By Carey Phillips
Just about the time cross country season would typically be ending, Smoky Mountain’s men’s and women’s teams will begin practice Wednesday, Nov. 4. That’s the way it is in 2020 and the age of COVID-19.
Cross country and volleyball will be the first sports to open practice under the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s revised calendar.
Runners will meet at 3:30 p.m. at the school courtyard.
“Our practices can be anywhere on school grounds between Smoky Mountain and Fairview,” Coach Pam Shuler said. “We will do some running on the sidewalks between the school and Webster and at Southwestern Community College.”
Shuler has been pleased with the turnout at off-season workouts.
“We’ve been having voluntary workouts two days a week since school started,” she said. “We have moved it up to four days recently. I’m so proud of the kids. From the moment we started this summer, they’ve been there. We were going five days a week at the beginning of August. We scaled back so we could maintain good physical condition, but we’re picking it up now. I’ve got good kids who want to run, and they are excited about it.”
The teams have been having practice 5Ks on Friday at the Jackson County Recreation Center. That will be the site of four meets this season, including the season opener Nov. 17 and the Mountain Six Conference Meet on Jan. 6.
Under COVID-related rules, no more than four teams with a maximum of 28 runners may compete during the regular season. Team members must wear face masks except during the race.
Both teams will be young. The men are not expected to have any seniors, with Ashton Buchanan likely the only senior for the women.
The program’s top returnee is sophomore Lily Buenting. 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.
The women finished fourth in the league meet, and the men were fifth.
“We will have a lot of new runners on the boys team because we didn’t have to compete with soccer,” Shuler said. “They are good athletes and are excited about participating.”
Men’s soccer is typically a fall sport but won’t start until January this school year.
Top returnees Shuler listed for the men are junior Parker Smith and sophomore Caleb Phillips. She said junior Mitchell Russotti is the best prospect among new runners.
Nathan Frizzell has joined the coaching staff, and former runner Jonathan Scifers will be an assistant coach.
A scrimmage is planned for Nov. 14 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.