NORTH CANTON  It’s Ava Dalpra’s turn.

She and her fellow Hoover senior cross country runners have watched for the past three years as each successive senior class has led its way and made its mark on the program and now, she’s looking forward to her chance to do the same.

“It is weird to think of being a senior. I always looked up to them and now it’s my turn to try to take charge and be that part of the team,” Dalpra said. “There’s going to be about eight or nine of us (seniors), so we all have a group chat where we take control … we talk about who’s going to be there certain days and who can’t because of work and other things.”

The summer has been going fairly well for the team, according to Dalpra, although vacations and work schedules for team members have kept attendance from being at 100-percent capacity so far. Turnout at conditioning sessions has been consistent and at this point in the season, the coaching staff isn’t allowed by Ohio High School Athletic Association rules to be involved with practices.

That means the team’s seniors are counted to lead.

With the group chat to help organize their efforts, the seniors have set up conditioning sessions Monday through Friday each week. They meet at a large tree on the high school campus, stationed between the school itself and the football stadium on the other side of 7th Street.

The current focus is getting a good routine and building up everyone’s endurance for the five-kilometer distance they’ll beed to run during the season. Being in top shape for the point in the offseason when the coaches are allowed to get involved and hitting official team conditioning sessions in August at full strength are the top priority and because coaches are only allowed to come to three practices during conditioning, it puts the onus on the runners themselves to stay focused and motivated.

That’s where the team chemistry and camaraderie come into play for Dalpra and her teammates.

“You have to enjoy the people you’re around and cross country, it should embody being a team and being able to enjoy the friends you have and make friends during that time,” Dalpra said. “Running’s not the most fun thing to do, but it’s something we all cherish and it’s something to keep us healthy.”

The coaching staff, led by head coach David Neitzelt, put together a summer calendar before the offseason began to provide runners with some guidance about how to tackle their summer in terms of running. Some days are about logging more miles, while others are suggested as core strengthening workout days.

As part of the offseason, the relationships between upperclassmen and underclassmen is also a work in progress. During the season, upperclassmen are designated as “bigs,” as in a big sister, and assigned a “little” from the freshman and sophomore classes. The aim of the effort is to make sure that each underclassmen has a veteran looking out for them and helping them learn the ropes and Dalpra noted that how an upperclassman approaches that aspect of leadership, as well as leadership in a more general sense, hinges on that senior’s personality.

“It depends who you are, what type of senior you are. Most people will lead by who they are and just go through what they need to do and see which people will follow, but people also take charge and talk to them (underclassmen) and show them how it’s supposed to be done so they can follow into the same pattern we did,” Dalpra said.

Her senior mentor when she was a freshman remains a part of her life today. Caroline Shepard gave Dalpra rides to practices during Dalpra’s freshman year and the girls’ fathers knew each other previously, so they made a quick connection. The two became close and Dalpra still talks to Shepard to this day. 

The connection is a meaningful one for her and as she looks ahead to what she hopes will be a successful and memorable senior season both on the cross country course and in the halls of the school, Dalpra hopes that she’s able to develop the same relationship with an underclassmen that Shepard developed with her three years ago.

“It’s really nice to have that and I’m really trying to be that person to someone on this team,” she said. 

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