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Walker, Pena announce retirement as cross country, track coaches at Garces

When then-Garces Memorial athletic director Vince Fanucchi hired Susan Walker as the new cross country coach on campus in 1987, he thought it was a one-year deal.

Now 33 years later, Walker is leaving Garces as the longest-tenured coach in school history after announcing her retirement this week.

“We were desperately in need of a coach (in 1988) when we ran into (Walker) on campus when she was visiting a friend who was a coach here,” Fanucchi said. “It was the first day she had ever been on campus and I mentioned to her we needed a coach hoping she could help out for just that season.”

And after more than three decades as a cross country and track and field coach for the Rams, producing 15 league championships and three Central Section titles, Fanucchi jokingly said “she’s passed her probation period.”

Her accomplishments as the head coach for both sports spanning five decades are endless with numerous state qualifiers in both sports and also earned Central Section and state coach of the year honors during her tenure.

“Susan is an unbelievable coach who has touched the heart of many athletes,” Garces Memorial athletic director Gino Lacava said. “She is not only dedicated and thorough, but has a knack of instilling values and pride into every student she works with. She’s irreplaceable.”

Walker and her husband, Les, also sent their two children through Garces. Their son Jeremy graduated in 2014 and daughter Lauren graduated in 2016.

“The true measure of great coaches is not always championships won, but rather the number of lives they touch in a positive way,” Fanucchi said. “By that standard, generations of Garces athletes, as well as the Valley cross country community can attest that Susan Walker is a great coach.”

Also announcing his retirement is track and field head coach Jess Pena after six successful seasons on campus.

Under his leadership, the Rams had great success, that included Cam Roberson winning the Central Section Masters title in the boys 200-meters in 2017 and sent athletes like Jessica Taylor and Julianna Finch off to collegiate college programs. 

“We are losing a wealth of knowledge and a well-respected coach in our community,” Lacava said. “Jess worked tirelessly to teach our kids the value of inner strength and teamwork. His success is a testament to his positive philosophy and attitude. He will be dearly missed.”

Anyone interested in the head cross country and track and field coaching vacancies, please email athletic director Gino Lacava at

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