All eight North Bay League cross-country teams will converge on Spring Lake on Wednesday for the first of a new “center meet” style of competition the league is undertaking this season.
In years past and in this pre-league season, the schools have competed in the more standard dual- and tri- meets, where teams from two or three schools compete together at one school’s home course.
But for various reasons, the coaches — with the support of their athletic directors and principals — voted unanimously to try the all-league meets this season, which some other leagues in the region do.
“It’s a big change from years back,” said Casa Grande coach Carl Triola. “We’re pretty sure it will go well.”
Cardinal Newman coach Chris Puppione, who first suggested the change, ticked off several benefits to the larger type of meet:
Better competition for runners at all skill levels.
Fewer physical demands on athletes.
Reduced wear and tear on the parks.
Less time out of school.
More productive training opportunities.
Wednesday’s center meet will be the first, followed by another, also at Spring Lake on Oct. 21. The league championships will also be held at Spring Lake.
“It really allows all the meets to be competitive,” said Rancho Cotate coach John Anderson. “Because sometimes, if you go against a small squad, a (stronger) Maria Carrillo or a Santa Rosa wouldn’t have a lot of competition.”
That might mean that the best runner or two would be all alone at the front of the pack or the top few runners would be from one school, which doesn’t challenge the top-tier runners. With all eight schools participating, the best will face solid competition.
At the same time, inexperienced runners, who might be left well in the rear in a two-team meet against a powerhouse school, will be sure to have competition in a full league meet.
“If you put 50 kids out there against a team that has 15 kids, it wouldn’t be as competitive for anybody,” Triola said. “When everyone is out there, everyone will have some level of competition.”
In running, where mental training can be as important as physical, that’s key, coaches said.
“Mentally it’s a little bit easier to get up for it because everyone knows that they’ll have people to race, whether they be a the top-of-the-field athlete or a beginning runner,” Triola said.
Puppione said the meets also provide another two-sided benefit: less wear and tear on local running courses because the schedule eliminates two weeks of multiple smaller meets, and reduced physical demand on the kids.
“It frees up the schedule and allows us to train them better,” he said. “Instead of having to go to these races, we can train and build them gradually, teaching them the sport instead of throwing them in the deep end in some cases.”
It also allows some of the top-tier athletes to participate in regional or state competitions on the weekends, without being tired from having raced earlier in the week in a school meet.
“Healthwise, it will enhance performances,” Puppione said. “The kids are going to run faster because they’re not as beat up.”
Having both center meets on the same course at Spring Lake, and later the league championships there, will help runners measure improvements in their performances with limited variables, Windsor’s Pete Stefanisko said.