The athletes of the month for November are cross country runners Ashley Gonzalez ‘20 and Drake Nienow ‘19.
Leading both the boys and the girls cross country teams to CIF-SS finals, Gonzalez and Nienow were the top runners of WHS.
“They’re two peas in a pod,” said co-head coach Chad Scott. “They are both great athletes that embody everything that we could hope for in a good teammate.”
Gonzalez accomplished two feats this season: winning runner-up in Marmonte League championship to aid the girls in winning the runner-up Marmonte title and setting the fourth-fastest three-mile time for girls in WHS history at 18:03, improving her personal record by almost a minute and a half.
Gonzalez would break her old times in each race by 30 seconds, while most runners only improve by an average of ten seconds.
“I feel like I had a lot of big jumps [in time] and a lot of support from my teammates and coaches especially,” said Gonzalez.
Varsity teammate Claire Adams ‘19 notes Gonzalez’s significant improvements since the start of her running career.
“Ashley started cross country last year,” said Adams. “She started as an average runner at the beginning of the year to winning most of her races and [running a personal record] every single time. She listens to her coaches and she tries really hard in practices.”
Gonzalez was the second fastest girls runner before top runner Rebecca Schultz ‘20 was injured. After the coaches told her she needed step up for the huge loss, Gonzalez took the spot of the fastest female runner on the team.
“Since then, her workouts have always been on point,” said Scott. “She took the opportunity to be the lead girl and ran with it, pun intended.”
On the other hand, Nienow also improved and ran a personal record of 15:41 at Riverside Invitational to run the 16th fastest time in WHS boys cross country history.
Aside from helping the team place high, Nienow also contributed as one of six team captains by leading the team during practices and at meets.
“I would make sure the workouts got done right,” said Nienow. “When we were at a meet competing, I’d make sure…we were ready to compete and have our best performance.”
Besides being vital runners to WHS, both Nienow and Gonzalez helped lead the team through tough practices and would cheer for other teammates at meets.
Particularly, runner Ruby Sirota-Foster ‘21 gushed about Gonzalez’s kindness on the team.
“She’s one of the best teammates,” said Sirota-Foster. “She’s so sweet, always saying hi to everybody [and] good job to everybody,” said Sirota-Foster. “She’s just really an amazing person and an amazing athlete.”
Gonzalez also sets a standard that contributes to the success of the team.
“I know that some of the younger athletes look up to her and have a strong desire to work as hard as her in hopes of becoming better athletes, and in turn helped the team,” said Scott.
Likewise, another captain, Andrew Burr ‘18, praises his friend Nienow for being an inspiration.
“[I’ve] seen how he’s grown,” said Burr. “He sets a really good example.”
Both athletes are looking forward to the upcoming spring track season. Gonzalez hopes to qualify for CIF and to be on the 4×1600 meter team. Nienow hopes to pick up in track where he left off from cross country and to have major improvements in time.
With the strength of the leadership in Gonzalez and Nienow, Scott hopes to see the cross country team at the state championships next year.
“As a team, our goal is to be at the California State Championships,” said Scott. “And realistically, I think that both the boys and the girls team have the ability to make it.”