As the calendar crept further into August, IU cross-country head coach Ron Helmer knew what was coming but hoped his team would be spared.
Those hopes were dashed Aug. 11 when the Big Ten officially announced the postponement of the fall sports season. Helmer had remained optimistic, even hopeful, that some portion of the season could be completed.
“I kept thinking to myself, cross-country is different than a contact sport,” Helmer said. “We can practice, we can compete and pretty much follow all the social distancing guidelines and safety protocols that are in place.”
The team — which competes year-round — had dealt with its season being canceled once already last spring when the NCAA canceled winter and spring championships on March 12. Now, its fall season had been taken away.
“For me, it was definitely hard,” junior runner Jenna Barker said. “On the women’s side, we all just had to take a day to process everything.”
The situation is near-identical to the spring’s cancellation, except for one key difference: the team is now together.
Barker said being together right now has made it hard for the team to feel sorry for themselves.Though the team isn’t able to go on runs as a complete unit or have as many in-person interactions, they've been able to spend time together virtually via Zoom.
“When we were at home it was a lot easier to let your mind go down negative valleys, but being together as a team makes it a lot better,” junior runner Arjun Jha said. “Now that we’re all together, I think it's really easy to lift each other up.”
Despite the loss of official competitions, Jha said he sees this fall as an opportunity to be even better when competitions resume. The team now has extra time to recover and focus on practice. Without the fall season, Helmer said the team can increase their practice intensity by spending more time in the weight room and by working in a second “big-time” workout.
“It’s honestly just a really cool opportunity to have this extra year to focus on weaknesses and getting better because it is a grueling season each year and those races are tough,” Jha said. “I'm really happy for this opportunity to improve upon what we did last fall."
Future plans for fall sports, including cross-country, are still unknown. The Big Ten acknowledged in its statement canceling fall sports the possibility of moving them into the winter and spring seasons but no plans have been officially laid out.
For cross-country, how a potential winter or spring season will work is even more unclear. Many members of the cross-country team also run on both the indoor and outdoor track teams which compete in the winter and spring respectively.
“I really have no clue what our spring is going to look like,” Barker said. “But as a team, we have said ‘let’s try to grow from this, become stronger as a team and let’s just go and see what we can do the next time we race.’”