The boys cross country program has worked towards strengthening the team as a whole this season to cope with the temporary absence of two of its top three runners.
Of these two runners, James Cao ’15 and Alex Roth ’17, Head Coach Mark Shelley said, “As a coach, you kind of expect to have them out there, but it has also been a good experience for other athletes to have the pressure to score in a meet.”
Roth, who has sat out all of this season so far due to tendonitis in his right knee, said, “I am basically doing all the little things, so I can come back faster and still have a strong season.” Roth hopes to be back by the Mercer County Championship, but said it is very difficult to tell when he will be ready.
Cao, who missed the beginning of his final cross country season due to paperwork issues, said, “I have started focusing on training … I think the season will end up really great.” Cao ran his first meet back with the team on October 8 against Steinert High School and Nottingham High School. However, for the majority of the team’s invitationals and dual meets, he was unable to compete.
Captain Jacob Rist ’15 agreed with Shelley that having so many injuries on the team creates a setback. “The team can’t race as best as they normally would,” said Rist. “But it gives an opportunity for the younger guys to step up.”
It is typical in cross country for runners to use those ahead of them to make them run faster, so not having the usual front-runners can make racing a little more difficult for the pack. “It is a good and bad thing,” Rist said regarding the absence of the top runners.
With Cao and Roth out, the team has become more competitive among its own members. Shelley said, “We have a bunch of guys between [places] five and 12 on the team [who] are all 30 seconds apart.”
A traditional varsity team includes seven runners, five of which score. Although PHS races with that traditional seven, more than seven practice as varsity. “They are fighting for those last few spots on varsity, making everybody better,” Shelley said.
Rist went a step further, saying “[The competition] has created better team chemistry and allows for younger guys to become part of the team rather than just on the team.”
Watching his team from the sidelines, Roth said, “It seems like an endless amount of people doing better and better.”