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West runners (from left) Harvey Puga, Rafael Pasillas, Brock Leonard, Jonathan Fonseca, Dominick Fonseca, Emiliano Montano, Aldo Flores and Darvey Wilson hope to qualify for the state cross country meet this fall.

West runners (from left) Harvey Puga, Rafael Pasillas, Brock Leonard, Jonathan Fonseca, Dominick Fonseca, Emiliano Montano, Aldo Flores and Darvey Wilson hope to qualify for the state cross country meet this fall. Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle | Buy this photo

West boys run toward 5A cross country berth

Published Sep. 4 at 9:34 p.m. | Last updated Sep. 4 at 9:36 p.m.

There is not much Terry Couch has not done in the past two decades to ensure the West cross country program is at its best.

There isn’t a coach around who invests more time in his craft. Couch is not only a coach to his kids at West, he’s a mentor, father, friend, and whatever they need him to be.

But even Couch will admit his words and actions, no matter how passionate and convincing, can only go so far with high school boys and girls. They respond the best, he’s discovered, to their peers.

So while Couch would love to take the credit for a West boys team that is poised to end a decade-long drought at the state meet, he cannot. That goes to senior Dominick Fonseca.

“The value of Dominick to our program is immeasurable,” Couch said. “The moment he came on our team, he changed the face of our program. A coach can only do so much, but when you have a real leader on your team, they’ll do anything for them.”

Fonseca finished runner-up at last year’s Class 5A cross country meet, then won a state championship on the track in the spring.

While that individual success has made Fonseca one of the top runners in Kansas, it has inspired West students to join the cross country team and become a part of the winning. They know where Fonseca came from and how hard he has worked, and they believe they too can have that type of success.

West has had several runners that have qualified for the state meet before. But what it has not had is someone like Fonseca who can inspire others.

“Whenever I’m really nervous about something, I’ll go to Dominick and he’ll give me a motivational speech,” senior Raphael Pasillas said. “That’s why we all look up to him. He’s the leader.”

That’s who runners like Jonathan Fonseca, Dominick’s younger brother, Emiliano Montano, Aldo Flores, Brock Leonard, Pasillas, and Harvey Puga are following.

All return with varsity experience and run as a pack that could move all of its runners under the 18-minute mark this season. Having Dominick Fonseca contending for every race title legitimizes the Pioneers.

Last season West missed qualifying for state by 11 points. This season anything less than a state berth and a high City League finish will be a disappointment.

“But we have to keep a level head because we certainly haven’t arrived yet,” Couch said. “We have to go out and prove it this season.”

While Fonseca is determined for an individual championship this season, he doesn’t want that to be his legacy at West.

“Having our team get to state would be way better,” Fonseca said. “When you have individual success, you only celebrate by yourself. But when your team goes to state, then your whole team gets to celebrate. I want that.”