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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

The Race Is Often Against Yourself During The COVID Cross Country Season, Say Defending Champs

Winnebago High School Athletics
The 2019 1A State Champion Winnebago girls XC team

The Winnebago High School girls cross country team ran away with the 1A state title last year. At times, they’ve been even faster this year, but they won’t have a shot at back-to-back titles.

That’s because the IHSA canceled the state championship meets due to the pandemic. Joe and Janet Erb are married co-coaches of the boys and girls cross country teams.

“I've heard very little talk about, ‘Oh, we don't get a state meet’ or people dwelling on negative. We know we're lucky day-to-day to be able to do what we do,” said Joe Erb. “The reality is tomorrow, you could get it cut short. And they know that firsthand from last spring.”

Janet Erb says they’ve had more races than usual this year, but with much smaller groups within their area. And for top-tier teams like the Winnebago girls, they often find themselves alone on the course. Their real competition could be in another heat because of social distancing requirements.

“If you aren’t mentally tough and push, and if you don't finish with everything you have, you get beat by less than a second to a person you didn't even see,” she said.

It’s also very different not to have parents inches away from the finish line ready to hug their child just after they run through.

They still have regionals and sectionals coming up but, officially, after that, it’s over. However, two non-IHSA championship events have sprung up.

The Illinois Cross Country coaches group plans a virtual state meet where runners race 5k on separate tracks throughout the state and compare times. Next month in Peoria, ShaZam Racing is holding an invitation-only championship race for top teams.

Joe Erb says their top girls are hoping to compete in the ShaZam racing final.

Despite the lack of official state championship, Joe says it’s been great for their runners to get to train with each other and make the most of such a different season and school year.