Kristen Clark never had any formal offseason coaching in preparation for the spring track season.
The Hinckley-Big Rock senior didn’t have the advantage of a cross country season, yet still managed to qualify for last year’s Class 1A state track meet in the 800-meter run.
That all changed for Clark this year as H-BR took the first steps toward establishing a cross country program.
Freshman Audrey Harrod and seniors Clark, Katie Hoffman and Brandon Jakubiec make up H-BR’s first team. Because five runners are needed to enter meets as a girls or boys team, H-BR’s runners compete as individuals.
“I was really happy with the administration and all they did to make this even possible,” Clark said. “Because I am a senior, I was pretty pumped about my upcoming track season to have this offseason training.”
The idea for a cross country program came up last spring, but the last hurdles weren’t cleared until August.
The biggest issue was cost and the school is not funding the team in its first year. While the athletes are paying for uniforms and meet entry fees, transportation was the most complex problem.
Without an available school bus, the school district and athletes’ parents signed legal forms to allow Kristi Harrod, the team’s coach, to drive the runners to and from meets.
Harrod, also the school’s softball coach, didn’t have any specific running background, but said she’s picked up a lot from other coaches.
With only four runners, she’s also able to fit the team’s schedule around her athletes.
“Sometimes we have a 6:15 practice in the morning and sometimes we have a 3:15 practice in the afternoon,” Harrod said. “You don’t know who’s going to what practice. They are all very good kids and they let me know. Most of our stuff is on the fly.”
Without a full team, H-BR has entered a variety of weekend invitationals, often running against larger schools.
The runners will compete as individuals in the postseason as well, running in the Class 1A Seneca Regional on Oct. 26.
“The three seniors have some personal goals and I think they have all met those,” Harrod said. “Doing something different, this also fits right into track season for them.”
For Clark, that goal originally was to finish a race, but now she’d eventually like to break 21 minutes on a 3-mile course. That kind of time could put her in position to advance in postseason competitions.
“I’m really impressed with the way we’ve been able to go to the cross country meets,” Clark said. “We’re a real team. We go there, we know how to check in and run our races.”
Harrod said some things may change for next year’s team. She would like to see someone with more running knowledge and experience step in as the team’s coach, and the issue of transportation will likely have to be figured out once again. The potential for co-ops with other local small schools in the Little Ten may also be discussed.
But considering the team was put together less than two months ago, Harrod was been happy with how the season has gone.
“It came on pretty quick. We couldn’t ask for a more supportive or understanding administration,” Harrod said. “They just made things happen for some kids who wanted it to happen. It was amazing. It really was phenomenal. They did it because there were kids who were interested.”