No other sport appears to be as tolerant as cross country, at least at Perry.
With Thursday’s season-opening meet at the Gilbert Invite rapidly approaching, neither veteran Bluejay head coach Jeff Fox nor first-year Jayette head coach Shaylena Bell have a clear grasp of exactly how many students were out for the sport.
The Bluejays have had a roster ranging from 14-20, while the Jayettes have also been in a state of flux, with anywhere from eight to 14 harriers appearing at a given practice. Both coaches said the possibility remained that a handful of potential runners might decide to join the squad at the last moment.
Such tolerance will not be without a price, as the varsity lineups will have long since been decided.
“I don’t want to deny any kid the chance to come out run and participate,” Fox said. “Maybe they are just coming out to be a part of a team and just want to get into shape for another sport or just for themselves. They are welcome to join us if they are willing to work, but not being here from the start is obviously going to have an effect.”
Fox will have a solid mix of experienced harriers and promising newcomers this season.
“We have several guys back who competed for us last year, most of them on the varsity,” he explained. “Gerardo Gonzalez, Miguel Gonzalez, Maria Cruz and Luis Guzman are back and have experience, and Jacob Prombo might have lettered as well, I am not sure.
“You put those guys out there and add Zach Thompson, Zach Stewart and Dane McCarty as the lead ‘new’ guys, and I like the combinations it gives us,” Fox added. “The Zach’s (Thompson and Stewart) have a wrestler’s mentality and that is a good thing, plus Thompson was out (for cross country) in middle school before coming back out this year.”
Fox has long stressed the mental strength and determination needed to compete over three miles.
“So much of it is mental, that really the only thing that holds you back is your mind,” he said. “You have to break down those barriers, learn to push yourself and handle the pain. They need to learn that their body can do this, it is their mind that needs training.”
Fox said he stresses to his charges that cross country offers opportunities for success at every meet.
“If they just worry about bettering themselves — that is all I can really ask,” he stated. “Every meet is a chance to lower your time, to see improvement from one week to the next. Not everyone is going to finish first or second, but if a kid is dropping time from week to week and is consistently improving himself, I call that a victory, and so should they.”
“That does not mean we don’t want to beat other teams — we do,” Fox said. “The mix I have this year will help us do that, I think. We appear to be much more competitive a group and I am happy to see that.”
Bell’s squad will be led by junior Grace Stewart, who qualified for the state meet last season.
“Obviously Grace is going to be a big part of what we do,” Bell said. “She kind of sets the standard for us, but we have several other girls who I’m also expecting to have good seasons.”
Alejandra Rivera, McKinley Thompson and Julissa Calderon saw plenty of varsity action last season, as did Darian McCord. Hannah Peterson and Joselyn Carrillo, along with freshman Molly Lutmer, are also expected to push for varsity spots.
“Right now we have just been getting miles under our belts and getting our heart rates us,” Bell said. “Most of the work has been to build up stamina, but as we get closer to the start of the season we will begin adding some speed stuff into the routine.”
Bell agreed with Fox that mental toughness and confidence would be major factors for each individual.
“You are only as strong as your mind is,” she said. “Once your mind gives in, you are done. Part of what we are doing is learning to train our mind to ignore pain and how tired we feel and to push ourselves past what we think our limits are.”
Bell was unsure as to who would earn varsity spots.
“We still have a time trial left,” she said. “I think it is important the girls see when they drop times, that they have validation for the hard work they are putting in. What I am looking for is improvement every week, even if it is a little bit. As long as we are dropping times it will be hard to be upset.”
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