By Carey Phillips


A cross country season delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic will begin Wednesday when Smoky Mountain’s men and women meet Franklin and Pisgah.

The women will run at 4 p.m. at the Jackson County Recreation Center in Cullowhee, with the men following.

“I’m excited about the season,” Coach Pam Shuler said. “We have a really young team, with a lot of new runners. “That’s primarily because of the change in athletic seasons. It’s given some kids an opportunity they normally wouldn’t have to run cross country.”

The cross country and men’s soccer seasons typically run together in the fall. With soccer not starting until January under the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s revised calendar, some soccer players have joined the men’s cross country squad.

“I’m looking forward to the season,” Shuler said. “It’s going to be an unusual season. We’re having almost two meets a week. We may alternate with 5K’s and 3K’s to help with recovery time.”

The regular season will conclude where it began with the Mountain Six Conference Meet on Jan. 6 at the Cullowhee Rec Center. The Brevard women and Franklin men are defending champions.

“It’s going to be extremely competitive although maybe not as much for the girls, as some schools are having difficulty with participation,” Shuler said.

This is about the time that cross country usually wraps up with the state championship meets, but they aren’t set until late January this season.

“It’s going to be cold,” Shuler said. “If we can survive the cold, we will be OK.”

She said spectators can watch from a distance but won’t be allowed to cluster or be at the start or finish lines.

Under COVID-related rules, no more than four teams with a maximum of 28 runners may compete during regular season meets. Team members must wear face masks except during the race.

SM’s women were fourth and the men fifth in last year’s league meet.

Sophomore Lily Buenting is the top returnee for the women. She earned all-conference honors last year by placing fifth in the MSC Meet. She finished 15th at the Western Regionals to qualify for the state meet, where she placed 40th.

Other returnees include senior Ashton Buchanan; juniors Hadley Huffman, Emma Jutte and Maia Wilde; and sophomore Lydia Norman.

Senior Natalie Parris, who will be playing volleyball, has joined the team part-time. Other newcomers are junior Holly McCoy and sophomore Sophia Ammons.

Returnees for the men include juniors Clay Pate, Ben Saunooke and Parker Smith; and sophomores Henry Hanks and Caleb Phillips.

Newcomers include juniors Juan Guerrero, Jose Ramos, Mitchell Russotti and Tucker Watterson; sophomores Coleman Hopfinger and Kevin Velasquez; and freshmen Grantham Hanson, Avery Hester and Drew Poston.

A scrimmage is planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Pisgah.

The schedule is as follows:

Nov. 17 – Franklin and Pisgah at Rec Center; 21 – at West Henderson; 24 – at Brevard.

Dec. 3 – at East Henderson; 5 – Tuscola and Swain at Rec Center; 8 – Brevard and Pisgah at Rec Center; 12 – at Pisgah; 18 – at Brevard.

The conference meet will be Jan. 6 at the Rec Center. Regionals are set for Nov. 16 at a site to be announced. The state meet will be Jan. 23 or 24 at Kernersville.