Cross country back after 2-year break



Riverhawks women’s cross country runners (left to right) Jasmine Mauldin, Holly Boggs, Madison Palmer, Jasmine Jones and Sierra Keen pose outside of the gym on the Arnold campus with their head coach Susan Noble (far right).

Dominic Salacki, Editor-in-Chief

The men’s and women’s cross country teams this semester are competing for the first time since fall 2019.

The teams did not participate in last fall’s season because of COVID-19.

“It’s really motivating, considering we actually have us all together now, whereas, because of COVID, we just kind of stopped running with groups,” Sierra Keen, a first-year business transfer studies student, said. “Now we’re all together and it feels really good.”

Jasmine Jones, a first-year cybersecurity student and teammate of Keen’s on the women’s team, agreed, adding she “couldn’t have asked for better people to run with.”

“I haven’t competed in cross country in two years and getting back into it with such a good group of people and a great coach has been awesome,” Jones said.

On the men’s team, Grayson McMeen, a first-year general studies student, and Luke Jimenez, a second-year exercise science student, predicted a successful season.

“Once we get our team together and we get everyone settled in, it’ll be much better, and I think we’ll have a good shot at some good competition,” McMeen said.

The men’s team has four runners, while seven athletes are on the women’s roster.

Although the National Junior College Athletic Association ran its fall cross-country season last year, the college prohibited the Riverhawks from practicing and competing.

According to women’s cross country head coach Susan Noble, who started in her job about a month before the pandemic shut AACC down in March 2020, college officials canceled all fall sports because of health concerns.

“They just decided that if everybody can’t compete, no one will compete,” Noble said.

Noble said the seven runners on the women’s team immediately bonded, despite the two-year lag between competitive seasons.

“I think everybody missed the connectivity that comes with a team sport,” Noble said.

None of the four runners are on the men’s cross country roster has competed for the Riverhawks before.

Coach Keith Bigelow said the lack of experience is not a bad thing.

“Given that we had that long break, we knew it was going to be like this so it’s not something we’re opposed to or afraid of,” Bigelow said. “I think the other teams that we compete against are having the same situation.”

To prepare for this season, Noble said she had to “play catch-up” in spring 2021 to recruit student athletes from high schools.

“I connected with the high school coaches, started using social media and managed to get seven runners, which is six more than I thought we’d have,” Noble said.

Noble said having to skip her first season as coach was “really depressing.”

“I almost lost my excitement to run and coach, but as soon as I had one prospect, that’s all it took,” she said. “I got so excited [thinking our season] might actually happen, Then another [student athlete] came, and another one and then two more. Before you know it, we have a team [and] I really didn’t think it would happen.”

She added, “Now, this is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

Bigelow agreed.

“To be back here as a team, practicing and competing in meets is just phenomenal.”

Still, Noble said it’s possible the college could shut down competitions again if the threat of COVID grows.

“We take advantage of being together now, knowing that it might go away,” Noble said.

Noble said that mindset is common among cross-country runners.

“In running, a course has gently rolling hills, which means there’s going to be a big monster hill in there somewhere,” she said. “So we’re always waiting for that monster hill on our schedule.”