In Another Covid First, Cross Country Competes Virtually

Despite a season of masked practices and socially distanced runs, the Thunder Cross Country team competed against other teams in the CCIW using Google Docs.

By Gloria Coleman | Freelance Contributor
November 18, 2020
Members of the men's cross country team running in the virtual conference championship. Photo: Joanna Stukes, Wheaton Athletics.

On Saturday, Oct. 31, in another COVID-related shift, the Wheaton Cross Country team competed in a virtual College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) championship meet at McCully Stadium. 


After each individual race, teams uploaded their times into a shared Google Doc. The virtual scoring followed typical cross country guidelines, with the top five runners scoring and the sixth and seventh displacing. 


In a cross country race, the first five runners that cross the finish line receive the number of points that correspond to their place. The team with the lowest score wins the overall race.


Coaches originally anticipated having scores in by Nov. 1, but results were postponed until North Central College could participate and send in their scores. Due to COVID-19, all athletic activities were suspended at North Central until Nov. 6.


Illinois Wesleyan University’s Women’s Cross Country team won the women’s division title with 43 points. Wheaton came in second place, scoring 44 points. Senior interdisciplinary studies major Kaitlin Armstrong was the All-Conference Champion of the meet, with fellow senior history major Anna Joy Setran and sophomore applied health science major Alyssa Mantia coming in fifth and sixth places respectively.  

Members of the women's country team running in the virtual conference championship. Photo: Joanna Stukes, Wheaton Athletics

North Central College won the men’s division title, scoring only 20 points. Augustana College was runner-up, receiving 75. The Wheaton men came in fourth place, with 103 points. 


Unlike in previous seasons, the championship took place at each participating school on tracks rather than fields. Typically, male and female athletes compete in a 6k and 8k race. Due to the nature of the online format, the CCIW coaches decided to have all athletes compete in a 5k while socially distanced. 


Despite the absence of fans, and the shorter race and relocation to a track, Wheaton Cross Country Coach Dave Walford remained encouraged by his team’s motivation to compete. “I’ve been very thankful that our team as a whole is really taking these time trials seriously,” Walford said prior to the virtual meet. “It’s not ideal, but we’re going to make the most of it.”


The Thunder has been anticipating competition since their return to campus in August. The team started with captain’s practices in the opening weeks of classes and started their official season on Sept. 21. 


Practices resembled those from previous seasons, with the exception of social distancing and all athletes wearing masks. Once a week, the Thunder ran time trials of varying distances to add some variety to their workouts. 


Having some semblance of a regular season helped the athletes stay motivated.


Lars Johnson, a junior philosophy and English literature major on the Men’s Cross Country team, is hopeful for a track season in the spring. “I’m just trusting God’s guidance to carry us through,” Johnson said through a mask. “He has a plan in all this and the season will still count for something.”


The team enjoyed the championship meet, even without fans cheering for them at the finish line.


“It was a unique and unforgettable experience,” said Mantia. “One of the most special parts about it was the chance we had to run a conference race with the entire team. We were all in the same space, at the same time, running with the same purpose: to glorify God with the talents He has given us.”

Wheaton College, IL

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