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Springfield cross country team gearing up for big month of October

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
The Suburbanite

SPRINGFIELD TWP. About halfway through the season, the Springfield boys and girls cross country teams have remained on track despite the inherent weirdness baked into the campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veteran head coach Kevin Gorby has worked to build up both the cross country and track teams in his tenure at the school, but nothing could have fully prepared coaches and athletes for what they're currently facing with a global pandemic affecting every area of daily life.

"It's more of a college setting, so as an athlete you do what you have to do during the day, then you show up and practice," Gorby said of the season to date, with the district pushing back the start of in-person classes until Sept. 8. "It's a hard thing as an athlete to go through a whole school day .... work, work, work, then you're tired and they come to practice and you ask them to go out and run mile repeats."

Without students in class from early morning until afternoon and social distancing, guidelines restricting large gatherings and public events and other pandemic-related measures leading to less face-to-face interaction, Gorby and other area coaches across various fall sports have seen their athletes show more appreciation to be out of the house and able to spend time with friends and teammates.

"They show up and we don't get kids missing practice. These kids are excited that they go get a chance to be with somebody, go with be with a team and have some socialization," Gorby said "Also, communication is the best it's ever been and we have group text, FinalForms and phone calls."

With those communication measures in place and the district focusing on doing what it needs to do to comply with local, county and state health and safety guidelines, Springfield is set to host the most cross country meets it's ever hosted, with the high school teams scheduled to stage their annual Frola Frolic meet as we as one other meet, and their home course slated to host a middle school meet as well.

Additionally, the high school teams have been asked to help run a youth meet for the district at Schrop Intermediate School

After strong showings at the Salem Invitational – fifth for the girls and 11th for the boys – and in a dual meet with perennial league and state power Woodridge, the Spartans are gearing up for the next month leading up to the Metro Athletic Conference championship meet.

"We're getting ready for the bigger meets coming up right now," Gorby said. "Actually, we're about two weeks away from being halfway through the season, which is insane to think about. Our kids prepared like crazy this summer and they came in ready."

After qualifying for regionals as a team the last two seasons, both the boys and girls have begun building a reputation as strong programs with staying power.

However, the two squads are markedly different in their composition this fall. The girls have a more veteran roster, while the boys have a younger group replacing a talented senior class that led the program last year.

"Merrick Glass, who's a senior, is doing very well and we have the freshmen right behind her," Gorby said. "The funny thing is we have runners back from making it to regionals and those freshman broke into that lineup."

Grace Friend, Sydney Hilliard and Lexi Davis are the three freshmen girls making their mark for the Spartans. They've added instant depth to the lineup and the strong showing in Salem is proof that the Spartans are on the right track.

While the boys team has seniors Ryan Thompson, Jay Turney and Zach Lininger to lead the way, the group doesn't have a ton of overall varsity experience and is learning as it goes.

They're doing so as the program competes in the first season for the new Metro Athletic Conference, which structured its inaugural cross country campaign around dual meets every Tuesday in order to get all eight of its teams running against one another in the event the pandemic prevents a league meet at the end of the year.

The league meet is still on the schedule for Oct. 17 at Goodyear Heights Metro Park and the Spartans have an eye on not just making it to the MAC meet, but running at the front of the pack once they arrive.