Track & field and cross country navigate shared spring season


Cameron Johnson runs at City Park during the 2021 Wolf Pack Invitational cross country meet. Johnson is one of many cross country athletes who also runs track for Loyola, both teams are sharing the spring season of competition this year. Photo credit: Hannah Renton

Jillian Oddo

After switching conferences, adapting to COVID-19 practice procedures and moving the season from the fall to the spring semester, flexibility has been fundamental to the success of the Loyola cross country program.

Head track & field and cross country coach Geoffery Masanet said he’s glad his cross country runners are getting the chance to compete.

“When you’re an athlete, competing is why you train and why you practice,” Masanet said. “We made the decision in the fall to wait until the spring because we thought possibly it would be safer, it’s really not, but we knew it wasn’t going to be safe in the fall anyway.”

Moving the cross country season from the fall to the spring meant that distance runners would need to train for cross country and track competitions at the same time.

“Switching from a track mindset to a cross country mindset every week is tough,” said sophomore Amber Byrd, who is a part of both the track & field and cross country teams.

This season, distance runners will go back and forth between racing on the track and running on grass, but it is all running for them, according to Coach Masanet.

“Not much different, you show up to the meet and compete with what you’ve been training with,” said senior Hayden Ricca, a cross country and track and field runner.

Luckily for the Wolf Pack runners, their practice schedules have stayed pretty normal.

“Training doesn’t change much, just competition sites change,” Masanet said.

“Our overall training is focused on cross country and higher volumes of mileage. When we have a track meet at the end of the week, we have faster speed workouts to prepare our bodies for that type of hard effort,” said Byrd.

While in a normal year the fall semester is for cross country meets and the spring semester is for track & field, both teams practice year-round. Byrd said cross country runners who also run track and field would use the winter break to adjust their bodies, but now they have to adjust every week.

This year, due to COVID-19 protocols, Coach Masanet separates his players when they practice so they don’t meet as a big group. They practice in pairs to limit their face-to-face interactions.

“We’re lucky to be outside it’s less risky, but then we’re out in public running, especially distance runners who are around everybody out on the streets or at parks, so we gotta steer clear of people when we’re out there and we do the best we can with that,” said Masanet.

The only thing Coach Masanet misses is getting to hang out with his team. Whether it’s after practice or a hangout in his backyard, they have not been able to bond together.

“That’s the stinkiest part, the human connection, the team connection. It’s harder to keep it going when you can’t keep doing things like that,” Coach Masanet said.

Ricca is feeling extra grateful this year to run and represent Loyola.

“I’m taking in every practice with everybody and every race more than I previously have,” Ricca said.

There are track & field and cross country meets scheduled for almost every weekend of the spring semester. One common goal for Masanet, Byrd and Ricca is to make it to The NAIA National Championships, scheduled for May 26-28 in Alabama.

“My main goal for this season is to help the girls’ cross country team win our conference and advance to Nationals,” Byrd said.