Photo by Rob Mohr (C’22).
After some 640 days since a real meet, the University cross country team’s drive did not stop as they ran into their second meet of the season, which took place at the golf course here at Sewanee on Saturday, September 11. The women’s team placed second while the men’s team finished third, and the team was able to finish with multiple standout runners; three of the runners, Hastings Holt (C’25), Charlotte Ganter (C’25), and Elise Overlin (C’25) all placed in each of their respective divisions as freshmen.
Bill Cooper, head coach of the cross country team, has entered his third year leading the team. Cooper was kind enough to sit down and talk about his experience with COVID and how it has actually helped shape the program into what it is now.
When the news was dropped last spring that all Sewanee athletics would not be traveling for the spring season, Cooper’s response was nothing but optimistic and logical. He said, “We didn’t go into the approach that it sucks, but we’re gonna look at this as an opportunity to look at a few things differently.” Cooper knew that runners’ spirits would be crushed at this news, so he and his assistant coaches tried everything in their power to make the season as normal as possible or as he put it a “bubble within a bubble.”
He wanted the runners to remember why they started cross country in the first place, and wanted to ignite the feeling that got these runners into the sport in the first place. However, that is incredibly difficult when you’re lacking one of the key components of sport: competition. In order to replace this void within the team, Cooper reiterated the fact that an opportunity to compete would come and in order to keep sanity among the runners in limbo, his idea was that “practice was normal, this is the one thing we did everyday, that they could relate to as normal.”
Due to Cooper’s leadership, the runners’ drive, and the overall mental fortitude of the team during COVID paid off. The drought has come to an end; as the cross country team’s competitive spirit was fed on the day of their first meet in almost two years at the Jacksonville State Invitational in Oxford, Alabama on September 3. The team flourished as “the girls and the guys were the top division three school out of the 15 teams at the meet.” This was quite the accomplishment due to the fact that “almost 2/3rd’s of the team had not run cross country in college.” To say the least, the team excelled and were given what they had longed for so much; competition.
In addition to these victories, the team was ecstatic simply to be back out in the running. As Cooper put it, “the most memorable part of the day was the competition, because it’s been a long time since we got a chance to compete.”
*The next cross country meet is the Huntington Invitational on October 1st in Montgomery, Alabama.