Football was considered the high risk sport. Volleyball lost its fall. Soccer and field hockey teams wondered if they’d get a chance to play.

But if you think cross country and golf, as low-risk sports, had a stress-free summer, think again.

“You take a look at Camden Hills, four weeks ago, cancelled everything, and you look at these other places canceling everything. You look at the COVID cases going up and everybody’s screaming ‘Separation, separation,’ ” Monmouth cross country coach Tom Menendez said. “I’ve been on pins and needles since the beginning of July, wondering what’s going to happen.”

The odds looked longer at some times than others, but the end decision worked out well for the two sports. Golf and cross country get to have 2020 look like every other year, with championship meets and matches at the end of the season, and that normalcy has begun this week with practices that, given the sports’ embracing of open space, feel a lot like they always have.

“It’s felt pretty much the same,” Cony golfer Quincy Tobias said. “Obviously it’s a later start, and less time to get ready for states and qualifiers. But it’s been pretty normal. … It’s just golf. You go out and play and do how you do.”

“I wasn’t optimistic. I was pleasantly surprised when they gave us the go-ahead,” Winthrop cross country coach Ed Van Tassel said. “It’s been nice to have the team together. It’s a little different. We’re much more conscientious of spreading out on runs and stuff and keeping our distance, but it’s certainly nice to have some normalcy and be running as a group after school.”

Still, even with the lower-risk sports, COVID’s influence is noticeable. When runners are warming up, they’re wearing masks. Same with golfers when they’re gathered around before they tee off.

“It’s one of those things, we know everybody’s got their eyes on us and making sure we’re following the protocols,” Erskine golf coach Mark Bailey said.

“Everyone is very well aware that we could be shut down for someone’s random cell phone picture of two cross country kids touching each other,” Waterville coach Ted Brown said. “If some neighbor or somebody wanted to take a picture of us not following protocol, you know, a picture’s worth a thousand words. We’ve been very, very careful not to put ourselves in that position. We’ve been aware that we’re being watched.”

In cross country, the differences don’t end with masks.

“We were much closer back then,” Menendez said. “We’d always be in tighter groups, high fives and all that stuff. Now it’s more separated, you’ve got to keep the kids away. And some of the guys and girls need that high five, they need that pat on the back. In those terms, it’s definitely different than what we’ve seen in the past.”

Erskine Academy golf coach Mark Bailey looks on during practice Wednesday at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Coaches are also trying to thin out their groups, from breaking up runners into smaller bunches to having some run the course from start to finish and others run from finish to start. Lawrence hasn’t started practicing yet, but coach Tim Alberts said he is planning to modify the routes his runners use.

“We do make use of a practice field in between the track and field hockey. We’ll have to make adjustments that way,” he said. “The kids are real good about doing what they’re told.”

In golf, the big adjustment is getting a team prepared for a short season. The first match day is Wednesday, and state and individual championships are only 16 days later. Teams will likely play six matches, against the same two opponents. Cony, for instance, will be playing Gardiner and Maranacook this season.

“It’s different in the sense that we started so late,” Rams coach Shawn Johnson said. “This is going to be an absolutely crammed season.”

Johnson has some spacing of his own to do, with 28 kids coming out for the team. He said getting them all on the course or driving range for practices could be a challenge.

“I really don’t want to cut anybody, but I’m at the mercy of the courses as well too in how many people I can have,” he said. “It is a lot different. … It’s so compact, and I feel like we’re rushing to get it done.”

Johnson said he’s hoping to get every player into a match, but if he can’t, he’ll make sure they still get practice rounds.

“It may have to be that they won’t get into a match this year, but I am going to keep them so they can go out and play, and be a part of it,” he said. “I really don’t want kids, especially in this time, to not have an activity.”

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