Gonzaga’s cross-country team is no stranger to adversity, but the struggles of COVID-19 are a new challenge. In an attempt to follow up a very successful last season the Zag's are going to have to show they are up to the task.
“This is the best team in Gonzaga history, there is no argument against that,” said Pat Tyson, GU director of cross-country and men’s track and field head coach.
GU is coming off a successful season and has a lot of returning talent this year. An unfortunate turn of events led to them only having one runner make it to the NCAA Division I Championship but have high hopes to follow that up this season.
“After coming so close in 2019 and returning everyone from last year’s group you have to imagine that the objective for this year’s Gonzaga team was to ‘run it back’ and earn a spot to the national meet,” said Garrett Zatlin from The Stride Report.
Last year the team ended 32 nationally while 31 teams make the NCAA Championship, and Tyson said they deserved better.
It will be even harder this year to make it to the championship. They plan to keep the 18 bids from coming top two in each of the nine regions and the 13 at-large bids for teams but drop the usual 38 individual selections.
The individual selection is how GU’s James Mwaura qualified last year capping off the team’s success.
The season ended up being a “what if” but you can’t dwell on them, they don’t matter Tyson said.
The path to the championship is rough for GU. Two big powerhouses belong in the same conference with BYU and University of Portland.
“Can we touch them? I don’t know, they are a different beast,” Tyson said
Tyson said coming off such a successful season has been very rewarding particularly for me, after building this team for 12 years.
Tyson has been coaching for over 45 years and he knew he could just hand the baton off to a new coach for this team but sticking with the team has now proved to be well worth the time and effort.
Preparing for this upcoming season has proved a new obstacle for the team to follow up on these high expectations.
While struggles are nothing new, from shoveling snow to make a path on the field to run and simply building a team with known powerhouses in the conference, COVID-19 is causing them to have to make a lot of changes.
One of the primary things that has changed due to guidelines is that the team doesn’t get to have time in the locker room together. Tyson said that it was something special getting to be in the locker room together where it is all “team, team, team” and they got to hype each other up.
In fact, a lot of the being a team is taken away as they can’t even practice fully together. The team has to run in pods of five runners said Tyson. But with a good mentality and attitude they are making the best of what they have while doing their best to socially distance.
On top of the lack of the team being together in person, Tyson only gets to meet with runners Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This leaves the runners on their own to do recovery and extra training the other four days of the week.
The closest they can get to having meets right now is doing time trials. They have time trials at 5k, 8k and 10k. They have a small season made up of “intrasquad” teams.
Leadership from the runners has also become infinitely more important for them.
“I can give them all the quotes, but it doesn’t match good leadership from the runners,” Tyson said.
Tyson said that older runners such as Peter Hogan have been integral for keeping the team in high spirits.
“Many of these returners all made significant improvements during the 2019 cross country season, but were still young enough to continue their progression,” Zatlin said.
It has been rough for the team as they watch other schools get to go out and compete but due to the West Coast Conferences ruling and institutions decision the team won’t be competing.
Tyson said a key was to not let anything bother them and to endure and get through it.
The WCC has ruled not to have any meets until the winter with the first one coming in late January. The end of the season is slated for late February but could potentially be moved to as late as March 5th with the Championship happening on March 15th.