Cherokee Trail junior Cameron McConnell, right, takes the lead early in the first wave of the girls race at the Bruins 5K Aug. 30 at Village Greens Park in Greenwood Village. McConnell ran a time of 17 minutes, 41 seconds, which is third-best in Class 5A early in the season. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

Scheduling nightmares, different courses and limited fields have made it quite a different start to the prep cross country season.

But the fact that there are races contested at all in cross country — the last sport added to the limited docket of fall prep sports approved by the Colorado High School Activities Association due to the coronavirus pandemic — is gratifying.

The strength and resolve of a fairly tight-knit cross country coaching community has been tested to its’ limits and so far responded.

“I would say it’s taken a lot of grace and patience from everyone,” said Rangeview coach Alison Maes, who had three meets changed in the first week of the season alone.

“We are all aware that we have to be flexible; we have a common goal to race each other and have as fun and competitive a season as we can while remaining safe and following CHSAA protocols.”

Before CHSAA announced that it had added cross country to boys golf, boys tennis and softball as the sports to be contested in the fall as usual (with football and others moved to the new year), Maes said there was belief cross country could be moved to the spring.

Rangeview trained like the season would happen as usual, but she could sense a little “less drive” in her athletes. That changed quickly.

“When we found out it was awesome and we’re super excited to be able to make it happen,” Maes said.

It hasn’t exactly been business as usual in a lot of ways. Besides bibs, runners must have masks on at the starting line and can remove them after they begin the race, while many races are broken up into smaller waves at the start instead of a mass opening.

Races must be smaller in size due to mandates on the number of runners that can be on the course together at the same time, which requires more meets and more venues.

The Aurora Sports Park — annual home of the Aurora City Championship meet as well as a regular course for league and regional championship meets — has been lost. It was converted into one of the state’s drive-up COVID-19 testing centers just before the city meet, which was canceled for one of the few times since its advent in the 1980s.

The Region 1 meet — which includes all 5A Aurora schools along with Arapahoe and Cherry Creek — is now set for the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds, which has become the new favored course of local teams this season.

It was the site of the state cross country meet for two seasons when Smoky Hill hosted it and offers ample parking, a panoramic view of nearly the entire race for spectators and a hill near the finish line that can be a decider.

Rangeview hosted a three-team meet there to start, Vista PEAK had five other teams (including Aurora Central and Hinkley) onhand there Aug. 28, Gateway is the host of a Sept. 4 meet and the Centennial League is scheduled there Sept. 11.

With larger meets lost, most leagues have been competing aginst themselves solely.

The Centennial League has had two races together, the latest being the Bruin 5K Aug. 30, which was particularly good for Aurora teams.

Cherokee Trail junior Cameron McConnell, who has been an All-State (top seven) performer in each of her two previous seasons, cruised to victory in the race at Village Greens Park with a time of 17 minutes, 41 seconds, that ranks third in 5A thus far.

McConnell trails only rival and defending state champion Riley Stewart (who ran 17:18.10 at the first league meet) and Fruita Monument’s Jadyn Heil (17:39.50). The Cougars lost some stalwarts to graduation, but have four of the top-20 times in 5A so far.

Cherokee Trail’s Caden Smith won the Bruins 5K boys race ahead of Grandview’s Peter Fox in a reverse finish from the first league meet.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

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