Cross Country Dynasty

Champions (l to r): Miriam Canales-Ortega, Lorena Garcia (being held with plaque), Ashley Carrera, Violet Tipich, Dana Cameron, Bronwyn Bunnell, Danielle Nunez (photo by John Mattera)

San Pedro’s Lorena Garcia and Ashley Carreraended their L.A. City Section Cross Country careers the same way they began them – as champions.

But this is nothing new for head coach Bruce Thomson and the San Pedro Girls Cross Country team. They’ve won three of the last four City titles as the program continues to pave its way to the “dynasty” category.

Thomson took over head coaching duties at San Pedro High School in 1998 and in those 15 years he has done almost nothing but win: 10 L.A. City titles in 15 years.

San Pedro High School Principal, Jeanette Stevens says Coach Thomson has created an environment that “cultivates success year after year.”

“Coach Thompson is a cornerstone of our program here at San Pedro High School,” she says. “He is here everyday and he really is involved in the program in a capacity that fosters success. We are very proud of him and his accomplishments. He is definitely top-notch, we have observed his talent and his ability to connect with kids. He is a superstar.”

Head coach Bruce Thomson (bottom center) is surrounded by his runners (top l to r) Bunnell, Tipich, Nunez and Carrera, and is flanked by Erica Hovind (bottom l) and Coach Sally Leonhart (bottom r). (photo by Jenna Bunnell)

Thomson has led his Pirate runners to not only L.A. City titles, but to college. During his 15 years leading the program, he has seen dozens of his girls go on to compete at the collegiate level.

“Our girls train very hard,” Thomson says. “It just didn’t happen that you win, the girls have to make commitments and sacrifices, and it starts in the summer. This program has seen many successful athletes go on to college, but that is because these girls know what it takes and they work hard to make their dreams come true.”

Thomson has produced great runners like Valerie Flores, who became an All-American at UCLA, and past Individual City Champions include Pablo Rosales and Laura Delgado. In addition, the Pirates currently have two runners on scholarship at Loyola Marymount, and that is in addition to the countless other girls who have gone on to run at the collegiate level.

Stevens says it is important to the administration to produce college-bound students, adding that it is a bonus to produce collegiate athletes.

“We have talented athletes and talented coaches who have the ability to promote and advocate for the kids for continued play after high school,” she says. “We want coaches and have coaches that foster the vision for the collegiate level. We are really a community that not only engages in a strong academic program, but athletics. And our community supports that and wants to see our athletes and teams succeed and prosper.”

But Jenna Bunnell, mother of Bronwyn Bunnell, who was a freshman on the team this season, says it’s more than just the girls and their effort, it is “the program that Coach Thomson created.”

“His program is amazing,” she says. “He really treats these girls with respect and pulls out the absolute best from them. He preps them to be successful from the start, and not just successful for their time at San Pedro, but in college and beyond.”

Eddie Nunez, father of Danielle Nunez, a runner on the team, puts it this way, “If Thomson was a football coach, he would be God.”

Thomson doesn’t agree, but says his Cross Country teams have some of the best athletes at San Pedro High School, and he would like to see his athletes “get the respect and attention they deserve.”

“Cross Country is one of the tougher sports to train for,” he says. “It is not a game and the girls don’t get a lot of credit for it. Our kids train all year round, they do great in the classroom, and I would say they are some of the best kids we have in school. I would say that goes for most Cross Country programs.”

And excelling in the classroom is exactly what his athletes do, Stevens says.

“San Pedro High School as a whole has the highest GPA in the Marine League,” she says. “And when you look at the girls Cross Country program, you will see that these girls, all of them, are top students and top athletes. They push themselves to excel physically in sports and mentally in the classroom.”

Thomson says Cross Country athletes have always been good students and that is because the sport is more “intrinsically motivated than football or basketball.”

“To succeed in it you have to be consistent in training,” he says. “You have to work hard in every area and the only person pushing you to do it is you. This isn’t a game these girls are playing, this is about pushing themselves individually and that shows in the classroom, as well.”

Bunnell, a proud parent and a teacher herself, says the parents see the respect Thomson gives to their children. She says he is a leader when it comes to both academics and sports.

“He built this program – it is a dynasty,” she says. “And for Coach Thomson it is about more than just having a successful high school team or career, it is about having a successful life. He looks at the bigger picture. We are proud of the girls, but more importantly this is about the success of the coaches and the program they have built.”

For Pirate runners Garcia and Carrera, this season was their last, but it also saw them win their third City championship after previously winning in their freshman and junior years.

“Once I knew we won I was so happy,” Garcia said in an interview with the Daily Breeze. “This is our senior year and we wanted to win this for our coaches and our team.”

Thomson said of the senior captains – Garcia who was All-City four straight years and Carrera who was All-City her junior and senior year – they were hardworking girls, they pushed themselves and they led by example.

“These two were leaders,” he says. “We had 40 girls on the Cross Country team this year, and there are only seven spots – there is no bench, this is a competitive sport. These girls pushed it to the limit every single day. I am so proud of them.”

Stevens says it is “exciting to have a championship program year after year – it really is a feather in our cap.”

“We have an amazing athletic program here at our school, and when I think of programs that are at the top, the Cross Country team is there. The coaches are top-notch, the athletes are top notch, and they really push each other to ensuring success each season – it is exciting, and I am proud.”

Thomson, a UCLA alum who didn’t make the Cross Country or Track team, started his coaching career at Hamilton High School, his alma mater. He didn’t find success in his 14 years of coaching there, but says “success comes when it all comes together and that is exactly what is happening here at San Pedro.”

“When I started helping out at Hamilton, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I got into teaching and coaching and loved it. And at this point in my career, I find myself very proud. It is really rewarding, we have had a lot of talent come through the program, great support from the Administration and community – it all came together.” spt