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It’s shaping up to be the most successful season of recent memory for the Peninsula High cross country team under coach Tyler Nugent who is entering into his fourth year as head coach after he took over for longtime coach Joel Wingard after being an assistant coach previously.Last year, Nugent helped get the boys cross country team to state.
He now hopes to not only get the boys back there to place higher than before but to also put the girls team in contention as well.
“The trend at this point, this season in particular, it feels like it’s trending upward,” Nugent said. “I’m really excited about the kids that I have. Our summer training was the best that I’ve seen in the five years that I’ve been with the team.”
On the boys side of the coin, the team managed to make it to state last year but couldn’t break into the top ten. This year, Nugent has confidence in his senior boys and how their experience as well as hard work will help them lead the way.
“The class of 2020 boys, I’ve been excited about for several years now,” Nugent said. “They’ve really worked well together and they’ve accumulated a lot of good miles over the years together. They’re really blossoming now into top level varsity runners.”
One of the leaders on the team is Sean Walloch. He is a returning senior that Nugent has high hopes for.
“Within our team, Sean Walloch has been the fastest runner of that group of guys. For his entire career, he’s been the fastest runner,” Nugent said. “What I’m looking to him this year is to step into a leadership role with the team so I’m looking forward to seeing him doing that. I anticipate he’ll continue to be our leader up front.”
As for Walloch, he shares that passion to help the team succeed as a collective and spoke to how he plans to do just that.
“Coming off last season as the number one guy, I want to push the guys behind me to get even closer; just to be as competitive as we possibly can,” Walloch said. “I think we’re just getting stronger.”
The key to that success? Running. And lots of it, especially in comparison to previous years.
“A lot of the guys, myself included, have been running 40 to 45 miles a week,” Walloch said. “The summers previous I was probably doing maybe 20.”
It wasn’t just the distance, either. Walloch spoke to the focus on running on terrains that will be similar to what they’ll see come competition time.
“I like how we practice on actual terrain. We’ll do a lot of interval work and race paced stuff over at Gateway Park,” Walloch said. “Kind of like the state course and the district course. It actually helps us I think.”
Also sharing in this optimism for the season was Walloch’s teammate Maxwell Burr, who spoke to his own predictions and hopes for where the team will finish.
“I think our team is going to be top ten at state,” Burr said. “I have really high hopes for us and I think we can even take first at districts this year.”
Where does Burr get the confidence to make this prediction? It comes from the experienced veterans that are returning to the team.
“We have a lot of senior guys that are really fast and I think it’s just going to be an incredible team this season,” Burr said. “For our team, it just helps that most of our varsity runners from last year are still here.”
Unfortunately, on the girl’s side of the team, the team doesn’t have all their previous runners returning as they lost Gabrielle Jensen who would have been a senior this year.
“Gabrielle is no longer with the team,” Nugent said. “She had a lot of strong races for our team and not having her back is a loss certainly. But I think our girls are going to be better than last year.”
However, the team does have senior Emma Davis who spoke to how the team will move forward without Jensen this year.
“It is a loss for the team,” Davis said. “I think that we’ve got some other girls that are willing to step up and replace that spot on the varsity roster. I don’t know, I will miss her and she was a good teammate but there is room for growth.”
How far will that growth take the team? Davis sees them making it to state.
“I do believe that as a team we could qualify for state this year,” Davis said. “I’ve got a lot of belief that they have potential.”
Nugent expressed faith in Davis and how she has been performing well which could help the team overcome some of the inexperience they have.
“We’ve got Emma back, and Emma is doing well,” Nugent said. “We’ve got some really solid girls up front. They’re not as deep as the boys, but a lot of strong runners up front for our girl’s team.”
Even with that lack of depth, Nugent shared his team’s aspirations of making it as far as they can.
“I know our girls are talking about wanting to get back to state so that’s certainly a goal for them,” Nugent said. “I just want us to continue progressing as a program and the kids buying into the process which they’re doing. As far as the end of the season, I share the team’s goals.”
Beyond that far off end of the season with the results it will bring, Nugent emphasized how he feels about getting the opportunity to be coach and what his experience has been.
“I’m thankful for my assistant coaches. I’ve had the same assistant coaches the whole time I’ve been here and they do so much for us,” Nugent said. “I just feel so fortunate to work with such a fantastic group of kids who are really positive and support each other.”