Sports Spotlight: Daegan Cutter is one hill of a cross country runner

Maddie Sofnas

Staring off into the distance, Daegan Cutter envisions himself qualifying for the state championship this year.

After starting a race with nearly 150 runners next to him, senior Daegan Cutter is the only one in sight three miles later. But this makes sense. He’s ranked the 15th best cross-country runner in California according to PrepCalTrack and can run three miles in 14 minutes and 18 seconds. Even though he’s only been running cross country for four years, Cutter is now a leader on the team and has become well-known among runners in California.

When Cutter was younger, he did not envision himself as a cross-country star. In fact, he only tried out for the team because soccer and mountain biking were not fall sports. Yet, because of his cardio-heavy past, he was able to excel in cross country. 

“During my freshman year, I needed a fall sport. Cross-country was the one because I was a skinny freshman and didn’t want to do football. Though I [had] never really ran before, I fell in love [with the sport] and it’s been my thing ever since,” Cutter said. 

After an impressive freshman year, where Cutter earned second team in the Marin County Athletic League (MCALS), Cutter’s sophomore season was canceled due to COVID-19. However, the pandemic didn’t stop him from training rigorously to improve his times and running abilities. In his last meet as a freshman, Cutter ran three miles at a 5:30-mile pace. By the time his first post-pandemic race came around his junior year, he drastically improved and ran it at a 5:06-mile pace. 

Cutter’s cross country coach, Nicole Graydon, explains that Cutter’s success is due to what he does outside of running. 

“Deagan [has] always been good at knowing how to recover after runs. He wants to be good at [cross country] and he understands what it takes. A lot of times it takes kids a while [to succeed] as they don’t understand the other training parts involved that aren’t me telling them to go run,” Graydon said. “That [understanding is] really what makes Daegan so successful.” 

Crossing the finish line, Daegan Cutter pumps his fists with pride. (Photo courtesy of Rowan Campbell)

Cutter’s accomplishments and drive led him to become cross country team captain in his junior year. His senior co-captain Kai Peters has been his teammate since sophomore year and has seen his leadership grow.

“Daegan’s a natural leader, [but also] a humble leader. He’s not super showy and he’s not always yelling at younger kids. But [more] importantly, he’s always there. You can always count on him. He’s always putting in the work himself, which I think is really important in being a role model for the younger kids. He’s a perfect example of what a cross-country runner should be,” Peters said. 

Cutter’s hard work earned him 2nd place in the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) cross country championship as a junior last year. This qualified him for the Division II North Coast Section (NCS) championship race, where he wasn’t favored to win. However, he took this as motivation, pushed through, came from behind and won it all. 

“NCS was a really fun race. I actually wasn’t feeling 100 percent that day, but even with [that hindrance], I went into [the race] believing I could win. At the starting line, they were talking about the favorites and I wasn’t one of them,” Cutter said. “[At the beginning] I was with the front pack and I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna drop off’ and ‘These guys are so fast.’ That just kept going through my head. Then suddenly I looked around and there was [only] one other racer, and I thought, ‘Shoot, I can win this.’ The guy in front of me, I’d raced him a bazillion times and I just got the motivation and turned on the jets.”

Cutter credits much of his success to his encouraging team dynamic. His teammates are always supporting and cheering for him on the sidelines, which has contributed to his countless victories over the years.

Running the course, Daegan Cutter attempts to pass the racers ahead. (Photo courtesy of Eric Cutter)

“[All the runners] are really invested in the team and really invested in each other. My teammates have their phrases, one being ‘Run with your heart’ and while it’s kind of a joke, it makes you smile during your race and pushes you to keep going. It just reminds you of the team. Everyone cheers for you, and I cheer for everyone else. It’s a good environment,” Cutter said.

With this great group dynamic, Cutter was optimistic about doing well in the 2021 Division II State Championship. However, right before the race, he got sick and was extremely lightheaded. While he still attempted to run, Cutter had to drop out within the first 100 meters of the course.

“I don’t know if he would say it, but Daegan should have won state last year. The kid who he beat at NCS, took second at state, so Daegan deserved it. That was a really rough one. Hopefully he’s going to redeem himself this year,” Graydon said.

Cutter uses this setback as motivation to prove himself at states this year. He already placed 19th in the Men’s Sweepstakes section of the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in Irvine where he raced against the top runners in California. He also placed 11th at the Clovis Invitational at Woodward park – the same location as his future Division II state meet. He now looks to win both the MCAL player of the year award and NCS for the second time. Both aspirations have boosted his college recruitment process as he hopes to run at the collegiate level. His teammates and coaches are confident in him, and he knows that all the work he has put in will eventually pay off. 

“Hopefully my biggest accomplishment is still coming,” Cutter said. “I’m hoping for a state championship this year. I think I can go back and show what I should’ve done last year. That’s motivational.”