David Nunez has been helping to bring excellence to Onate High School track and field and cross country for well over 20 years. Contributed photo.
I just recently learned that you are both the track coach and cross country coach at Onate. In your own running days, which did you prefer, track or cross country?
I was very fortunate to be coached by two New Mexico coaching legends during my High School running days in Alamogordo in the early 1980s. Marilyn Sepulveda was one of my cross country coaches, and Bob Sepulveda was my track coach. I really cannot say I preferred one over the other; they both offered something special in their own way. Cross Country had more of a family type team, which made for some special moments and memories with team events and meets. In track, I ran the 1500 meters and 800 meters along with an occasional leg on the medley and mile relay. I enjoyed the shorter, faster pace after running a cross country season.
Where did you run collegiately, and what events?
I ran for Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado. My college coach, Edward Brandt, went on to be a Hall of Fame coach; I really owe him for giving me the opportunity to run at the next level. I loved the state of Colorado and it was good to me during my stay. I ran both cross country and track for Northeastern. My track events included the 600 up to 1500 meters indoor, and 800 and 1600 meters outdoors. I did not set any collegiate records or, for that matter, set the track on fire, but I did get to run at some quality track and cross country invites in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. All in all, I really enjoyed my small-town track and cross country college experience.
How long have you been at the coaching game? Have all of those years been at Onate?
I will finish my 24th year as a coach at Onate [this year]. I started my coaching career in 1990 as a volunteer boys track coach and then became an assistant girls track coach in 1991 where I was honored to be part of back-to-back state track titles in 1991 and 1992. I became the head boys and girls cross country coach in 1994, and then, in 1996, the girls head track coach, and two years later was hired as the head boys and girls track coach. Onate started operating out of a middle school before the current Onate High School was built in 1994.
Track practices were interesting before we built the current Onate. The middle school did not have a track so the past head coach and I would go out and chalk a track around our football field. We took geometry to new levels. Then, later, the district decided to bus us to Las Cruces High every day and we took turns sharing lanes. On certain days we got lanes 1-4 and then other days 5-8. I have good memories of those practice days. I never take for granted having a surfaced track to practice on.
As you think about the years you've been involved with the sports, what are the most significant changes that you've seen take place?
A significant change has been watching New Mexico become more competitive at the national level. I attribute that to the quality of coaches New Mexico has. They produce great runners and results that all New Mexicans can take pride in. New Mexico has had the Hipwoods, Kedge, Graham, the Henrys, the Sepulvedas, the Sategnas, Curtis Williams and Spenser Sielschott, to name a few headliners. There are so many more New Mexico greats I could mention. It's a feel-good effect when you have teams like Los Alamos and Academy matching pace and strides with some of the best cross country programs in the nation.
Another change is the addition of classes. When I started in 1990 there were only 3 classifications (A-AA, AAA, AAAA), but soon that will double to include six classifications.
In addition, new track events have been added since I first started, such as the girl’s pole vault and triple jump. Coaching education for the safety of athlete has become even more emphasized with concussions, heat stroke, and events like the pole vault.
Las Cruces is a city that has undergone enormous change in the last generation. How has that change impacted cross country and track and field in Las Cruces?
The enormous change is that it has created some budget constraints for cross country and track. In cross country, all four high schools work with only a varsity roster and one head coach with no paid assistants. We do not have sub-varsity cross country which makes it a yearly challenge to stay competitive with those that have sub-varsity programs around the state.
It’s a tall order to reorganize the troops for the next varsity season with very little sub-varsity experience in the sport. With a fourth high school, we now travel two teams on a bus so the opportunity to get additional unofficial sub-varsity runners experience is very limited.
On a more positive note, we do offer sub-varsity in track and our district has always included track in their Field of Dreams Sport Complex designs. The track just got a face lift with a new surface, long, triple and pole vault runways and pits. It is a great place to host a track meet thanks to our district's inclusion of the sport at the complex.
Has it impacted the way you do your job?
In cross country you have to become creative in getting younger kids in your program racing experience. We have high expectations in our program, regardless of the resources and circumstances. We try to be understanding that our district has a limited budget and that it beats doing away with the sport altogether. To counter the lack of a sub-varsity cross country, we offer an open division at all our home meets to give some kids a chance to run at the lower level which our district supports and allows.
Do you ever get torn between taking your team to El Paso versus taking your team to Albuquerque for a meet? What are the trade-offs involved?
Our district does not give us too many opportunities to travel up north to Albuquerque. I do not mind going down to El Paso to compete. There are some quality cross country and track programs, like Eastwood, that can offer the same level of competition you find in Albuquerque; these closer meets are something our budget can handle since it is 45 miles away. They have meets with lots of teams which give our program some experience in competing in large, quality meets. The trade-off is that we never really get to compete with the north until we go to state.
What would be a couple of favorites moments from your high school coaching career?
A favorite cross country moment was watching seven Knights, one after the other, cross the finish line with a perfect score to the seventh runner at the District 3-5A Championship meet in 2011. For some of the great northern programs that may happen, but down south it is rare and was a milestone for our program.
A favorite track moment was being a part of two back to back state titles in girls’ track as an assistant coach.
Could you give us a quick overview of a few of the interesting athlete match-ups you see developing in the Las Cruces area for this spring?
Las Cruces has several local key match-ups and track athletes to keep an eye on.
- Meghan Aguilera, Amerhyst Aguirre of Onate matching up with Sidney Salas and Irene Fernald of Las Cruces High in the distance events.
- Sarah Patterson of Onate matching up with Gaberiela Sandoval of Centennial in the 300 hurdles
- Thomas Salas, Manny Casillas, and Eben Shay of Onate matching up with Aaron Thalmann from Mayfield in the distance events.
- Melody Reeves of Las Cruces matching up with Yemisi Oroyinyin of Onate in shot put.
- Isaiah McIntyre of Las Cruces matching up with Cristian Cedano of Centennial in the hurdles
- Isaac Figueroa of Mayfield matching up with Jordan Alexander and Isaiah McIntyre of Las Cruces in the high jump
- Isaiah McIntyre of Las Cruces matching up with Isaac Figueroa of Mayfield in the long and triple jump;
some other city notables include:
- Onate’s Wiley Hughes in the 800 meters, Keyarha Wilson in high jump, Jordan Martin and John Jacobs in the pole vault, AJ Zemek in distance, and Brett Williams and Seth Siler in the sprints.
- Centennial’s Staphanie Richins in the 400 meters, Megan Park in sprints and jumps, Darren Smith, Andrew Phillips, and River Ludington in distance.