For most runners, cross country is a sport, nothing more.
For Gig Harbor’s Bradley Peloquin? It’s a family thing.
He is the third in a line of star runners for the Tides, with sister Brenna now starring at the cross country college powerhouse Boise State and Tristan running at the University of Portland.
“Obviously I have the influence because my siblings did it, but it was never a forced thing. I do it out of enjoyment,” he said.
Peloquin, now a junior, is one of the top runners in 3A this year, coming off a sixth-place finish at state as a sophomore. And if there was any question about matching last year’s performance, he has already achieved a personal record in the first meet this season.
“I was not expecting to place second at all,” he said on the Fort Steilacoom Invite where he ran 15:31.7.
He’s hoping to find himself on a podium at the end of the season, but he isn’t putting any unnecessary pressure on himself.
“That’s how I run best, to be relaxed about it,” he said. “There is a certain achievement you can reach, but you can’t put pressure on yourself that you have to do it. Just go in with a relaxed attitude and whatever happens, happens.”
If he truly runs that relaxed, it may not appear so from the outside. Head coach Andrew Walker said Peloquin goes into another zone after the gun fires.
“He puts his game face on,” Walker said. “When you talk to him, he’s kind of a goofy kid. But when he gets on the line, he’s ready to roll.”
Walker has inherited a talented team, with Peloquin leading the charge. The expectation is for a spot at the podium come state, but his eye is daring to peek at a grander prize.
“I would say [state title hopes] are cautiously real,” he said. “It’s an interesting year because North Central has won 3A the past 11 years, but they look not as tough as they have. On paper, I like where we are at. We are in the mix.”
It’s a brand new experience for the first-year head coach at Gig Harbor. He was the head coach at a East Valley in Spokane prior to making the move west and was shocked at the day-one turnout for his new team.
“I had a small team to work with and never really got things rolling,” he said. “Now that’s the goal here, to settle down. I have been handed a lot of talented kids, but I want to get our program moving with kids I coached from day one.”
The team was already going to be a strong contender, but they received a gift when a former state-championship runner was dropped into their laps this offseason.
Peter Smith, who won the the 6A state championship in Virginia with time of 15:22, could push the Tides past their sixth place finish as a team at state last season.
“You can’t buy that,” Walker said. “He’s a great kid and great to work with. He’s going to peak out really well. He’s excited to be a part of this.”
Smith said his adjustment is going smoothly, but it will still take some time to settle into his groove.
“It’s different, I’ve never done this before,” he said smirking as a hovering wasp interrupted his thought. “I guess I will take the changes as they come.”
Those changes come on and off the course. Running in Washington will present new challenges for the Virginia state champion.
“I have to get used to different terrain, different weather, all those factors,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve felt the worst of the weather yet though.”
So, he might have a couple races in dumping rain, but that’s not a big concern when Smith knows he has been dropped onto a stacked roster.
“The school I came from, I was the only one that was in it to run, not for recreation,” he said. “When I came over here and started practicing with the guys, it was definitely a different team feel. I felt like there was some talent.”
Walker said this season’s team challenge will be finding a strong number four runner, but there are plenty of candidates to fill that spot.
Walker, a 27-year-old Seattle native, ran cross country at Gonzaga University and took over as coach this season for Mark Wieczorek, who had been coaching since 2010.
This year’s Tides are no national title hopeful. Not like the 2013 team that is considered the best assembled team ever from Western Washington. But it’s hard not to see some similarities.
That one had a Peloquin: Bradley’s older brother Tristan. This one has a Carroll just like that one: Nolan instead of Logan. And that one also had a high-profile out-of-state runner move in when Mahmoud Moussa's family landed in Gig Harbor from Arcadia, California — where his team had won a national title. Gig Harbor did go on to win the Nike Cross Nationals championship over a team from New Jersey that year.
Gig Harbor won the state title in 2013 after also winning in 2011. This year’s state championships are Nov. 4 at Sun Willows in Pasco