Girls XC team has mixed emotions

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Rob Reischel
Lauren Pansegrau and Middleton’s girls cross country team will compete next spring instead of this fall./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Cross country teams all across the state began their new seasons last week.

Middleton girls coach Alexa Richardson, who guided the Cardinals to a fourth place at the WIAA Division 1 state meet last year, was anxiously awaiting the 2020 season. Middleton, which had just one senior in its lineup a year ago, was considered one of the frontrunners to win a state title this season.

For now, though, Richardson and her runners have hit a red light.

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.

While Richardson is happy to have a season, she’s not thrilled about waiting until March to gather with her team. 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.

“I have mixed feelings about the season being changed to spring,” Richardson said last week. “The biggest challenge is keeping kids motivated. For many kids, it is hard to see the big picture, so short term goals usually help with motivation. 

“I am optimistic there will be some races this fall for athletes to enter unattached, or similar, to keep their training going. I also fear that if girls do not have the motivation, and do not do any sort of training this fall or winter, there may be many injuries when the season does start in the spring. I am sure I will have to adjust training plans consisting of lower mileage for the hopes of keeping kids injury free.”

Richardson knows there will be major challenges if the Cardinals’ season does in fact get off the ground in March.

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 we’ve 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.

Therefore, Richardson knows some of her runners might sit out either track or cross country next spring.

“While I understand the (current) safety concerns, I worry about athlete burnout,” Richardson said. “Athletes who do both cross country and track will be training early spring into early summer, with just a short break until fall cross country again next year.”

For now, Richardson hopes to have virtual practices with her team, which she believes will help improve everyone’s psyche.

“I think seeing them face to face — on a computer screen — will help them as much as it will help me to plan the training for this fall,” Richardson said.

The Cardinals will also pay close attention to how other teams around the state are performing. That will give Middleton something to shoot for now — and perhaps next spring, as well.

“I do not think it will be tough to watch other teams have a season this fall, mainly because I know they will have a different and possibly difficult season just as we will in the spring,” Richardson said. “Watching other schools race during the fall may help the motivation of our athletes, because they will see competitors’ times and places at events, and inevitably want to beat those times in the spring.”

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