Due to the coronavirus pandemic, fall sports seasons have looked quite different from years past at Winnacunnet and across the country. The NBA, NFL and NHL have instilled new protocols for their season, such as “the bubble”, prohibiting fans from attending games, and mandatory testing for athletes and coaches. Winnacunnet has established its own set of COVID-19 guidelines to follow while fall sports commence. One sport that has seen a significant amount of change is cross country.
Athletes playing any sport must wear masks at certain times, answer check-in questions from their coaches, and try to stay socially distanced. Temperature checks are also issued before games or meets. In addition to those protocols, cross country meets do not allow spectators, permit a maximum of two competing teams only (dual-meets) and stagger the starts by releasing 10 runners from both teams every minute. Cross country coach Jason Saltmarsh said that this has negatively impacted his athletes' morale.
“The energy is very different this year,” Saltmarsh said. “It kind of feels like we’ve been practicing and scrimmaging all along. The hype factor just isn’t there.”
Saltmarsh’s athletes agree with him, but have been trying to stay positive.
“I’m kind of disappointed that my senior season is like this,” senior and four-year runner Kendall Leuven said. “This is supposed to be the best year, especially for sports, but I’m glad that we have a season at all.”
Another big damper on the season has been that the athletes have not been able to get together outside of practice to have team dinners or to get closer as a team.
“It is definitely sad that our season is so different this year,” senior captain Olivia Binette said. “We aren’t allowed to do a lot of the team bonding activities like breakfasts and team dinners which is disappointing.”
Saltmarsh said that this year the team is still close, but that it “doesn’t feel like a family.”
This year’s season has been condensed to only five weeks, with only one meet per week, and the possibility of a state meet on October 31st. No invitationals will take place this season, which usually occur on the weekends.
“In the past we would have invitations every weekend,” Binette said. “We would race teams from all over the Seacoast, this year we cannot have any.”
Saltmarsh said that the performances so far have been good, “but not outstanding”. However, he’s thankful that he had an opportunity to coach a season this year.
“This will pass, but right now we’re still in the middle of a pandemic,” Saltmarsh said. “If anything, this experience has taught us all to cherish those things we once took for granted. When you toe the line for your next race, run like it might be your last one.”