Cross Country — There's no 'I' in coach for WV's Allan
By SCOTT SPRUILL
West Valley cross country coach Bob Allan gives instruction as his runner climb the hill behind West Valley Junior High School on Tuesday.
It's a coaching résumé heavy in quality and quantity and one sure to have a significant addition at the end of this cross country season.
Twenty-three teams qualified for state competition, 10 state trophies and three championships — two for the boys program and one for the girls.
And yet it's a résumé that may be summarized for its merit for the first time right here. In his 24-year run as West Valley's cross country coach, Bob Allan has constructed a program that consistently succeeds at the highest level and yet this is as close to boasting about it as he gets:
"When you're fortunate enough to have tremendous kids come through like we have," Allan says with his easy-going way, "we just try to get out of their way and not screw them up."
That's how the
51-year-old West Valley Junior High math teacher is most comfortable describing who's running the show, with words like "us" and "we."
When Allan took over the program in 1982 he worked closely with Larry Ovall. Then Ron Bergevin came in for a long stretch and now it's track and field coach Jamie Nordstrom.
"I've always thought of us as a team, a partnership," Allan insists. "It's been so rewarding to work with every one of them. We built things up together and got a little smarter along the way."
It's been an evolution indeed. In Allan's first 12 years, the Rams qualified 13 teams for state and they produced three trophies. But eight of those teams did not crack the top 10.
In the last 11 seasons, however, West Valley cross country has climbed to a higher level with seven trophies and three titles. In 2003 the Rams captured the Class 3A boys title and were second in girls.
"I think over time the whole package got smarter," he says. "In those earlier years we had some very good teams that seemed to come up short (at state). At times I think we overworked the kids and we've gotten better at avoiding that."
Last season West Valley earned its first girls state title — the boys won in 1998 and 2003 — and did so by a single point over Squalicum. Two-time state champion Michelle Schubert is now at the University of Portland, but the Rams have everybody else back and are ranked second behind Squalicum in the state coaches association preseason poll.
"There couldn't have been a better way to prove the value of a team than last year," the coach says. "We knew it would be razor-thin, and every girl was thinking about one point here, one point there. It worked out just like that and every girl was a crucial part of it."
Even with Schubert departed, West Valley will have stout leadership in the postseason with sophomore Lisa Olander, who was fifth at state last year and then followed up by winning the state 1,600-meter track title last spring.
Senior Rachael Johnson and junior Stephanie Shuel traded the No. 3-4 spots at last year's district and regional meets, and senior Alejandra Borunda slipped past Shuel for the team's No. 4 spot at state.
Sophomore Aubrey Packard was West Valley's No. 6 runner throughout the postseason last year, and senior Stacy Sundborg also returns from the state-title team.
"We've got good, experienced kids and the name of the game for us is moving the back of our group forward," Allan says. "Depth got it done for us last year and we'll be continually working to firm that up."
Another part of West Valley "getting smarter" over the years is not coming into the season too ready.
"It doesn't matter how we look at Bellevue or Sunfair," Allan says of upcoming invitationals. "Lisa took some time off this summer and that's good. That was a long, tough year for a freshman and it's best for her, and some of the others, to be well rested coming in.
"We'll come along quietly and hopefully be there at the end," he adds. "These girls aren't worked up about how good they're going to be. They've experienced a lot together already and they know what's ahead."
For Allan, what's ahead as a coach is unclear. He's in his 30th year of teaching with a daughter in college and a son entering his junior year at West Valley. He spent most of his summer watching his son, Kevin, play baseball for the Yakima Valley Pepsi Pak.
"I don't know, maybe it's about time to wrap this up and retire," Allan ponders. "I still enjoy it so much because cross country is unique. There's no bench and you don't have to cut anybody. It's all about the kids."
Which, if he had his way, is the one thing Allan would like on his coaching résumé. Not a trite expression, a sincere belief.
"Make sure it's about the kids," he pleads, a bit uneasy about any story singling him out. "They're the ones putting their hearts into it."
No doubt, and with every mile a smooth path to follow.