Fall sports preview: Long pause in competition almost over for KU cross country runners
After spending much of their lives racing and competing, University of Kansas cross country runners have had a bizarre spring and summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus wiped out all long-distance opportunities during what would have been the outdoor track season this past spring, and head coach Stanley Redwine could sense the excitement in the runners when they returned to Lawrence in mid-August to begin preparing for the season.
“I think everyone’s on a high from just being able to be here and being around and helping each other out and training,” Redwine said. “So they’re not looking at (the extended time off) as a negative. ‘What do we have to do to be successful?’ is what they’re focusing on.
This season’s schedule still hadn’t been published as of this past week, even though cross country calendars typically begin in the last weekend of August or first weekend of September. But Redwine said the slate will look “totally different” this fall than a typical KU schedule.
That’s because administrators and coaches want to keep the health of the athletes in mind, Stanley said. They had to consider bus rides and the possible effects of runners making extended trips in large groups, whether it was wise to have overnight trips that would put KU athletes in hotels around people outside the program, and much more.
Redwine hopes KU will be able to host a meet on Sept. 19, but that’s still just a target date rather than anything set in stone.
Because the athletes are so fired up to compete, Redwine thinks they will follow the team’s COVID-19-related guidelines and avoid running into problems.
But Redwine is a bit worried about the many factors that the program can’t control. If a runner wants to go out for dinner with her or his significant other, Redwine gave as an example, “that could start something.” The coach said he will continue to educate athletes about the seriousness of the situation and hope they make the right decisions.
“Really, what it comes down to is our athletes being smart,” Redwine said. “At practice, that’s definitely a controlled environment, but when they’re on their own, that’s an uncontrolled environment. They just have to do what’s right. Our season depends on them.”
When competition finally returns for KU’s runners, both the men’s and women’s rosters feature athletes Redwine expects to step up as top performers.
The men’s team is headlined by sophomore Chandler Gibbens, who was named the Big 12’s newcomer of the year in 2019.
The women’s team, meanwhile, features junior Ally Ryan, who suffered an injury that slowed her down last year but now is back moving like she did in 2018, when she was one of the team’s best runners.
“We should have some pretty good runners on the front end, but in order for us to be successful it’s our number three, four and five runners that we have to have step up,” Redwine said.