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Training in the Tropics More Than a Treat for Nuanes


RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — White sandy beaches, lush rain forests, scenic rocky cliffs . . . those were the rotten places where the Santa Margarita girls' cross-country team conducted some of its training this summer.

Toiling in a tropical paradise, senior Katie Nuanes and her teammates spent one week in Maui to vacation, er, train, with Coach Cindy Schaaf last month.

"I think some of the girls forgot at first what we were there for," Schaaf said. "But after a 10-mile run the first morning, that reminded them real quick."

Summer training trips are an integral part of Santa Margarita's program, building physical stamina and mental togetherness.

Normally, Schaaf takes the team to Big Bear. But after a productive fund-raising campaign, the Eagles got a treat and went to Hawaii this summer.

And as Nuanes tells it, the snorkeling, shopping and sunbathing together were just as instrumental to the team as the grueling and scenic runs in the Hawaiian heat and humidity.

"It gave us a chance to spend time with each other outside of school," Nuanes said. "It brings everybody closer."

Nuanes has become a close companion with success. She is a three-time Times Orange County first-team selection, and last year, she was the only Orange County runner to qualify for the Foot Locker National Championships.

Nuanes also won her first Sea View League individual championship last year, and this season, she will try to qualify for her fourth consecutive state meet.

She loves running and she's happy at Santa Margarita, but it wasn't always that way.

Nuanes grudgingly attended Santa Margarita as a freshman. After growing up in Irvine, Nuanes wanted to stay closer to home.

"She wanted to go to Irvine High with all of her friends," said Nuanes' father, Mike. "Going to Santa Margarita wasn't her idea."

Schaaf remembered how Nuanes reluctantly began working out with the cross-country team: "She was shy, and back then, she just didn't want to be at Santa Margarita."

Slowly, that began to change. Despite running with a team that was dominated by seniors, the freshman found she was welcome.

"Katie was a little quiet at first, but it didn't take long," said Kiki Koenig, who was a senior on the 1993 team. "We never thought of her as a freshman. She just fit right in."

That year, Nuanes began to hit her stride late in the season. First, she helped the Eagles win the Sea View League championship.

Then, after Nuanes placed second at the Southern Section Division III-A finals, she finished fourth at the State Division III meet, leading Santa Margarita to its first state championship in any sport.

Her sophomore season was solid and it included a seventh-place finish in the State Division III finals. Nuanes also won the section Division III-AA prelims. Last season, she continued to improve and upset the defending Sea View League champion--Jessica Corbin, now at UCLA--in the league finals.

Nuanes, who runs the 800 meters during the track and field season, used her speed and out-kicked Corbin to the finish line, completing the three-mile course at Irvine Park in 17 minutes 8 seconds.

"That was the best feeling ever, winning that race," Nuanes said. "It helped boost my confidence heading into the big meets."

Nuanes followed that performance by leading the Eagles to a Southern Section Division II-A title. Nuanes finished second to help the Eagles edge Foothill, 41-44, to win a Southern Section crown.

Nuanes then finished third at the state meet, posting an 18:05 at Woodward Park to help the Eagles place fifth in the State Division II finals. After finishing seventh at the Western Regionals the following week to qualify for nationals, she finished 17th at the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego.

"That was an overwhelming experience, running at the regionals and then at nationals," Nuanes said.

Those accomplishments have drawn the attention of numerous college coaches, but Nuanes and Schaaf say that won't be a distraction.

"Katie will just stay positive and work hard this year," Schaaf said. "Since that first Big Bear trip in her freshman year, when she missed two training runs because of tendinitis in her knee, she hasn't missed a meet or practice since.

"She does everything I ask of her and she's the hardest worker I've ever had."

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