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The IHSA cross country season is all about numbers and creativity because of COVID-19
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CROSS COUNTRY

The IHSA cross country season is all about numbers and creativity because of COVID-19

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More than ever, the fall sports season in the Illinois High School Association will be about numbers with an infusion of creativity. 

Though football, volleyball and boys soccer have been moved to the spring, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving will go on as lower risk sports, according to the IDPH. For cross country, the magic number is 50: The number of participants, coaches, timers and meet officials for a race capacity.

Cross country this fall will look different than it has in year's past. The big invites made up of hundreds of runners that pit the state's top runners from different regions against each other? Not happening in the way that we know them to be. Schools must race within their EMS region or conference and must account for the 50-person race capacities. Say goodbye to the four-decade old Tuscola Classic, at least for this year.

“It’s going to be the most different season I’ve ever been a part of and between running and coaching, I’ve been in Shelbyville for 16 years," Shelbyville cross country coach Chris Mosley said.

Triangular meets will be more popular to fit in with the 50-person limit and restrictions within the EMS region and conference scheduling. An "invite" will look more like seven racers from six or seven teams with the top five runners scoring. Perhaps more meets with "flights, i.e. the No. 1 runners run against each other, No. 2 runners against each other and so on, become more popular.

Last week, the IHSA released sports-specific rules for the fall sports and for cross country, six-feet distance must be maintained at all times while following the race capacity of 50 people. Masked spectators will be allowed as long as they maintain social distancing and follow the IHSA "Return to Play" Phase 4 guidelines, including a 20% capacity. The IHSA says small meets — duals and triangulars — remain the most effective for fewer competitors and social distancing, though multi-team meets are permitted.

"We’ll schedule as high-quality (competition) as we can," Mosley said. "... We’re going to have quality opponents but it’s a lack of depth. We’re not going to be really great fields. It’s going to be more mano a mano."

According to the IHSA, multiple races at a meet — a boys race and a girls race or a flighted race — means that "those participating in the race can only be in the vicinity of the racecourse during their scheduled time specified by the meet manager. Once that time expires, participants must vacate the racecourse area to allow the next scheduled group of participants to compete. Vacating the racecourse area means that student participants have either left the premises or are in a location that is completely removed from the event."

Groups of 50 must be separated by 30 feet. Social distancing must be followed for starts and if that's not possible, starts must be staggered. Vohland said his runners will wear masks at the start before races begin. 

The area features a new team in Cumberland County, a co-op of Neoga and Cumberland. Neoga previously was in a co-op with Stewardson-Strasburg.

“Most of the runners lost last spring (track) and trying to get them motivated is really tough,” said Cumberland County boys coach Jim Miller. Neoga coach Tim Mueller is the Cumberland County girls’ coach.

Miller, in his 32nd year as coach, said the co-op had been discussed for years. The biggest obstacle this year was whether there would be a season or not.

“Nobody could give us a definite answer,” said Miller. “In the summer we were on and off and then we got the green light, but it looks like more of dim yellow light to me.”

Most of the big meets have been canceled with the exception of the Lincoln Prairie Conference meet at Crowder Park in Bethany and hosted by Okaw Valley; the Apollo Conference meet at the Eastern Illinois University Panther Trails in Charleston and the Charleston Invite as well as the Decatur St. Teresa Invite (Cumberland County is in it) Sept. 19.

Here's a look at the area's newest team, Cumberland County, as well as Mattoon, Charleston and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond.

Mattoon

Troy Haacke should have his top seven runners back, including junior Brock Davee, who was fourth in the Class 2A regional last year with a time of 17:10. Other juniors back are Sam Ferrar, who was 11th (17:54), and Chase Armstrong. Three seniors return in Mackinley Beadles, Sean South and Tristin Grove along with sophomore Brandon Creel. 

“We have a talented group back and are 10 deep,” said Haacke. “We had some soccer boys that didn’t have to make the decision on whether to be in soccer or cross country. We have some good freshmen soccer players out also. It will be exciting to see what this team can do.

Haacke said Davee is the No 1 runner followed by Ferrar at No. 2 and Creel is the No. 4 runner.

“Davee has made great strides and the changes have been unbelievable and it not just him, but all of them,” said Haacke. “The improvement has been amazing.”

The first meet is scheduled for Aug. 24 against Charleston at the Douglas Heart Nature Center in Mattoon. The two meet again Aug. 27 and Sept 5 at Charleston Invite on the EIU Panther Trails.

“It is going to look like a college schedule this year,” said Haacke of the eight meet schedule. “The social part is a big thing for the kids as they are enjoying it they get to be outside of their house.”

The Green Wave girls also have plenty of talent, with senior Kylie Haacke leading the way. Haacke finished 147th at the Class 2A State Meet last year with a time of 19:19.15. Haacke, the daughter of coach Troy Haacke, was also in the state meet as a sophomore.

“She has worked a ton on it and is super excited about it,” said Troy Haacke. “It is definitely different than previous years. She will make the most of what the season is."

The team lost three seniors due to graduation, including Quincy Collings, who is now at Millikin University. Others expected to return are juniors Allie Wells and Lauryn Samuelson and sophomore Kaylin Richey, and several volleyball players came out for the team as well.

“The kids have done a really good job of coming together,” said Haacke. “They ran five to six days a week from June on and three to four days a week from March through May. Kylie (Haacke) led the charge with that. I am really proud of how they stayed together and worked. They put in a lot of miles and for the most part they are in pretty good shape.

"I am seeing improvement from Wells, Samuleson and Richey all of the time. The new girls are starting to get their feet wet. This might be a one-time deal for the volleyball players so they might as well enjoy it and make the most out of it.”

Charleston

The Charleston boys already got a boost from one soccer player deciding to come out in senior Eugene Ohva, a senior, after boys soccer was among the sports moved to spring. Now the Trojans are hoping for more.

“The soccer coach (Josh Garrett) has encouraged the soccer players to be in cross country and hopefully we will get a few more,” said Charleston boys' coach Greg Rogers. “He is coming along and running with the top pack.”

 The Trojans have a lot of newcomers as well, including Ashton Fifield (junior), Marshall Smith (sophomore) and freshmen Adam Rudibaugh and Grant Kattenbraker.

Luca Caracasi has impressed Rogers so far.

“Luca is running very well and he put in a lot of miles this summer,” said Rogers. “He has been putting in 30-40 miles a week. He is really strong and when we did a one mile time trial a few weeks ago he ran a personal record. He is ready to run and we expect him to finish high in the conference meet. Ohva and Rudibaugh have contributed really well also so far. They are the top three runners right now.”

With the postseason not set in stone, Rogers has put more of an emphasis on the Apollo meet, which is the only meet CHS has that is over three teams.

“I think the makes the team more motivated,” said Rogers. “With limitations on meets I think it is more crucial on what you do in the conference meet.”

Charleston is the host of the conference meet at the EIU Panther Trail.

“It should be an advantage for us as we know the course very well,” said Rogers, whose team runs against Mattoon and Newton Aug. 27 to open the season.

The Trojans girls return six of their top seven runners from last year. This includes senior Grace Spoonhour, who finished 118th at state last year, and fellow senior Megan Garrett. Three juniors should be on the team also in Lilly Long, Casey Fisher and Sophie Kattenbraker and sophomore Ila Richter.

Cumberland County

The Pirates will be led by Jasmyn Dittamore, who has been in the state meet the last two years, finishing 82nd last year with a time of 19:13.09. Dittamore is joined by Eve Brown, who was 18th in the regional last year with a time of 20:56. Junior Emma Butler is expected back as is senior Morgan Scott and senior Olivia Pruemer.

The Pirates lost just one runner to graduation and have five boys, including Logan Edwards and Rayce Zike, both seniors, and juniors Wiley Peters and Elijah McElravy.

Edwards is the No. 1 runner for Cumberland and finished 13th in the regional last year with a time of 17:21. He is looking to continue his running career at Greenville College.

Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond

The Knights, coached by Lyle Dorjahn, won the regional last year and made their first-ever sectional appearance as a team led by Layton Hall, who has qualified for state three years in a row, finishing 37th last year in 15:42.42. As a sophomore he was 21st with a time of 15:30.93, earning him all-state honors. He was 59th at state as a freshman, running a 16:03. 

Other probable runners are junior Jace Green and sophomores Logan Beckmier and Lyle Adcock.


PHOTOS: Cross country sectionals

Contact Mike Monahan at (217)-238-6854. Follow him on Twitter: @monahanmikejgtc

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