Cross country teams end season on a high note

Rounding out a successful season, the men and women’s cross country teams competed in their last meets, with the men’s team securing the third place title on Saturday, Oct. 31 behind Dowling Catholic and Sioux City North. 

Senior Joel Burris not only competed in his last meet of the season, but the last meet of his high school cross country career as well. “The season went pretty well. We did not meet the goal we set for ourselves at the start of the season, but we ended up on the podium and had a lot of fun doing so,” Burris said. 

When the season started, the team was off to a rocky start that affected practices. “At the start of the season we didn’t have a full healthy team for the first two meets, so that was a challenge, but after that the season was going well until the Wartburg meet when our top runner Alex Horstman had to go to the hospital and couldn’t run for two weeks,” Burris said. “We overcome these obstacles with time. We just had to be patient and wait for injuries and sickness to heal and get back to practice and work toward a state title.” The men’s team finished with a total of 86 points, and an average team time of 16:26.7. The state team consisted of seniors Joel Burris, T.J. Tomlyanovich, Eli Smith, Michael Goodenbour, Cooper Olsen, and juniors Brayden Burnett and Alex Horstman. 

The girls cross country team sent two individual runners to state, sophomores Anna Scannell and Rachel Mandt. Scannell finished in 85th with a time of 20:38.4, while Mandt secured 96th with a time of 20:51.6.    

For Scannell, exercising mental toughness was as vital a role as physical fitness throughout the season. “There are always going to be obstacles that seem to get in the way of where we are, and where we want to be, but I’ve realized that what has the most power to hold me back is myself. Being aware of how much my mindset affects the way I race has helped me to stay more positive while running, which has led to accomplishing some things I was honestly too timid to admit I hoped for at the beginning of the season,” Scannell said. 

The team practiced every day after school, working on improving distance times and building endurance before bigger meets. “Around halfway through the season, I started having some muscle fatigue and weakness throughout my body. I had been running pretty religiously since February’s cancelled track season and then summer training, so I started getting burnt out,” Mandt said. “I started to focus on the little things I could do to make myself a better runner. Getting eight and a half plus hours of sleep every night, rolling out and stretching, icing, eating well and hydrating to name a few. Obviously those are things every runner should be doing anyway, but I had to learn the hard way that if I want to push myself and drop time, I have to prioritize my physical health.”

Despite facing personal setbacks, both team members managed to put their best foot forward according to coach Amanda Johnson. “We had a great season with lots of personal records improvements throughout the season, “ Johnson said. “I love the camaraderie of XC. Every athlete wants their teammates to improve and get better. There is competition among teammates, but above all, there is a desire to work hard and improve and help teammates improve. Instead of a team of runners, we are more like a family.”

One of the biggest collective challenges came with the pandemic, changing the way runners prepare for meets and connect with teammates. “The main obstacles for this season involved making adjustments due to COVID. The girls handled change well and overcame obstacles by working together as a team to work hard and get better every practice,” Johnson said. “We meet daily outside by the high school track in masks. Once we start our workout, we remove masks and girls remain in pods. Sometimes we run to Birdsall and run a workout there, or we may run a route around town. Once we return, we go through and complete pushups and abs several times a week.”

Although these workouts may seem monotonous, the team found ways to add variety to everyday practices. “We were doing a workout where the coaches had us run a mile as fast as we could on the Birdsall course. When we were done, coach Johnson told us to do another one, and if it was faster than the first, she would buy us a candy bar,” Mandt said. “The weather was perfect, and I just remember feeling so strong and energized as I ran. I ended up finishing a couple seconds faster than the first one and earned myself a candy bar.”

Rigorous workouts led to generous payoff for Mandt in the form of team bonding, with meets turning into memories as the season drew to a close. “We had a meet in Waverly on the Wartburg course. Anna Scannell, Amara Lytle and I all ran sub 20 for the first time. After we got over the initial shock, we just stood at the finish line and watched all our other teammates come in and also PR. It was so cool to see our teammates’ faces when they realized they got their best time. It was one of those moments where I was reminded, this is why I run cross country,” Mandt said. 

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