The Roseburg High School cross country teams gathered near the Nichols Band Shell in Stewart Park on Tuesday for their first informal workouts of the new year, and did the same Thursday afternoon.
The last 10 months have been gut-wrenching for a lot of these runners, who lost their 2020 track and field seasons during the spring and cross country in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hopefully, they’ll get to experience some form of a cross country season in 2021. The Oregon School Activities Association tentatively moved fall sports (football, volleyball, soccer and cross country) back, with football starting practice Feb. 8 and the others opening Feb. 22.
Competition kicks off March 1, if approved by Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority.
For now, the athletes and coaches are taking it one day at a time and enjoying being around each other again. They’re wearing face coverings and following the social distancing guidelines.
“That was wonderful. It was cool seeing them emerge,” RHS cross country coach Nathan Eckman said of Tuesday’s workout. “We’ve been communicating with the kids virtually and talking to them through Zoom, but this is the first time we’ve seen other (in person). That was really cool.
“What’s floored me is the resiliency of kids. They keep getting different things thrown at them, but they keep coming back. That gives me so much hope. We’ll keep it safe, and I’m really excited we’re rolling again.”
The Roseburg girls return five of their top seven runners from last year, while the boys have four of their top seven back. The girls advanced to the state meet as a team for the first time since 2003 with a third-place finish at the Southwest Conference meet.
“It was really weird (Tuesday). I hadn’t seen any of them since last school year, but it was really refreshing,” junior Ephraim Webber said. “I have no idea what to expect (this season), but we have a lot of really good runners. As long as we’re able to run I don’t care what the weather is.”
Junior Eliza Eckman, the daughter of the coach, was the No. 1 runner for the girls.
“It was kind of weird (not having a fall season),” Eliza Eckman said. “That was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time, so I was sad. I’m hoping to have another opportunity to run again ... I think I’m in pretty good shape right now and I’m hoping to just have some good races this year with my team.”
Webber felt missing out on two high school seasons helped him in some ways.
“It was really tough, but kind of beneficial,” he said. “I got a lot more time to train and got to build up more slowly. I improved my endurance, and feel like I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I can’t wait for the competition aspect of it.”
The boys lost their No. 1 runner, Zachary Traul, who graduated after placing 42nd at state. The top returners are juniors Nicholas Looper (18th at district), Webber (29th), Brian Powell (36th) and Preston Smith (38th).
Junior Hyrum McGinnis and sophomore Gabe Simmons are among the other returners, according to coach Eckman.
Eliza Eckman has competed in two state meets for the girls. She finished fifth at district and 48th at state last year.
Also returning are sophomores Charis Childers (95th at state) and Corinne Childers (101st), junior Trinity Minyard (129th) and senior Miriam Childers (134th).
Juniors Zoe Traul and Julissa Landeros, and sophomore Jazlynn Landeros head the other returnees.
Nathan Eckman, in his 23rd season as head coach, likes the makeup of both squads.
“This is a great group. They work so hard and have put so much time in during the past nine months,” he said. “They’ve just logged a ton of miles.
“I really want them to feel good about themselves. If they improve their times, that would be great but they need to feel good about themselves. We want to create a great atmosphere. The main goal is to make it safe and the second goal is to make sure they have an enjoyable time, get their self confidence going.
“I often tell my students what they’ve gone through is unusual. They’ll be so much stronger after this.”
The Indians’ schedule will involve southern Oregon schools only. Roseburg opens with a dual at South Medford on March 3 and hosts Grants Pass March 10.