By Dave Ongie, News Editor
There is nothing comfortable about distance running. Those who do it, especially competitively, must embrace the feeling of discomfort and hover there for long stretches of time as they strive for improvement one stride at a time.
More than anything else, Liberty Bell girls cross country coach Nancy McDonald said a collective willingness to be uncomfortable was the driving force that allowed her team to have such a successful season. With the COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop, the Lady Patriots were willing to mask up, socially distance and work hard every day.
Their reward was a healthy season that culminated with a runner-up finish at the TMSAA Class AA State Cross Country Meet.
“No Liberty Bell athletes during the course of the cross country season had to quarantine,” McDonald told the News & Neighbor last week. “I’m smart enough to know we were very fortunate and very blessed.”
Several members of this year’s cross country team endured a spring without track & field. The pandemic shut down the spring sports season before it could get started, leaving the athletes to complete the school year virtually without being able to compete in the sport they loved.
When the door was opened late in the summer for fall sports to start as scheduled, the Liberty Bell athletes showed up for workouts with an outstanding attitude. McDonald said the workouts were tough, but every kid returned day after day and worked to get better.
“I believe that the success of the season was a huge part due to their desire to have a sense of normalcy,” she said. “Every day, they just wanted to enjoy that day. It was kind of like carpe diem because we knew at any time, it could be taken from us.”
When school started back, students were still learning virtually, but their parents found a way to get them to practices and meets. Looking back, McDonald marvels at the total team effort it took on the part of coaches, athletes and parents in order for the season to come off without a hitch.
By late September, the girls had won the Upper East TN Sectionals to earn a trip to the state meet in Clarksville, and the boys finished third to stamp their ticket to state as well. The boys wrapped up their season with a sixth-place result in the state meet while the girls managed to finish second.
Lauren Yobst paced Liberty Bell’s girls with a time of 12:56, good enough for 13th place. She was joined at the state meet by temmates Alana Iglesias, Rainie Hunter, Emma Rhea, Sophie Wooten, Bailey Jensen and Ella Smith. Brock Wilhjelm, Adam Kelley, Grant Gentry, Bryson Wilhjelm, Samuel Lane, Christian Nutter and Oliver Teal represented the Liberty Bell boys.
McDonald referred to this time during the pandemic as a “strange season” in all of our lives, and it most certainly is. But for the athletes who competed this fall, the feeling of discomfort that is so familiar to any runner was the most normal thing they’d felt in some time.
“I was motivated by them every day,” McDonald said. “They inspired me.”