Smith-Cotton cross country faced an unusual dilemma last season—fielding only a boys group. It’s a new season and a new look for Smith-Cotton cross country.
Along with about 20 boys, eight girls have joined the team.
“We didn’t have any girls out last year, so that was kind of a weird year,” said Smith-Cotton head cross country coach Tara Clark.
The boys team is coming off a fourth-place finish in the West Central Conference a year ago. Coaches Tara and Matt Clark each see the potential for them to reach the runner-up spot in the conference, but it’s a wait and see for the newly formed girls group.
“I think we might surprise some people,” Tara said about the boys. “With girls, we don’t really know.”
A number of the girls compete in other sports such as basketball and track.
Freshman Sage Peterson has track experience, but is transitioning from an 800-meter runner to a three mile runner.
“I did run an hour (Aug. 26) and that was the furthest I’ve ran straight, so that was exciting,” Peterson said. “You’ve got to push through that pain the first 30 minutes and the rest is kind of downhill.”
Overall, the entire team is young, with five freshmen and 12 sophomores. Three of the top runners for the boys are sophomores.
George Gomez, Martine Zalpa and Jose Fernando, all sophomores, each took turns setting the pace during Wednesday’s practice.
“We have a lot more talent,” Gomez said. “We try to do recruiting all the time because cross country isn’t really that popular of a sport like football or soccer.”
The recruiting helped and the team looks to keep growing and improving. Tara said the sport can be intimidating, so it’s hard to increase numbers.
“People kind of get big-eyed and don’t think they can run the distances,” she said. “You’ve just to have to learn to train your body.”
Zalpa and Fernando said they are just hoping to get better and improve their times this season.
Zalpa said he’s trying to get from the 18-minute range to a 17-minute range.
“Hopefully I can reach it midseason,” he said. “If not, I’ll try to get it at the end of the season.”
Fernando said he’s running about 18 or 19 minutes, but wants to cut it down to around 17:30.
“All I’m trying to do really is beat my time,” he said.
Tara said the team does have some good senior leadership for the big group of sophomores. She noted Isaac Rae, Ryan Perkins and Troy Lauer have taken on the role as leaders.
“They are good leaders and some young ones are buying into the sport and working hard,” she said.
The team gets the season started Saturday at the Lee’s Summit North. They will host the S-C Invite on Sept. 20 and the West Central Conference meet on Oct. 20 at Clover Dell Park.