Cross country

Cross country coaches David Riddle and Michelle Palmore give instructions to the team prior to a workout session earlier this week.

A cross country team loaded with experience is set to take on an abbreviated schedule this season, with all but one returning on the men’s side and all eight on the women’s side coming back for another campaign.

Both coach David Riddle and first-year assistant Michelle Palmore sounded a note of optimism surrounding this year’s team, which is scheduled to start the season with a meet at Tunstall High School on March 9, the first of a five-meet schedule.

The team has persevered despite disruptions related to COVID-19, Riddle pointed out.

“We are extremely excited to have the runners back and getting workouts in. This has been a trying year for everyone, so we are hoping a return to cross country will at least be a small return to normalcy for our athletes,” noted Riddle.

Palmore added that despite disruptions, the team is keeping its focus moving forward.

“I’m really excited to be working with this great group of athletes,” she noted.

“They all seem very dedicated, especially during these strange circumstances.”

Looking at the schedule, there is reason for optimism, with junior Ethan Kirkhart the only first-year runner for the men’s side.

Returning runners include seniors Nathan Comer, James T. Francis, Luke Redd, Trevor Riddle and Andrew Salley, and juniors Kirkhart, and Will van Opstal.

The girls side includes one senior, Susanna Watts, juniors Ashley Irby and Lydia Wenzel, and sophomores Morgan Crenshaw, Jenna Hall, Mia Lewis, Jaci Parham and Mallory Salley, each with either two or three years of experience.

“We have a ton of experience with this group. With the experience of Ethan Kirkhart, all of the runners were with us last year, and Ethan has previous running experience,” said Riddle.

“Most of the group has come in already in shape due to off-season workouts, so we have had an easy time with the start of practice.”

Among the men, Salley barely missed out on qualifying for states last year, and that has been a “huge drive” for him in the off-season, according to Riddle, while van Opstal and Francis were consistent top-five finishers.

Trevor Riddle, Comer and Redd finished in the top-seven several times in the past few seasons, and Kirkhart already finished in the top tier of runners during practice, added Riddle.

Salley and Wenzel established themselves at the top of the team ladder for the girl’s side last season and placed in a number of district meets, according to Riddle.

“Morgan and Jaci spent most of the year in the top-seven last season, and Mia and Ashley both have spent time in the top-seven as well,” Riddle pointed out.

“As with the guys team, this experience should play in well for us.”

The team has practiced hard, followed COVID-19 protocols and is giving their best effort, according to Palmore.

“We have a lot of work to do to get ready for the first competition, but I’m confident we will be ready to go when the time comes,” concluded Palmore.

“I am looking forward to a successful, albeit short season and am very excited that these student-athletes are getting the chance to compete.”

“This season, like all sports this year, is going to be different,” added Riddle.

“We are just happy to be back and allowing these kids to do what they love. We are going to make the most of the opportunity given to us and represent HCHS Blue Comet athletics as well.”

Doug Ford reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.