2020-2021 cross country members start off the challenging season, landing three runners in the top five on Sept. 13.  
Photo Provided by MU Athletics

COVID-19 Brings a Change of Pace for MU Cross Country

James Walsh

Manchester’s cross country team is having a hard time catching their breath. Not from running too hard, but from the fabric covering their mouths and noses. This is just one of the many precautions and adjustments that MU’s runners have had to integrate into their practices during this pandemic.

“We can’t use team water bottles, each person has their own stretching material, the athletes have to sit 6 feet apart when warming up/ stretching, and they (the runners) have to have masks on at all times.” sais Emily Ewen, senior, and current manager of the cross country team.

Similar to practices, meets have also had to change in order to fit into pandemic restrictions. For instance, on Saturday, Sept. 14, MU’s team competed in person with another school, while recording and comparing times with three other schools, effectively combining four meets into one. “We sanitized the batons before and after the relays,” said Sam Katon, assistant coach of track and field. “Every athlete in the relays got hand sanitizer before and after the race, and every one wore their masks, except for during the races.”

Of course, cross country is not the only sport on campus that’s had to deal with these restrictions. However, there is not as much concern over contamination during these individual events compared to other athletic offerings at Manchester. “Cross country and track are very low contact,” Katon said. “Other than right off the start line, at least in running, there’s not a lot of contact other than your teammates in a relay.”

Other than the physical restrictions the team has had to face this year, a primary concern has been remodeling their entire regimen and program around the new guidelines. Coach of the cross country team, Brian Cashdollar, know these challenges well and how best to go about approaching them. “Simply put, this has affected everything that we do as a program,” he said. “We have literally had to find different ways to accomplish the same goals that we put forth every year. Those goals within our program are being accountable to each other, putting in consistent work to achieve improvement, and to be kind and care about each other in the program.”

The team’s primary concern when dealing with the restrictions is the preservation of the bonds and trust between all those involved in the track and field program. Cashdollar enforces this as he says “Through all of this I could not be more proud of our student athletes and support staff of coaches, managers, administration and athletic trainers. It seems as if everyone is working 12 hour days 7 days a week so that we can continue the to provide the best experience possible for these young men and women.”

And his players seem to return the sentiment. “Our coach is amazing!” Ewen said enthusiastically. “He has worked really hard since everything shut us down and he is so awesome about communicating things with people.”

Through the trials and tribulations the Manchester cross country team has had to face in the wake of the pandemic we are currently at odds with, everyone involved is motivated for the season and holding fast to the relationships they form on the track.