CUMBERLAND, ME – NOVEMBER 2: Class C boys take off at the start of the high school cross country championships at Twin Brook Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer) Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Ted Brown is telling his Waterville cross country team to run each meet like it’s the last of the season.

Because it very well could be.

“We understand that everything could shut down at a moment’s notice,” Brown said. “It puts a sense of urgency into every race and every practice.”

With no real certainty whether a full fall sports season can be reached — thanks to the fear of a possible COVID-19 breakout at any time — traditional strategies are being put aside, at least for Brown. Normally, cross country runners are taught to build up their times over the course of the season, getting faster in each race before hitting their best marks at conference and state championships.

That won’t be Brown’s message to the Purple Panthers. His message: Go all out, in each race.

“It’s a nice way to go about the season, really,” Brown said. “Kids can’t say ‘Well, I’ll wait until the middle of the season to do that (time),’ maybe taking a meet lightly. You don’t see that this year.”

The Maine Principals’ Association announced Sept. 9 that it had reached an agreement with state agencies on all fall sports COVID-19 safety guidelines. While football and indoor volleyball would not be offered, cross country — which has been designated a low risk sport — would be.

The cross country guidelines this fall include, staggered, wave and interval starts for meets. Pack running is discouraged. While runners will not have to wear masks during a race, all team members are required to wear them before and after a race.

Runners are also asked to maintain a 6-foot distance from other runners during a race, a request that is obviously easier said than done.

 

“I know we’re going to have (differences) at the starts,” Monmouth Academy coach Tom Menendez said. “With the (Mountain Valley Conference), we have such small schools, I don’t think we would run into the same problems as you would with the bigger schools like the (Southwestern Maine Activities Association) and (Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference). It’s funny, I just had this conversation with the kids about race strategy, that we’ve got to get into the mindset that (race officials) may send out a group of 10. Then 30 seconds or a minute later, maybe the next group (goes).

“So the first group may have a regular race, and go with less kids,” Menendez said. “But that second group and that third group, you’ve got to be realizing that, it’s a race for you, but you’ve got greyhounds, you’ve got the bunnies in front of you and you’re trying to chase those down. So you can be having a totally different strategy. Instead of running with the kids you’re with, you’re chasing down the kids in front of you. Or, conversely, you can be running scared because there’s kids behind you and you don’t want to get caught by someone that started 30 seconds, 60 seconds behind you. There’s going to have to be a whole different strategy that we’re going to have to implement. Then again, it comes down to seeing what the first few races look like.”

Menendez said he’s yet to hear exactly how a meet will be set up, and how that could alter racing strategy.

“The only thing we’ve been told is to look for wave starts, we haven’t been told how to set them up,” Menendez said. “If they tell us you have to send your (fastest) kids up first, then yeah, that’s going to happen. But if they just say ‘Hey, we want three (random) kids in the first heat, and three more in the second heat,’ that’s going to set a whole different strategy into how you send your kids out. You’ve got some kids that like to run out front, doesn’t matter if they’re fast or slow. There’s other kids that like to chase, regardless of whether they’re fast or slow. Unless we’re told exactly who to put where, there’s going to be another strategy to get into on who is going to run in which heat, based on the way they run psychologically.”

Members of the Gardiner cross country team do leg lifts Thursday during a conditioning workout at Gardiner Area High School this summer. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

One team that will be noticeably absent from meets is perennial KVAC contender Mt. Blue. The school decided to opt out of a fall sports season last week.

“We try to stay as positive as possible because things are really out of our control,” Mt. Blue coach Kelley Cullenberg said last week. “You can take the positive side of things or dwell on the negative. We were able to practice. For summer practices, they were very well-attended. It was awesome to watch them reestablish their relationships and become a family again. In some aspects, it was better than our regular summer training.”

Regardless of new guidelines, coaches are just happy to have a season to begin with. Among the happiest may be Brunswick girls cross country coach Heather Hoisington. A track coach at Brunswick, Hoisington had already lost one season to COVID-19, and was thrilled to at least get a chance with fall sports.

“The kids are definitely very flexible with all the changes,” Hoisington said. “We keep on saying ‘Be flexible with us,’ but at no point in time — and I just brought this up to them yesterday — at no point in time have they come back with ‘Do I have to do this?’ They haven’t fought us on anything. They’ve been very flexible with everything. I think they’re just really happy to have their sport and be able to be out there and actually socialize. Every day, you can see the kids when they’re coming in, and their face just lights up. You can’t see it quite well, because they’re wearing a facemask, but you can tell they’re getting closer to practice and it seems like ‘Hey, I get to see my friends, I get to do what I love.’ They’re acclimating really well.”

 

Drew Bonifant and Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this report.

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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