Despite not having a league or district meet to look forward to this fall due to the pandemic, the Hopkinton High School boys cross country team is determined to make the most out of the modified and shortened fall campaign.
“I think a lot of them came in with a personal goal and that’s motivating them on an individual level,” said first-year coach Laura McKenzie. “But they have a team goal as well, I think they came in wanting to win all of our meets.”
The Hillers will not compete against all the usual Tri-Valley League foes, but instead will participate in a smaller “pod” of teams that are geographically closer. Hopkinton was scheduled to open the season Oct. 10 at Medway, and later will run against Ashland, Bellingham, Norton and Holliston, if all goes as planned.
McKenzie steps up to the varsity program after spending nine years coaching at the middle school, which has given her a great deal of familiarity with her athletes.
“They are a really nice team,” she said. “They want to be together, they want to run together, and as a team they had high expectations for the season. We’ve had to readjust those goals a little bit, but they still want to win all of their meets.”
For McKenzie, the season will be a balancing act between helping the runners hit whatever their individual goals might be while also keeping up a strong team framework. She said the group of returning seniors, including the five captains, have been providing excellent leadership so far.
Nick Brown, Colby Michaud, Jake Chirco, Andrew Moore and Jack Watson will serve as captains. Fellow seniors Justin Wade and Jackson Schlussel also figure to be among the team’s strongest runners, McKenzie said.
The Hillers will feature a great deal of depth, with several talented juniors, at least five strong sophomores and some incoming freshmen who have shown promise. McKenzie said some of the younger Hillers have been seriously pursuing the sport since they were in the sixth grade.
“These guys are raring to go,” McKenzie said. “I had them in middle school, so for me this is fun and it’s exciting.”
McKenzie said she is enjoying the opportunity to continue working with the runners as they reach their potential.
“I would have them for two years and see kids who really liked running develop a deep love for running, then they would go off to high school and I would watch them from afar,” she said. “Now I feel grateful that I have the opportunity this year to be with these kids I coached in middle school.”
Added McKenzie: “I know it’s an unusual year, but they are a great team, so I feel lucky.”
The Hillers have shown a willingness to follow the sport-specific restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include wearing a mask when in close proximity to another runner and trying to avoid close contact altogether.
“They are running with their masks, they are staying apart,” McKenzie said. “They want a season and they don’t want to be the reason not to have one, so I think it’s very motivating for them. I have been really impressed.”