Southington cross country coach Dan Dachelet brought his big blowup finish line arch and set it up at Fisher Meadows. There were flags fluttering along the starting chute and the finish line chute that read “Nike Cross Virtual 2020.”
There were parents taking photos and ringing cowbells and a drone buzzing in the sky. It was festive, almost like a real cross country meet.
Except when the runners lined up for the Nike Cross Virtual National Championships, there was only one team, seven Southington girls.
They had qualified for the national championships, as did Avon junior Jack Martin and Hall junior Walker Beverly, so Dachelet set up a meet at Fisher Meadows, which is traditionally a faster 5,000 meter course.
He was trying to make the day special, given that there were no state championships this fall due to the pandemic. Dachelet said his girls likely would have been among the top five teams in the state and would have likely qualified for New Englands for the first time if they had been able to compete in more than just dual meets.
“We were trying to do things like this with them all year long,” Dachelet said. “We’d do time trials on the track — normally, I’d just bring out my stopwatch and some popsicle sticks, but I brought out the [starting] gun and the arch, just to make stuff special for them.
“I kind of used the analogy, if a tree falls in the woods, and no one’s around, did it make any noise? That’s kind of what the season’s been like for these girls. It was a big giant tree and no one gets to see it.”
Junior Jackie Izzo, who was an All-New England runner last year but was injured over the summer, finished first in 19:09 with senior Grace Michaud, who went off course slightly, second (19:20). Neither was thrilled with their race, but both were happy to have a chance to compete.
“I think everyone was grateful to just have a season because we were definitely unsure over the summer,” Michaud said. “This season was about growth and pushing ourselves. We didn’t have any other teams to push us. I think this year everyone was trying to make the best of what we had, just treasure each moment.
“Today was fun. It was really cool having all the flags and everything. I’m thankful to Nike for putting it on for us. Kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
It was uncertain where Southington or the individual runners finished overall as results were still being compiled.
The two boys, Martin and Beverly, ran alone, Martin first and when he finished, Beverly ran, finishing in either 16:08 (which was his time when he crossed the finish line) or 16:20.20, which was when the app on his phone stopped. Martin finished in 16:14 at the arch but the app said 16:23. Both runners carried their phones with them and ran through the finish line until the app told them to stop.
“I guess I just went by how I feel on normal training runs,” Beverly said. “Of course, there’s no one behind me to push me, no one in front of me to look at, so it’s definitely harder. It was my first time racing solo.
“I ran a pretty fast time, but it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. It was weird because I went to the finish but according to the app, I wasn’t finished so it was a little frustrating.”
They had to run separately per the Nike rules so no one competing individually would have an advantage.
Both boys will run next Saturday at the Northeast Club championships in Montgomery, N.Y., where Manchester junior Aidan Puffer and the Conard trio of junior Gavin Sherry, his twin brother Callum and senior Tyler Remigino are all slated to compete, among others.
Martin didn’t run his best time either (he ran a 15:22 PR last year), but he had been out for two weeks after quarantining due to contact tracing and he also had been injured over the summer.
“This season was pretty weird, but I think our team adapted well to it,” Martin said. “I like how we were given the option to run a national championship race.”
Lori Riley can be reached at email@example.com.
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