Women’s cross country and track and field head coach, Ian Solof, has missed a lot of things from the typical spring season, but being able to travel with the team may be the biggest one.
Before the delayed cross country season kicked off in late January, the teams hadn’t been able to compete due to COVID-19 restrictions. Coming back, the cross country teams have had a strong season with the men’s team placing 21st at the NCAA Championships, the women’s team placing 22nd and Anna Pataki, women’s cross country runner, collecting All-American honors by placing 31st and ending with the sixth-best program finish.
Solof is proud of the way the women’s cross country team has adjusted early on in the season and he isn’t taking this opportunity to travel and compete again for granted. Hopefully, the cross country team’s success paves the way for a strong track and field season.
“Adjusting has been a challenge but they’ve responded really well and it was exciting to see them perform at such a high level,” Solof said. “That really allowed them to feel good about what they’ve been doing and get a better sense that they can do this during COVID times and still be successful.”
Under COVID-19 restrictions it’s been difficult to adapt to new regulations, but the men and women’s cross country and track and field teams have always had to look for creative solutions on where to practice. Now, with things still up in the air for the track and field season, Solof says the team must be adaptable to any ongoing changes.
“We’ve always done that to an extent in our sport anyways,” Solof said. “We haven’t had an outdoor track on the campus since the 1980s so that’s a complication you have to figure out so we’re used to having to do those things.”
Solof believes that as long as coaches remain motivated to do well and help their athletes succeed everything will work out. This attitude has carried the team through the season despite obstacles like canceled meets and trouble finding locations to practice. Solof has been impressed with the team’s performance this season but isn’t only focused on their rankings.
“You never want to say ‘we’re just going to try and be in top 20, maybe we can be top 10’ but I’m not too worried about that,” Solof said. “I just want people to stay healthy and keep working hard and be ready to compete at a high level.”
Solof says the team’s win at their first meet in Eugene was a result of their hard work and ongoing motivation despite the cancelation of the 2020 track and field season. While the cross country season has been able to finish strong with the women’s team placing 22nd at nationals and the men’s team finishing 21st, the upcoming track and field season’s schedule is still mostly unclear.
COVID-19 has affected the team in ways other than canceled meets. The sprint runners have had times where they have been unable to practice on a track because of a volleyball or basketball game in the Chiles Center.
“That definitely posed a lot of difficulties and challenges for our teammates and coaches,” senior track and field runner Samantha Walsh said. “We’ve had to change our practice days or the morning of our coach would have to change workouts on us because we weren’t allowed to go upstairs (in Chiles)... I think from here on out we’ll be in the clear but there was a period where it was frustrating and no one really knew what the regulation was.”
Walsh has appreciated how supportive the team and coach Solof have been while she’s been finding a balance between school, training and time for herself which has helped her be in the right mindset to train.
“Spending so much time together with the girls is great,” Walsh said. “Just being able to see the girls and tell them I had a bad day and knowing they’re gonna be there to listen and support is super helpful.”
Walsh continues to train under COVID-19 restrictions and is looking forward to competing in the upcoming outdoor track season.
“We’ve all been improving and workouts have been going really well for everyone,” Walsh said. “When we do compete and are able to compete it’s going to be a good season.”
Cross country and track and field athlete, Joey Duerr, says this long training period has helped the team get in shape before upcoming races and given them the chance to develop a stronger bond this season which helped them place 21st at nationals.
“This year it’s been a lot of people working together from what I’ve seen which is really inspiring,” Duerr said. “I think it just goes to show how strong our culture is this year which is going to carry us pretty far.”
Duerr currently has an injury preventing him from competing but he still enjoys workouts and encouraging his teammates.
“My focus has changed from ‘I need to do this to feel good about my workout’ to ‘what can I do or what can I say to someone in the ten minutes before practice starts or during practice that’s going to help them have a better workout’.”
Duerr says the cross country team will continue training and he’s looking forward to upcoming races in the track and field season.
“Cross country is a team sport you’re competing for your teammates, your coaches and your university so I’m really excited about that and I know the other guys are excited about that too,” Duerr said. “There is a little bit of unease because of the COVID situation...so we’re trying to keep our bubble tight and hopefully avoid that kind of thing.”
Joslin Torres is a sports reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.