Time measures McKenna Nokes’ success in girls’ cross-country, so she has learned to manage it well.
She knows what it takes. For her, it’s waking up at 5 a.m., so not too many late nights.
“I try to be asleep by 10, and I’ve actually been getting in bed pretty early, like 9:30 or 10,” she said. “Usually no later than 11, or else I die.”
While many of her classmates at Laguna Beach High are still asleep, Nokes is out running. Then, while her teammates on the Breakers girls’ cross-country team are practicing after school, Nokes is at the tennis courts perfecting her doubles game.
Nobody said it would be easy, but playing in two sports simultaneously has worked out just fine for the senior. In fact, tennis Coach Alec Horton and cross-country Coach Steve Lalim wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It takes a special person to do what McKenna is doing,” Lalim said. “Participating in two varsity sports simultaneously while maintaining good grades and making time for friends, it is quite a balancing act that not many high schoolers could handle. Her work ethic continues to amaze me. She’s at the track daily at 5:30 a.m. ready to run, and on the court after school playing tennis. She’s so diligent, she even squeezes in time for a yoga or spin class occasionally. I think it’s great she’s taking full advantage of the opportunities offered in high school.”
Horton remembers over the summer, when he would go to get coffee before his summer tennis clinics. Guess who he would see running around town, around an hour a day?
“She’s got so many things going on, I don’t know how she does it,” Horton said. “I couldn’t do it.”
Nokes is a big-time performer for both teams, too. In cross-country, her improvement over the summer has launched her into becoming the top performer through the Breakers’ first two meets. At the Woodbridge Cross-Country Classic on Sept. 19, she ran a personal-best of 18 minutes, 34 seconds, which beat her previous best by 1:20.
She said she was just happy to break 19 minutes by that much so early in the season.
But she is equally adept on court as on course. She started playing tennis competitively in the seventh grade and hasn’t looked back. An Orange Coast League doubles finalist a year ago in tennis, she’s also a four-year varsity player.
“[Tennis and cross-country] are so different,” Nokes said. “Everyone says that cross-country isn’t a team sport. But [the team’s standing] really depends on the last couple of finishers also, which is nice, because then you’re encouraging everyone on varsity to push hard. Everyone feels like they’re a part of the score and what happens.
“Tennis, I’ve been doing for so long, and running I just started last year. I feel like I could do both of them for the rest of my life, so that’s nice.”
She enjoys the team aspect, as well. That’s why she likes doubles so much in tennis, where she teamed up with Heather Tran for the past two seasons.
“There’s a team bond thing, and you have to work with someone else,” she said. “When you’re working with a team or for a team, I think you feel more responsible and you work a little harder, just so you don’t let everyone else down. I like doubles a lot.”
The idea carries over to cross-country, too. She has put in the miles and the times have dropped, which makes both Lalim and her teammates happy, even if she isn’t always there at practice in the afternoons.
The big goal for the Breakers this year is to get to the CIF State meet in Fresno, after falling short a year ago. Nokes’ improvement is a big step in that direction.
“Our team, we really want to go to state this year, and if I could do anything to help us get there then that’s what I was working for,” Nokes said. “I ran so much over the summer and never missed practice, so I’m glad that it’s finally paid off. I don’t know, I just hope it pushes everyone else to run faster and work harder to meet that same goal of getting to state. That’s all we’ve been thinking about.”
In terms of her future, Nokes is now also thinking about college. She is keeping her options open, although she said she’d love to write. For now, though, her achievements in cross-country and tennis for the Breakers speak for themselves. Even if some people continue to wonder how she does it.
“McKenna’s one of the sweetest people you’ll meet,” said senior tennis teammate Alison Azera. “She’s a great friend. I’ve been on varsity with her since freshman year, so tennis would not be the same without her. I just don’t see how she has all that energy. I mean, it’s really incredible.”