With turnout numbers heading in the right direction and a full schedule of meets for the first time in two years, the Quincy High School cross country team opens the books on the 2021 season in a somewhat familiar setting.

The Ultimook race, popular among past iterations of the team, returns to the schedule much to the delight of the squad. The trip to Tillamook, Ore, has proven quite the memory-maker in the past, QHS cross country co-head coach Andrew Schmitt said, and this year should be no exception.

In addition to being a fun trip, the race is quite the demanding test, with its mud and Oregon Coast weather, Schmitt said.

“There’s no competitive advantages, except it makes every other race seem pretty easy,” Schmitt said. “The students have great memories of this event: they get to run through rivers, run through a bunch of mud, and there’s not a lot a races like that.” The athletes “beg to go back, year after year,” Schmitt added.

The team is also going back, albeit a little more slowly, to the way things used to be. After the team suffered from low turnouts in 2020, this year, the squad is large enough that the team can have a varsity squad among both girls and boys

“We look at (2021) as a program-building year. We are happy to have enough to have a varsity squad for both the boys and the girls,” Schmitt said.

Like in other sports, one of the keys is building a pipeline of talent and interest from the middle school to the high school.

“We have had open-track workouts this summer and we invited middle-schoolers,” Schmitt said. ‘Building that bridge between the middle school and the high school, so that incoming freshmen are not as nervous, is very important, so that students know what to expect when participating in a high school program.”

Another program-building effort will be the trip to the Apple Ridge race in Yakima later this fall. Although substantially shorter in the amount of muddy uniforms than the Oregon race, it will help build camaraderie, as both middle-school runners and high school runners will make the trip, Schmitt said. Although they will have separate races, they will have the chance to cheer each other on, he added.

A good 2021 season will give the team a chance to develop a practice plan to perform at a higher level, and will give the team a chance to grow the number of runners, still in the single digits for both boys and girls. Iron sharpens iron, Schmitt said, and more competitive runners in a team beget more competitive runners wanting to emulate them.

“We want a whole team of really good runners. If we start to build up the numbers, especially in middle school, by the time they get to high school they’ve got a couple of years of experience under their belt, they’ve beaten the stigma of ‘Oh, I’m not a runner,’ and they’ve learned that running as part of a team is different than running individually; they come out, they have fun and all of a sudden you have a whole bunch of competitive varsity athletes.”

Despite this being a rebuilding year, there are still some athletes that might put up some good numbers. Ecduy Gordillo, Levi Kukes, Edgar Guzman and Isreal Perez among the boys, and Marisol Uribe, Ruth Flores, and Bridget Jones are among the runners who could put up some competitive times while repping the green-and-gold, Schmitt said.

The season-opening Ultimook race in Oregon is scheduled for Sept. 4.

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