Cross country won’t be on its usual path during this pandemic season.
Large multiteam meets are being scrapped or, in the case of the UNK Invitational that serves as a state meet preview, limiting how many runners a school can bring.
Staggered starts are possible when electronic timing is available. Or runners will be separated in the starting box until all come up to the line at the gun.
Spectators have to observe social distancing, sometimes with masks required. At some meets, including the Grand Island Invitational at Centura Hills, not even parents will be permitted to watch their children run.
It’s been a scramble for scheduling.
“I hope we can have a season,’’ Omaha Mercy coach Paul Beran said. “Six of our large meets have been canceled so far.”
The reason for that is that the Metro Conference wiped out its schedule of invitationals and its conference meet. The replacements are smaller meets in what is dubbed the “COVID Conference.”
Papillion-La Vista South girls coach Jeremy Haselhorst joined forces during the summer with Tim Ebers at Elkhorn South and Fremont’s Sean McMahon and Jake Smrcina to devise ways of competing amid COVID-19 restrictions.
“I hadn’t started thinking that far ahead,’’ Haselhorst said. “To Tim’s credit, he knew we had to be proactive.”
He said Lincoln schools also were interested, but logistics didn’t work out to include them with Fremont and the 12 Metro schools still with teams — the seven OPS schools have fall sports currently suspended through Oct. 16. Those 13 schools, with Omaha Creighton Prep’s boys and Omaha Marian’s girls linked, will have four weeks of six-team meets.
Saturday were the first meets for the “COVID Conference.” Those were at Walnut Creek Park in Papillion and the old Sunset Hills golf course near 90th Street and West Center Road. The remaining weeks are Sept. 10-12, Sept. 24-26 and Oct. 8-10. Schools have the option of scheduling duals, triangulars and quadrangulars, as Papio South has Thursday with a triangular against Lincoln East and Lincoln Southwest at Pioneers Park in Lincoln.
Haselhorst said large meets were encountering permit issues on capacity from local health departments for runners and spectators.
“We just recognized that we were going to need to do something different,’’ he said. “We blew up our meet schedule and organized meets that will just exist for the year. Hopefully.”
His Titans were at the Sunset Hills meet and he said there were no issues. Fans wore masks as they were asked to do. Schools were limited to 10 varsity runners and 10 junior varsity runners, with races spaced out 45 minutes instead of 30.
COVID Conference schools are not going to the UNK Invitational. Meet director Brady Bonsall is limiting teams to 10 runners apiece and adding a half-hour between classes.
“Putting kids in buses or even school vans for that long of time that close to the state meet just doesn’t seem like it’s a wise move,’’ Haselhorst said. “Coach Bonsall is aware of that and he’s totally supportive of it because he’s in the same boat. He wants to do everything he can to make sure that we have a state meet.
“Our goal as a group is we want to have a state meet Oct. 23. And so what are the sacrifices we need to make to get to that point? We don’t want to try to do things normal and end up jeopardizing the state meet. So a lot of teams are doing the same thing even though they may not have been able to be part of our conference.”
One of those sacrifices will be limited competition. Returning Class A boys champion Liem Chot of Lincoln North Star may not see his Metro competition until districts or state. Fremont sophomore Elli Dahl in girls may not see much of the Heartland Conference until its scheduled Oct. 8 meet at Kearney Country Club.
Other returning state champions are Hartington junior Carson Noecker in Class C boys, Payton Davis of David City Aquinas in Class D boys, Chelsey Espinosa of Hastings in Class B girls, Danie Parriott of Conestoga in Class C girls and Alayna Vargas of Hastings St. Cecilia in Class D girls. A scoring format change for Class D will limit teams to five runners, and only the top three places count toward the team total.
The Nebraska 100: Our greatest athletes
The Nebraska 100, originally selected in 2005 and then updated and re-ranked in 2015, came from a pool of nearly 500 names from the ranks of high school, college, amateur and professional sports from the past 140 years. Assistance came from a panel of veteran sports observers from across the state, with the newspaper's sports staff determining the final rankings.