(Second in a series in which the Globe profiles a winter varsity high school team from Eastern Massachusetts.)
Corey Coogan considers himself a little lucky to be the head coach of the Walpole boys’ indoor track team.
Coogan carved out a role as an assistant for two years beginning in 2014. When the Rebels’ head-coaching job opened up four years ago, the University of Rhode Island graduate pounced at the chance.
“It’s a great program that kind of fell in my lap,” said Coogan, who ran cross-country and track at URI.
Lucky or not, it’s hard to deny Coogan’s impact on a rising powerhouse at Walpole.
The Rebels captured their first state title since 1987 at the Division 3 meet last winter. This season, they’re off to a 4-0 start atop the Bay State Conference’s Herget Division. A huge senior class returns from last season’s title team, and a versatile coaching staff is priming the Rebels for more hardware.
Senior captains Shane Grant, Stephen Colleran, Dan Nagle, and Luke Sheehan lead the way, and Coogan’s top assistant, Tim Giblin, returns for a 17th season.
“I was shocked at how our team came together [last year],” Grant said. “This year, you’re starting off as a blank slate.”
Here’s five things you might not know about the Walpole boys’ indoor track team:
Despite the D3 title, Walpole wasn’t even the top team in the Herget last season.
That title belonged to Needham, which has been the class of the Herget for the past several years. The Rockets handed Walpole its only loss of the 2019 Bay State schedule.
All this made it that much sweeter when the Rebels took down Needham, 59-41, in the opening meet of the season on Dec. 12. For Coogan and Co., the road victory showed the continuous progress of the program.
“That’s a reflection of our offseason training,” Colleran said.
Thursday’s 75-25 win over conference foe Brookline gave the Rebels an inside track to winning the Herget.
Star of the show
Coogan calls Grant the “heart and soul” of the team.
Grant showed that as a junior captain at last season’s D3 state meet at the Reggie Lewis Center. He captured first in the 1,000-meter run (2:35.13), 1 mile (4:30.43), and ran a leg for the first-place 4 x 800 relay team (8:18.56), which returns three of four members this season, including Colleran.
Grant will run track at Northeastern next season, where he plans to major in the unique field of Environmental Economics. He plans to combine his love for entrepreneurship with his passion for the outdoors to create eco-friendly business solutions.
“He’s a superstar,” Coogan said of his versatile captain. “He’s everything you can hope for.”
The 55-meter hurdles is a stacked event in Division 3, but Coogan likes his core.
Two Walpole hurdlers made appearances at the state meet last season: Sheehan (14th in the preliminaries) and junior Dallin Byerly (11th). Added to the fold this season is sophomore Nolen Beauregard, a standout varsity lacrosse player picking up track for the first time.
“I had no clue how to do it in the beginning,” said Beauregard, who plays for the Penguins lacrosse club in the fall. “I learned it’s about running over the hurdles instead of jumping.”
Sheehan and Byerly have provided a great example for the athletic Beauregard to learn the technical side of hurdling.
“I distinctly remember the first run we were doing,” Beauregard said of watching Byerly. “I didn’t know people could move like that.”
Coogan called his start-up sophomore “one of the better younger athletes in the state.”
The Rebels have a secret weapon, and his name is Tim Giblin.
Giblin is the Walpole cross-country coach, so he might not be a total secret as the assistant coach, but Coogan called him “the most underrated distance coach in the state of Massachusetts . . . [He has] elite passion and effort and it shows in his ability to consistently get athletes to perform.”
It’s high praise for Giblin. He’s also a history teacher at Walpole High.
“Coach Giblin knows what he’s doing,” Colleran said. “He’s just so passionate about everything he does, whether it’s coaching or teaching European history.”
Giblin helped get Coogan involved as an assistant six years ago. Now, the veteran coach is providing valuable knowledge as an assistant for his former apprentice.
Coogan specialized in long-distance running before his graduation from URI in 2013.
But long distance was Giblin’s forte at Walpole. Someone needed to coach the sprinters, so Coogan got to work. To teach kids how to sprint, he thought, I have to learn myself.
“I really studied the craft,” Coogan said. “It’s a lot more technical.”
Thanks to a series of summer workouts and weight-room sessions, Coogan has begun to perfect the art of sprinting. He’s also gotten help from some Walpole alums who trained with him over the summer.
That’s the type of spirit Coogan is trying to foster in his program. Even the coach can continue learning and growing.
“It’s exciting,” Coogan said. “It’s fun to come in every day and learn new things.”
Matt MacCormack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.