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CROSS-COUNTRY NOTEBOOK

Cross-country: Jorge Torres’ long distance running career took an unexpected turn as Ursuline Academy’s first-year coach

Ursuline Academy cross-country coach Jorge Torres (center), a former US Olympian and NCAA champion, is charting a new course in his long distance running career as a first-time coach.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Distance running has guided Jorge Torres on a long journey from his upbringing in Chicago, with stops in Colorado, California, Scotland, and China. His next chapter, however, is just a short jog from his home in Dedham.

Torres, a former college national champion and US Olympian, is the new cross-country and track coach at Ursuline Academy. It’s the first time he has coached an organized high school team, but the 42-year-old also brings an encyclopedia of experiences few in the running world have known.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by really good teams and good coaches throughout my career, so I feel I was able to pick up a few things over the years,” Torres said.

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Ursuline’s addition of Torres, who supplants former coach Andrea Rego, is several years in the making. Athletic director Mike O’Connor first met Torres seven years ago at an MIAA breakfast during which Torres was a guest speaker. The running star’s message resonated with O’Connor. The AD learned Torres lived near the school, and gave him his business card.

“If you ever think you want to get into coaching, I’d love to be able to talk to you,” O’Connor told Torres.

Ursuline athletic director Mike O'Connor made a full-court press on Jorge Torres (above) after hearing him speak at an MIAA breakfast, approaching him about the opportunity to coach cross-country at Ursuline.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Torres grew up the son of Mexican immigrants who worked as jewelers in Chicago. He started running competitively at 12 and exploded out of the blocks. A (very) shortlist of Torres’ running achievements include: a win in the 1998 Foot Locker National Championships (Orlando), a 2002 NCAA Division 1 individual championship (University of Colorado), and a trip to the Beijing Olympics with Team USA in 2008.

Torres briefly volunteered as an assistant coach at his college alma mater after graduation. But Torres started feeling the real itch to coach again as he worked remotely during the pandemic. He had been leading informal conditioning workouts with kids in the local area when O’Connor again approached him. This time, Torres was more receptive to the idea, and finally came aboard in August.

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“A little cross here and there eventually wore me down, I guess,” Torres said with a laugh. “Mike’s very persistent.”

It’s definitely a learning experience. As much as they’re learning for me, I’m learning from them as well.

Torres has quite literally hit the ground running. O’Connor notices his new coach either jogging or biking along with his 32 runners at most practices. Torres recognizes, though, that different runners have different goals and ambitions, and he must tailor his coaching to their needs.

“I’m taking small steps and learning what this team has to offer, what to want, and realizing that not everybody has aspirations to be a professional runner,” he said. “A lot of these girls are there to socialize and have fun, and that’s very important. And it’s very important that, [in] this period of time where these kids were pent up for two years [and] kind of isolated — for me, I understand that.”

The Bears have just three seniors on the roster, including Brigid Ryan of Billerica. The captain has been part of the program since seventh grade. She wakes up at 4:15 a.m. every school day to travel to St. Sebastian’s, where her father, John, is a physics teacher. Ryan works out with her father and younger brother at St. Sebastian’s in the early morning before being dropped off at Ursuline for class.

Senior captain Brigid Ryan (center), of Billerica, leads Ursuline's cross-country team in a pre-workout stretch.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Ryan wants to make her senior season memorable and run consistent sub-21-minute 5K times. But she also knows her responsibility in moving the program forward under a new coach. Ryan appreciates Torres’ consistency in his expectations so far. He sends out a detailed practice schedule to the team each week so they understand the path ahead.

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“I think it works pretty well,” Ryan said. “I think it’s nice that kids know what to expect from practice, and it’s kind of like his expectations for how it’s gonna go.”

Coaching the Bears is the next frontier in Torres’ lifelong journey as a runner — one that he expects will offer a new perspective on the sport.

“It’s definitely a learning experience. As much as they’re learning for me, I’m learning from them as well,” he said. “It’s exciting. It definitely adds a new adventure in my running career.”

Setting the pace

▪ Newton North leads a field of Division 1 challengers to the throne of reigning state champion St. John’s Prep. The Tigers, ranked third in the Globe Top 20, have started the season 2-0. Coach Lou Pearlman wants his team to attack the conference meets, where league rival Brookline often looms.

“My feeling is if you train the kids properly and give them enough rest and recovery, you move through the season [and] you try to win every meet,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in that next big meet. So our goal is to beat Brookline again [in league meets], and then of course, this time, beat them, and hopefully everybody, in the big stuff: state and All-State meets. It’s exciting.”

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Senior Tyler Tubman was a Globe All-Scholastic Honorable Mention last fall and has kicked up another gear to start his final season.

“He’s fitter and stronger than ever,” Pearlman said. “You never like to say too much because you never know, but he looks great . . . I believe he ran more and trained harder than he ever has.”

Behind Tubman, Alex Hrycyszyn, Jack Mantell, and Jacob Zalis should help the Tigers contend.

▪ Last weekend’s relay events hinted at some state championship contenders. The top-ranked St. John’s Prep boys had the fastest trio at the Clipper XC Relays in Newburyport, with Nathan Lopez, Paul Lovett and Will Pechinsky covering the 2-mile relay in 29:58. The No. 15 Pentucket girls prevailed with Kaylie Dalgar, Audrey Conover and Libby Murphy finishing in 37:02.

The No. 3 Brookline girls reigned in the girls’ junior/senior race at the MSTCA Relays in Attleboro. Brookline had two teams finish 1-2 in the 4.6-mile race, with the squad of Lucia Werner,cq Jordan Liss-Riordan and Audrey Seeger winning in 28:59. On the boys’ side, No. 14 BC High earned a victory in the boys’ junior/senior race behind Chris Larnard, Hugh Licklider and Will Locke (23:30).

▪ The MSTCA has three separate invitationals on the calendar for this Saturday. The Ted Dutkiewicz Invitational will take place at East Longmeadow High School, the Highland Park Invitational is at the Mark Coogan XC Course in Attleboro, and the 26th Amherst Cross-Country Invitational will be held at Hampshire College.

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Meets to watch

Tuesday, Winchester at Burlington boys, 4 p.m. — The Red Devils are the early Division 2 championship favorites and begin their season with a home meet against the Red & Black.

Wednesday, Natick vs. Walpole at Newton North boys, 4 p.m. — This Bay State Conference tri-meet includes the third-ranked Tigers and No. 11 Redhawks.

Wednesday, Needham at Brookline boys, 4 p.m.— The Rockets just joined the Globe Top 20 and can stake their claim with a strong performance against the fifth-ranked Warriors.

Wednesday, Needham at Brookline girls, 4 p.m.— The girls’ side of the Needham-Brookline meet should also be exciting, with the No. 3 Warriors against the No. 8 Rockets.

Wednesday, Newton South at Acton-Boxborough girls, 4 p.m. — The No. 9 Revolution receive another tough Dual County League test in new cross-country transfer Amelia Everett and the No. 20 Lions.

Wednesday, Holliston at Hopkinton girls, 4 p.m. — The No. 12 Hillers might be the toughest foe top-ranked Holliston will see in dual meet action.