New Peninsula High cross country coach Tyler Nugent has some big shoes to fill. He’s replacing Joel Wingard, who retired last season after a 37-year coaching career, during which he coached at both Peninsula and Gig Harbor high schools.
“It’s definitely true that there’s a legacy,” Nugent said. “He’s an incredible coach. He built the program up to a really exceptional level. I just feel like I need to take what I’ve learned from him and other places that I’ve coached and incorporate that. I feel like I have a good feel on what it takes for kids to develop as distance runners.”
Nugent has coached cross country at Auburn Mountainview High, as its head coach, and as an assistant at Kentridge and Peninsula.
Being an ’01 graduate of Peninsula High, he always had an itch to get back.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Nugent said. “I coached against Wingard, and he’d say, ‘You have to come over here so I can retire.’”
So far, not much has changed. Nugent said he plans to continuing running the program similarly to how Wingard ran it.
“I really appreciate the way he emphasized including all the kids in the process,” Nugent said. “It’s a big team — we do all our workouts together. We’re not splintered off into, ‘Varsity do this, JV do this.’ We get all the kids involved. It’s really a welcoming, inclusive family. I appreciate that aspect of it most.”
Part of the reason inclusiveness is so important to Nugent is that he himself was a late bloomer in high school. He started as one of the slower JV runners, before blossoming into a great varsity runner and going on to run cross country at Pacific Lutheran University. Nugent still runs competitively occasionally, competing in 5K races and half-marathons.
“I know for those kids, they can develop into really outstanding runners,” Nugent said. “I want to give every kid the opportunity to feel like part of the team, feel like they can contribute. I think that’s the biggest thing I want to carry on.”
Nugent carries himself with a calm, focused demeanor. He works to foster a supportive culture.
“I just try to bring the kids together every day and let them know that I appreciate them and their hard work,” Nugent said. “They need each other as teammates and they should support each other. And they do.”
While Nugent is mostly laid back, he does have a competitive spirit — he wants to win.
“I don’t really have specific goals other than placing well at the state meet and doing that consistently,” he said. “I think it starts with the culture where kids know hard work is what’s expected and know that’s what pays dividends down the road. One of my things I say to the kids at practice to get them going is, ‘We’re putting money in the bank.’ I don’t think you can force kids to work hard. I think you have to inspire them. Trying to start that when they’re in ninth grade and they continue that development, and by the time they’re a junior or senior, they’re contributing.”
Nugent is excited about the promise of both the boys and girls teams this year. The boys are led by senior Riley Wynn and junior Cameron Wenman. The girls have four returning state runners from last season: junior Grace Gaugen, junior Amanda Wikremanayake, senior Stephanie VanDerBank and junior Madalyn Weisweaver.
The Peninsula girls took 15th in state last year, which Nugent expects the team to build off this year.