NEW FRANKLIN  If you’re going to survive a tough cross country season together, the bonds between teammates have to form long before the first meet of the season.

With the start of the season creeping up fast, Jenna Vincent knows she and the rest of the Manchester cross country team have to connect and work together if they’re going to reach their goals for the months ahead.

“Just conditioning now … we have been since last week, every day of the week right now. We got out and run on the track, on the road or around the school, it just depends on the day,” Vincent said. “It’s cool. I missed everybody and it’s nice to see everybody back together and the unity forming already, this early in the season.”

Even for athletes who are outspoken and work to be a leader within their team, the senior year is a different animal all together. There’s an added level of focus because it’s their final chance to play for their school, there’s no one above them on the food chain within the team and they’ve invested the most time and effort into the program of anyone on the roster.

Vincent knows what she wants to accomplish this season and she knows all of that has already started in terms of progressing toward an end point.

“It’s kind of stressful because I want to be able to go out my senior year, do what I want to do and win, but I also know the reality is I know I still have a lot to do and to get into shape for,” Vincent said.

As conditioning got underway earlier this month, members of the team came back together as a group for the first time in many weeks. Conditioning is one hour each morning, with the course for the day varying. With other teams, including soccer and cheerleading, using the track, it can be a crowded setting, but it provides a good energy for the morning sessions. 

No matter where the Panthers run, Vincent tries to keep in mind not only how she’s doing, but whether any of her teammates may have struggling and in need of encouragement.

“I’m trying to bring everybody together and make it one big team, make sure nobody feels left out, make it one team this season and have fun with everybody,” Vincent said. “Usually I’ll loop back, depending on what we’re doing, if I finish I’ll go back and run wit the last person to finish it out.”

Some mornings she also has to make a stop at work before getting to the track, dropping off items at the fabrication shop where she works. Even if she doesn’t have to stop before practice, she heads to work right afterward and spend the remainder of the work day welding. It’s not a typical summer schedule for a high school athlete, but it’s the norm for Vincent.

No matter what her day includes, eating and drinking the right things is a top priority for Vincent. Especially during the heat of the middle of summer, staying hydrated and putting good food into the body is essential when it comes to not only running well, but staying healthy and fit.

“I lock in on drinking a lot of water … I do change my diet a little bit. I get more carbs for running in the heat and what it does,” Vincent said. “Basically, I just focus more on conditioning, building the strength, getting used to the heat. … doing a harder run one day and slowing it down the next to rejuvenate a bit, but still really get the push in.”

Now that conditioning is in session and the team is starting to take shape, the chemistry and camaraderie of the squad itself are a work in progress. Meets begin in the middle of August, so there isn’t much time left to prepare before those bonds will be put to the test in competition.

Knowing this is her last shot at the individual and team goals she’s had during her running career, Vincent wants to make both herself and her team as strong as possible. While the cross country season isn’t a long one in terms of the number of meets and races, it can take its toll on even the best runners. Those who prepare well have the best chance to standing tall when they finally reach the finish line. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB