Skip to main content

Sugar House Journal

Without an announcement about fall sports, cross country athletes being coached virtually

Jun 15, 2020 14h03 ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

With about 5,000 student-athletes and many supporters submitting a #LetUsPlay petition to hold spring sports, the Utah High School Activities Association on May 5 upheld their earlier decision in mid-April not to hold a spring season in response to Utah’s social distancing mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of press deadline, UHSAA has not made an announcement about fall high school activities and sports. 

Brighton High Principal Tom Sherwood, who serves on the UHSAA executive committee, said there is no timeline for a fall announcement.

“We are hopeful, but we are in the ‘wait and see’ mode still,” he said on May 6.

Once the spring sport decision was confirmed, and without direction about fall, many coaches who coach track in the spring can turn their focus to the upcoming fall cross country season — only virtually. 

“We can’t coach or even meet in-person right now, but we can communicate with our athletes,” said Jordan High cross country coach Greg Shaw. 

Shaw not only has a blog linked to the school website for his runners, but he emails them weekly and has the athletes report in their mileage so he can give them feedback. Some of the runners use the Strava app, where he and teammates can immediately see the runs and paces athletes are doing and support each other with comments and kudos. 

He also has reached out to area middle schools, asking for them to send out fliers to incoming freshmen about the team.

On top of that, the second-year head coach is introducing a “Coach Challenge,” which includes a 40-day challenge including core, cardio, healthy eating and workouts.

“My hope right now is to have a great start for the season, starting in June,” he said about his young team. “It’s hard not being together and without track, speed will be impacted, and we may need to do more this summer to be ready for the fall.”

Riverton High cross country coach Chase Englestead said that if restrictions are lifted so training can be done in small groups, he likely will hold four practices per day for his 60- to 80-member team, meeting or running with all the individuals. In the meantime, he plans to post weekly workouts, track his runners with Strava, and hold Zoom meetings.

“It’s important to communicate about what run they did, what time or pace it was, how they feel, so we can support these students in their goals and mindsets,” he said. “It’s hard to build the good relationships and culture of the team when we’re not practicing together. It’s invaluable for every single person. We want them to work hard, go through the process, be praised for that and carry over to not just be better runners, but better people.”

Englestead said that building the team also is more difficult without being amongst students as the best recruiters are the student-athletes themselves, where they become a social group, interact, support one another and find their passion. 

“I’m hoping when they come back, they’ll want to work hard, be more focused and motivated since they’ve missed this competitive environment,” he said.

Corner Canyon coach Devin Moody is hoping that he can hold a cross country camp in July, but if not, the training will be more individual and self-motivated like he plans for in June. His workouts will include running, strength workouts with body-weight exercises and conditioning. 

He plans to communicate with his team via Instagram Live as well as monitor and give them feedback through Strava.

“It’s a good way for the team to hear from teammates, feel their energy, rally behind each other’s training to support one another,” he said. “I’m hoping to find my team returning from this unique resilience challenge and having reflected on why they do the sport to find more enjoyment in it.”

While Corner Canyon lost five seniors on the boys team that was nationally ranked, he said the team has depth so it’s “not a rebuilding year, but a refocusing year” and the team “should be really good.” He also said that the girls should be stronger this year, even with two seniors graduating.

However, many coaches are uncertain what the fall season will look like and if it will happen, as health officials have stated one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing. 

Some are hopeful for a full season, while others say, even if it’s reduced to a matter of weeks, it’s doable. UHSAA also was considering adding in a divisional race, which would fall between region and state, but that, too, has yet to be determined.

Herriman coach Jonathan Haag said that if there is to be a shorter season, he’d rethink the schedule and likely make August a training month instead of the traditional start of the season.

“That would give time to make sure all our athletes are in shape and we can provide even more individualized workouts,” he said. “We can make it work, but those kids who are training on their own, will benefit more.”

Haag is keeping in touch with his team through GroupMe and he and an assistant coach are talking to every team member about how they are doing “running or not.”

“We want to know where they’re at, what their family support is like, how their motivation is, where they want to be next season,” he said. “There’s a good chance we can’t run together, but we can help them reach those goals if we’re able to communicate.”

Haag is asking athletes to run a time trial in place of getting times from track meets. Then, he can use that as a baseline and build speed, strength training, endurance workouts from those. He even hopes to have intersquad meets this summer to help runners get their best times and build confidence, if allowed by the UHSAA.

“The biggest thing that hurts from not having a track season, apart from the seniors, is the confidence it gives our athletes. I feel pretty confident though if our kids stay working hard and are motivated, they’ll be in good shape and we’ll contend to be a top team.”

Hillcrest High coach Scott Stucki also is having his athletes run time trials and speed workouts, just to see how fast they are, and for seniors, to see if they could run their personal bests. He also is supporting student-athletes to run road races, if they’ll be held this summer. 

Stucki doesn’t see being able to coach them personally until maybe after the traditional moratorium week of July 4.

He regularly posts workouts and tracks their distances; some runners he communicates with regularly and knows their mileage, some have focused on year-end testing and have taken a break from running. Stucki expects his boys team to be good, better than last year if they dedicate themselves. Hillcrest girls team should improve over last year, too, with six juniors returning. 

Stucki already has named two seniors as captains in anticipation of a season, although he isn’t sure what the UHSAA will decide.

“I don’t know about the season. I haven’t even put together a schedule as meets aren’t sanctioned yet,” he said.

Copper Hills coach Garth Rushforth also is hoping for “some kind of program” this fall as he’s been providing his squad workouts, including drills, such as lunges and body squats, that can be done at home without a weight room, and tracks his runners’ mileage on a Google document. He said it’s important for student-athletes to get their training in all summer to prevent injuries.

“There’s a greater risk of injuries if we have a shorter season. For some kids, who are self-motivated and are dedicated to their training, they’ll have a good season, others who aren’t, not so good. We’d like to be as ready as we can be if the season happens,” he said, adding he hopes that a decision will be reached before June. 

Rushforth expects his girls team to be solid this season. The boys graduated some “very good seniors, but I have a junior and sophomores who show promise.”

He is in charge of his region’s meet so he already scheduling a park for the race.

“It’s hard since the parks aren’t sure if they’ll be open and we’re not sure if the season will happen,” Rushforth said. “We’ll cry a lot if there’s not (a season).”