Local high school cross country teams have a lot to live up as they are preparing for the 2021 season.
Corbin Coach Tyler Harris said the “Runnin’ Redhounds” currently have six boys and seven girls slated to run at the varsity level.
The boys’ team is two years removed from a team state championship and are the defending state runners-up.
In 2020, both Corbin teams were regional runners-up and went on to compete at the state meet.
“I’m looking with some of the returning runners it is going to be good to have that experience,” Harris said noting that several of his runners were on the state championship and/or state runner-up teams.
Harris said with the strength of the team, he has worked to build a more difficult schedule with the goal of, once again, excelling at the state meet.
“The foundation is strong,” Harris said noting that in a recent two-mile time trial some runners were coming in around the 12-minute mark.
“We had a few in the lower 13’s, but those are new runners,” Harris said. “They are going to show great progress.”
Harris said unlike the distance events in track and field, there is more of a strategy to cross country running than just bursting off of the starting line and going all-out.
Being successful requires a runner to have a good combination of speed, endurance and the ability to keep pace on the hills.
Harris said the course at Bourbon County where the state meet was held in 2020 showed the need to be solid on the hills.
“It was a challenging course that was way different than the course at the Kentucky Horse Park,” Harris said. “It was the finish that really killed us because a lot of runners are used to coming to the finish on flat ground. Bourbon County has a hill at the finish.”
On the girls’ side, Harris said Corbin is coming off of an eighth-place finish at state.
“The girls are kind of on a similar trajectory to the boys a few years ago,” Harris said. “They are moving up and trying to break through.”
For both teams, Harris said the biggest thing is to get his runners to run with confidence.
As part of the that, Harris said he has worked to make practices as challenging as possible.
“Our strategy is to make the practices challenging so the races feel easy,” Harris said noting there is a fine line between starting off fast and getting caught at the end, and starting off slow and having too much ground to make up at the end.
“The good thing about a 5K race is that you have time to make moves,” Harris said.
Because of that training, Harris said his teams will be in as good as shape as anyone when the season begins.
While the season will begin on Aug. 28 at Bourbon County, Harris said the Redhounds will have their first race action on Aug. 13 during the NIBROC 2-mile race.
Williamsburg Yellow Jackets
Coach Bryan Berta said Williamsburg has eight boys and seven or eight girls that will compete at the varsity level.
Under state cross country regulations, teams may enter up to seven runners in a meet, with the top five scoring points for the team.
“We have a lot of new kids,” Berta said.
Even though finishing as the regional runner-ups allowed them to advance to the state meet the last several years, Berta said the goal is to bring home the region trophies.
“I’m hoping we can put in enough work and be disciplined enough to be competitive at the region this year,” Berta said noting that Lynn Camp, Jackson County and Middlesboro will all be tough competition.
To be ready for the region, Berta said he has worked to make the schedule tougher.
“If athletes face stronger competition, they tend to work a little harder,” Berta said.
Unlike other sports such as golf, wrestling and track where athletes are competing as both individuals and as part of a team, cross country runners are at a disadvantage as they can’t see what their teammates are doing on the course.
Berta said at a smaller school like Williamsburg, the runners know each other well and really pull for their teammates.
“Some runners will stand at the finish line to cheer on their teammates,” Berta said. “You will also see the boys cheering for the girls during their race and the girls cheering for the boys during their race.”
Berta said with the weather heating up, he will learn a lot about his runners in the next few weeks.
“Just like any other sport, cross country runners have good days and bad days,” Berta said. “With the new kids that is hard to determine until you get them out in the first couple of practices in the afternoon heat. We want them to do their very best, but, at the end of the day, we are trying to help them learn to be active and productive members of society.”