Grabbing her racing flats out of her never-been-used track bag, sophomore Olivia Schlieman picks at her shoelaces, trying to get the year-old knot out from her most recent cross country race, which was back in November of 2019.
She finally gets them loose, slips on the light-weight neon green shoe and ties them in a snug quadruple-knot, just to be safe. Schlieman then toes to the line and, after hearing the oddly nostalgic sound of the starting gun, runs her personal best 5k time by over a minute.
Cross country is back.
Resuming practice on Jan. 25, the cross country team was the first sport in the district to return to both practice and competition, shortly followed by golf and tennis. After a long year of intermittent club practices and solo runs, the team is happy to race once again.
“It’s really good to be back with the team,” Schlieman said. “The course is not ideal, but I’m grateful we got to go out there and be together.”
The varsity girls are led by Schlieman, shortly followed by junior Kaylee Barnes and seniors Katie Newton and Lucy Prieto. Other notable performances come from three freshmen, Jennifer Merri, Josie Parod and Summer Doyle, and sophomore Meredith Montgomery.
While both Sections and State competitions were cancelled this year due to the pandemic, head coach Anton Escay is hopeful that the team has a bright future, as the team is relatively young.
“Words can’t express my excitement about the future of the girls team,” Escay said. “I’ll take hard workers over talent any day. The positive thing about the Rio girls is that I have been lucky enough to get both hard working and talented runners.”
The varsity boys are also off to a strong start, led by senior Zach Chambers, with sophomores Tyler Escay and Aiden Escay behind him. The rest of the team is made up of junior Harrison Kariakin, freshman Cyrus Justiniani, sophomore Brady Kerr, freshman Gavin Shields and senior Jalen Naran.
“For me it’s great to be back and racing again because it’s hard to keep training and working out with no races in sight,” said Chambers.
With races breaking up the training cycle, athletes now have something to look forward to and motivate them to push themselves at practice.
The Capital Athletic League is sticking to dual meets this cross country season, cancelling League Champs, in an attempt to minimize cross contact between the runners. They also require the athletes to keep their mask on at all times, except while racing.
All of the meets thus far have been hosted at Capital Christian, with the course winding through campus, across the parking lots, around the baseball fields and even on the track. While not a traditional cross country course with hills and mud, the facilities are located on private property, unlike their usual home course, Willow Hills, which has not yet reopened for large events.
While excelling in the longer cross country distances, Chambers says he is looking forward to track, as he feels the later season will give CAL members and coaches time to fine tune the logistics of racing in a pandemic.
“The biggest hope for me is for track,” Chambers said. “Hopefully they can learn from cross country and apply it to track and have a real track season.”