Boys XC team happy to have a season

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Rob Reischel
Ethan Mladucky and Middleton’s boys cross country team will now conduct their season from March 15 until May 3./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Middleton boys cross country coach Brian Finnel is a “glass half full guy.”

Then again, Finnel’s cup has runneth over in recent years, as his Cardinals have won two of the last three WIAA Division 1 state championships.

When it comes to the wild and wacky year that’s been 2020, though, Finnel is trying to look on the bright side.

Middleton High School recently elected to push fall sports to the spring of 2021 due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. That means the Cardinals’ alternate season will now run from March 15-May 3.

Cross country was labeled a “low risk” sport by the WIAA, and many schools across the state are finding a way to practice social distancing and still have a season this fall. While that would have obviously been ideal, Finnel is just happy his team will have a chance to compete.

“I'm very excited that we will have a cross country season and have the opportunity to compete,” Finnel said. “I know this wasn't a popular decision for all, but I will take this over no season any day.

“I expect some challenges along the way and know it'll be a journey navigating this next year. The season will be different, no doubt, but based on the schools switching to the spring we will have some good competition.”

The Cardinals will face a bevy of challenges they don’t encounter in a typical season.

The first stems around course conditions and weather. While fall is typically a beautiful time for a season, competing from mid-March through early-May means snow, sleet and frigid temperatures are all possible.

“We rely on Pheasant Branch for a lot of cross country workouts, but that is not typically runnable by that point,” Finnel said. “I envision races consisting of a lot of mud, but who knows what Mother Nature has in store.”

Many cross country runners are also track athletes, and the two seasons will overlap next spring. While the WIAA has given athletes clearance to compete in two sports, it will be an immense challenge.

Track runs from April 19-June 28, meaning there will be two weeks where the sports intersect. If the world has returned to the “old normal” by the start of the 2021 school year, many of those same athletes will have virtually no rest period before starting cross country once again.

In addition, when Finnel’s team returns to the course in March, 2021, they’ll have had a 17-month break since the 2019 season ended. So Finnel has no idea what kind of shape they’ll come back in.

“My biggest worry is the boys potentially lacking the motivation to run in an unstructured environment for such a long time,” Finnel said. “We had the one week of track practice (in the spring), otherwise that's a 17-month gap.

“People can get awfully good if they want to in 17 months. Of course, they can go backwards in performance if they don't stay with it. We will see who thrives in adverse conditions now more than ever.”

For now, Finnel hopes to have five contact days that he plans to take full advantage of. And from there, he’ll keep his fingers crossed.

“I envision we will use them as team building and teaching days,” Finnel said of his contact days. “There's some factors to consider, like when can we hold these days and what restrictions do we have as a result of COVID guidelines.”


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