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Girls Cross Country programs builds up team morale despite lack of underclassmen

Jessy Syed, editor-in-chief

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For most sports programs, having athletes who represent a wide range of ages and abilities is normal. But this year, Girls Cross Country is a unique team, with 22 of the 29 runners being upperclassmen.

“Freshman, unless they’ve come to summer camp and with the fact that we start the season before school starts, don’t know about cross country,” head coach Martha Kelly said.

According to Kelly, as students spend more time at BG, they’re more exposed to the sport of cross country and warm up to it. This means many runners end up joining cross country later on in high school, often having their rookie seasons as upperclassmen. Out of this senior class of 11 girls, only two have been with the program since their freshman year.

Even with this large number of older athletes, the team does not identify athletes by their age. Athletes are treated the same at practice and meets regardless of their grade level. According to senior Kayla Wasielewski, the coaches instead try to divide athletes by their speed, stamina and skill set so each individual has the chance to train in the way most beneficial for them on any given day. Along with this, new athletes to the program are integrated the same way, no matter when they join.

“It doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been doing cross country for,” senior captain Leksi Opperman said. “It’s more how much you enjoy what you’re doing and being a team all together. Whenever we get new people it’s super fun. It’s more fun to have more people.”

One major plus side to the large number of upperclassmen is the natural leadership that the juniors and seniors can bring. A large emphasis is put on the girls leading by example, through showcasing strong work ethic and a positive mentality that the younger girls can look up to.

This year, the program introduced captains for the first time. There are five captains, who are each in charge of an assigned group of runners. The captains lead stretches, the active warm up and pick the ab workout for practice.

“The big thing I’ve really tried to stress to them this year is in the the end it’s their team,” Kelly said. “So why not give them the opportunity to be leaders and create that culture and that atmosphere.”

According to Opperman, the team dynamic this year has been really positive, with all the girls focused on lifting each other up. The team has different traditions that have helped created that environment, like “sister bags” which involve trading snacks before meets and doing fun “mini games” at practice, like the slip n’ slide they had this past summer. Overall, this helps integrate all the runners into the positive team culture, regardless of age.

“It’s just a big group of people who run and just like to be together,” Wasielewski said. “We motivate one another and then compete to the best of our ability.”

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