Like many collegiate teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), East Carolina University’s cross country team is slated to start its season in the coming weeks.
Unlike a normal year, however, the current COVID-19 pandemic has left the status of the coming season in the air. Regardless of the extenuating circumstances that the virus may present, head coach Josey Weaver said he is ready for the season to begin.
“It’s uncharted territory for sure,” Weaver said. “We’ve had a good summer of training and we’re hopeful to get a season.”
The American Athletic Conference (AAC) has not given the team a blueprint of how the season will look and the conference, as well as the NCAA, have not informed ECU if the season will be cancelled or not, according to Weaver.
Regardless of the uncertainty, Weaver said many ECU runners have trained all summer in hopes that the season will begin.
“We have been socially distancing right now over the summer and planning and training as though we are going to have a cross country season,” Weaver said.
Although the overall status of the season may still be open-ended, the AAC announced its plan for fall athletics. For cross country and several other sports, the conference decided to reduce the number of meets. It recommended teams within the AAC play games against intraconference opponents, as reported by ECUPirates.com.
Teams can schedule non-conference games, but need to adhere to the medical guidelines set by the AAC. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco made a statement which was included in the plan, regarding the importance of keeping student-athletes safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The health and safety of our student-athletes is our top priority as we face the challenges of the current global pandemic," said Aresco. "With the guidance and advice of our Medical Advisory Group, which has done an outstanding job developing health and safety protocols, we have developed a collaborative and comprehensive plan that will allow us safely and reasonably to play our fall sports.”
This year’s team is on the younger side, with no runners who will be graduating after the season, and only two members that are seniors, according to Weaver.
Weaver said he was concerned about recruiting during this pandemic, especially because of the AAC preventing in-person recruiting visits. The Pirates have had no issues finding new talent, however.
ECU has had four females and one male commit to the program in the month of July alone, something that has never happened during Weaver’s coaching career.
“We’re sitting at a really good spot,” Weaver said. “We brought in two of the top girls in North Carolina, we added a third North Carolina girl and we added another girl from Virgina.”
Weaver said the schedule itself has barely been affected by COVID-19, with the cancellation of The Paul Short Invitational. This was a result of the Patriot League Athletic Conference cancelling all fall sports, the conference that would normally host the invitational.
ECU plans on racing six times this season, with a seventh meet being the national championship if any Pirates were to qualify.
“Currently, our schedule is really intact, Weaver said. “We’re really fortunate right now, until we know more at least from the American or NCAA.”
Senior runner Matthew Russell is one of those two seniors on the team and mentioned how drastically different training has been over the summer for the impending cross country season.
“It’s definitely been very different than usual,” Russell said. “Outdoor track got cancelled and the normal track we normally follow with our training got thrown off, so once summer came around and we settled into it, it all started falling back into place.”
Russell said on top of limiting the number of cross country runners that run together, ECU athletics have also started to require them to wear masks in any indoor building and at practices where they are in close proximity.
Many runners have been training together, but not before ensuring they are coronavirus free, according to Russell.
“There are a few people that stayed here this summer, so (we have been) running with them, making sure we get our negative tests back and slowly adding to the group once people find out their test results,” Russell said.