Opening Strides

Girls’ cross country finishes strong despite multiple setbacks

Girls%27+varsity+at+the+start+line+at+Buder+Park+on+Oct.+23%2C+2020.+Their+bus+arrived+late%2C+but+they+persevered+through+yet+another+challenge%2C+many+girls+finishing+with+a+personal+record.+

Christine Stricker

Girls’ varsity at the start line at Buder Park on Oct. 23, 2020. Their bus arrived late, but they persevered through yet another challenge, many girls finishing with a personal record.

Emma Li, Reporter

With the bang of a gunshot, followed by the electronic blips of watches starting, runners start with a flash of bright red, matching ribbons bouncing with the swing of hair in motion. After months of deliberation, setbacks, and false starts, cross country was finally able to attend meets. However, beginning meets again is not a cure-all for the difficulties that came with an inconsistent off season.

“I feel like the group hasn’t had much experience with racing, and that they haven’t been able to get a feel for racing before it mattered, you know,” junior co-captain Aryn Rehr said. “We just kind of had to jump straight into competing… but everyone did really well with the change.” 

While the team is grateful that they have been able to have a season, the numbers still show that the positive mindset of the returning girls is not enough to be where they were one year ago.

“At this time last year, a lot of us were a lot faster than we are currently,” junior co-captain Sophie Bain said. “The uncertainty of not having meets also discouraged us for a while, but I’m very thankful that we do have meets now. It’s been really fun to compete after so long.”

Ryan Banta has been coaching the girls’ cross country team for 19 years this coming spring, and has also noted a dip in performance. 

“What people don’t realize is that competition is also training,” Banta said. “So that’s a hard practice day… So some of these schools [we raced against] for our first race, and it was their sixth race at that point. So you’re going to have a lot more experience… and the only way that an athlete can really learn to make huge progress is through competition.”

The girls’ cross country team came into the season with no returning seniors, but have welcomed many freshmen, along with newcomers from other grades as well. Celeste Escalante is familiar with the routines of cross country, after attending winter conditioning in 8th grade the year before.

“I knew more of what to expect which made me feel more mentally prepared for the season,” Escalante said. “The thought of starting the season knowing I did conditioning last year gave me some relief, and helped me realize that cross country wouldn’t be as intimidating as I’ve been told. I’ve noticed that everyone is so positive and supportive to each other and I love how we bring the best in ourselves.”

Senior Sarah LaChance was encouraged to join cross country this year by two of her friends. Her rapid improvement, along with many other newcomers, has created a massive average drop in time in their 5,000 meters, of 3-½ to 4 minutes. 

“It’s showed me that I’m tougher than I think I am,” LaChance said.

Participating in a sport always comes with the risk of injury, and assistant coach Kathy Burnett has been steady in her support. 

“I’m always looking to make sure the girls are healthy,” Burnett said. “You need lots of eyes and lots of support.”

Lots of eyes are now on the two co-captains, both in their junior year. With no returning seniors, Bain and Rehr have been grateful for the opportunity to begin developing their leadership skills this year, in preparation for the next. In the past, captains have not always been a guaranteed position on the girls’ team. 

“There are years where I choose not to have any captains at all,” Banta said. “[Aryn and Sophie are] both great, positive, hard working kids who trained a lot, and were our top two returning girls in terms of their race times, and you know, cross country has been important to them for these three years… and so it was a really natural fit.”

Even though the co-captains are now leaders themselves, there are people they still look up to for guidance. 

“Brooke Hilton, the former captain last year, she definitely set a standard,” Bain said. “I constantly think, ‘oh, what would Brooke do in this instance’ when I’m conflicted or leading the team or anything… I want to set a good positive standard for the future captains… and [for] people to look back and remember this… as a positive season.” 

At the end of the day, times and titles are not what makes a team, but the memories and relationships made. 

“I love being a leader of that family,” Rehr said.