Warriors overcome loss of top runner to contend for state repeat
Whittell came into the cross country season knowing that two of its four all-state runners from a year ago were lost to graduation.
But the Warriors’ top runner wasn’t among them. Tyson Guajardo, the 2005 state runner-up, was part of a triumvate of talented runners who were returning to possibly lead Whittell to its second straight state championship.
However, Guajardo never made it to a starting line this fall as he struggled to overcome vertigo. Whittell coach Lindsay Wines said Guajardo had the condition since his freshman season, but there was no indication that it would escalate before his senior year.
“His freshman year it only kicked in midly after races. We’re not sure what intensified it,” Wines said.
At its worst, vertigo caused Guajardo to pass out during a cool-down run last summer. He still came out for the team in August but was never able to complete any serious training.
“He got dizzy fairly soon into his run and he didn’t make it that far into the season,” Wines said. “You can’t blame a kid for not wanting to run when it’s a horrifying experience.”
The loss of such an extremely gifted runner would have gutted most cross country teams, but Wines and her young squad didn’t panic. Returning all-state performer Willis Hughes and David King became the team leaders for a nine-member squad, which included five freshmen.
“Tyson not being there makes it a little less fun; he’s always been a huge part of the the team,” Hughes said. “Tyson is my best friend and I knew he didn’t want to run, so if he didn’t want to run, that’s better than he chose not to.”
There were growing pains conducive to a team with so many young runners., but the Warriors didn’t take their sights off making a solid state title defense.
The Warriors served notice of a possible repeat last week when they won the school’s 13 regional championship in Reno.
“We might have won by 10 points instead two (at regionals) with Tyson, but Willis and David have been just phenomenal this year,” Wines said. “They have been fantastic examples for the younger kids and have been hugely instrumental in the success we’ve had.”
Those freshmen, led by Adam Kingman, Allen McCleod and Adam Laub, have been brilliant, especially late in the season. What endears them to Wines is their eagerness to improve.
“These kids all say they can run better this weekend,” Wines said. “I’ve never had so much confidence in a freshman class.”
They are also responsible for Wines deciding to continue her coaching career beyond Saturday’s state meet in Boulder City.
“I’m going to stick around because these kids have the potential to do some pretty cool things,” she said.
“Adam is running faster than I could imagine any freshman could run, and Adam Laub and Allen may not realize what kind of runners they can be if they stick with it,” Hughes said.
The freshmen may have to be better this weekend if the Warriors are to hold off Sage Ridge to bring home another state banner. Sage Ridge only finished two points behind the Warriors at regionals.
“I can’t what’s going to happen, but I think our team has just as good of a shot of winning as any team there,” Hughes said.
Whittell has added motivation for a repeat title on Saturday. The Warriors want to become the first Whittell boys’ team to win consecutive titles since the cross country team did so in 1979-80.
“I don’t think another group of kids is more deserving than them,” Wines said. “These kids all respect Tyson and what he was capable of doing. They stepped up and did what they needed to do to get it done.”
Who knows, the Warriors’ cross country program might even become the next dynasty at Whittell.
“It would be nice to get a little bit of notoriety next to our dynasty volleyball team,” Hughes said.