Weddington High has placed either first or second at each of the past seven 3A boys cross country state championships, but head coach Rick Spencer said he believes this season’s squad could be his best yet.
Last season, the Warriors — who won 3A state titles in 2018, 2015 and 2013 — finished second in the state meet behind Chapel Hill. Jake Toomey finished second overall in the 5,000-meter race with a time of 15:51.98, and he is the only member of Weddington’s boys team that will not return once practice officially starts on Nov. 4.
The Warriors boys and girls cross country teams have been holding offseason workouts in July, but Spencer and his staff had to make adjustments when the season was postponed from its original September start date to the beginning of November due to the pandemic.
“We keep hearing this phrase, ‘unprecedented times,’ and I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate, because that’s exactly what’s going on — there’s no playbook for this,” Spencer said. “Our sport’s a little different than some. There are no plays to learn. It’s not muscle memory. It’s just pure training. And we kind of had to start from scratch (after the announcement). It would have been too much to continue training the way we were. We would have been burned out by January. But at the same time we couldn’t take a break from what we were doing.”
Since late August, Weddington has adjusted its schedule to comply with social distancing orders and prepared its athletes for a later championship season.
The Warriors’ No. 1 this season will be senior Wesley Larson, who finished 11th at the 3A championships last season with a time of 16:17.23. He also finished third in the 1,600-meter run at the 2020 3A indoor track and field state meet back in February.
Spencer said the boys program took a big jump during the indoor track season. The Warriors won their third straight indoor title in 2020.
“Those guys really turned the corner in the winter last year, and they’re continuing that through cross country season,” Spencer said. “We have seen a big jump from some of those guys, and they should fill in pretty nicely.”
Weddington will have to deal with some competition from other county schools at the state level, especially Cuthbertson and Marvin Ridge, which finished third and fifth, respectively, at last year’s boys N.C. championships. The Cavaliers had four runners finish in the top 25 of the 3A state meet last season, and three of them — seniors Mickey Scihl and Shaun Raughley and junior Gage Austin — are eligible to return.
But what has Spencer more uncertain than anything about his team’s prospects this season is the effect COVID-19 could still have. The NCHSAA still hasn’t released details on how teams will qualify for this year’s championships, although information on that could be coming as early as next week, Spencer said.
A total of 195 athletes ran in the 3A boys state championship meet last fall, but current restrictions will only allow 28 athletes per race at the start of the season.
“With numbers limited, I’m a little nervous how everything’s going to work,” Spencer said. “Will they only take one team from each conference? Or two teams? If that’s the case, we’re going to end up with some really good teams sitting home. I’m not really sure how that’s going to work ... We’ve been selective with who we’re running against and we’re picking really good teams to run against, and we’re traveling to do it.”
Weddington and Cuthbertson will have an unofficial meet Nov. 9, one week before the official start of the season on Nov. 16.