top four spots at the Narrows League championships Oct. 23. And while taking it easy at last week’s Westside Classic district meet, the Tides still were fast enough to easily take the team title.

Gig Harbor must win the state title in order to advance to the Nike Cross Northwest Regionals in Boise on Nov. 16. The top two teams from there advance to the national meet Dec. 7 in Portland.

With the state championships looming, Gig Harbor’s aspirations are within grasp. Beck or one of his teammates has the chance to become the third individual champion in school history. A state team title keeps their hopes alive for the Tides’ first national title.

But Wieczorek is hoping those marks aren’t what his team defines as success.

“I tell them all the time that success isn’t defined by whether we win nationals or not or whatever ends up happening,” Wieczorek said. “To me, success is developing, progressing through the season, maximizing potential, having fun, working hard and enjoying everything they can. If they do all that, that is success to me.”

Still, seeing Gig Harbor join the ranks of the greatest teams ever assembled would cement a long-lasting legacy.

“It would have been fun to watch them and Mead High School in a battle,” Tyson said. “I think that would have been a lot of fun.”

“I wouldn’t say we are making history, but we are definitely on the trail to making history,” Peloquin said. “We want to go down as the best team ever and join that 1993 team. But (we’ve) got to execute the next couple weeks to join them. If we do, whatever happens, happens.”

WIAA STATE HIGH SCHOOL CROSS-COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS

Saturday, Sun Willows Golf Course, Pasco

Defending team champions: 4A – Central Valley boys/Camas girls. 3A – North Central/ Glacier Peak. 2A – Sehome (both). 1A – Charles Wright/Riverside. 1B/2B – Tri Cities Prep/Northwest Christian of Lacey.

Schedule: 1B/2B girls at 10 a.m.; 1A girls at 10:30 a.m.; 2A girls at 11 a.m.; 1B/2B boys at 11:30 a.m.; 1A boys at noon; 3A girls at 12:30 p.m.; 4A girls at 1 p.m.; 2A boys at 1:30 p.m.; 3A boys at 2 p.m.; 4A boys at 2:30 p.m.

The skinny: Who can stop the Gig Harbor boys, led by Class 4A favorite Wolfgang Beck? The Tides are ranked No. 1 in the country, and poised to capture their first state team title since 2011. Beck has the classification’s top 5K mark at 15:06.8. … Last year, the Camas girls moved up as reigning 3A state champions and won 4A, too – edging Tahoma and Bellarmine Prep. Those three schools are expected to battle it out Saturday. If the Westside Classic was a sneak preview, the Lions (63 points), Camas (66) and the Bears (75) should be in for a doozy. Bellarmine Prep’s lone loss was at the Stanford Invitational. And Camas junior Alexa Efraimson (state-best 17:28.7) should have no problem defending her 4A crown. … Defending state 3A champion Joe Hardy of Seattle Prep has the state’s top mark – the only one under 15 minutes (14:56.9 at the Metro League championships). The Panthers and Kamiakin are best bets to end North Central’s seven-year run as state champion. … The Peninsula girls should be in the mix for the 3A girls title with WCD champion Prairie, Kamiakin and Glacier Peak. … Few have been more dominant in their respective classification than the Sehome girls, who were 2A champions from 2006-2010, upset in 2011 by Cheney, then responded by scoring a whopping 40 points to blitz the state field last season. They placed four inside the top 10 at last weekend’s district meet, led by runner-up Ruby Watson. … Ever since the Class B schools have held their separate meet since 2006, Northwest Christian of Lacey has captured every girls team title. Junior Anna Brooks is the Navigators’ top runner.

Tickets: $9 for adults, $7 for students/senior citizens.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 t.cotterill@thenewstribune.com @Cotterill44 todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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