The coronavirus pandemic has affected many aspects of people’s lives and sports are no exception.
With the Ohio Valley Conference’s postponement of fall sports to the spring, followers of Governors athletics were left to wonder how their favorite APSU team has been affected and what to look forward to next semester when teams are tentatively able to compete. This week, fans will be updated on the effects that COVID-19 has played on the APSU men’s and women’s cross country teams.
The OVC’s decision to postpone fall athletics on Aug. 14 may have come as a surprise to some, but not to Govs assistant coach, Sarah-Emily Woodward.
“I was definitely prepared for it [after] seeing what other conferences had already done,” Woodward said on the team’s preparedness. “I think just looking out for the safety of our kids, that’s what is most important during these times.”
Under head coach Valerie Brown and Woodward, the Governors look to use the long offseason to help prepare their new-look teams for spring competition.
The men’s team returns seniors Thomas Porter and Joseph Redman, while also welcoming new faces in Pearson Ezell, Robert Mullen and Dylan Edwards. The team, which is full of youth and potential, looks to capitalize on a longer and unprecedented time of preparation amidst the pandemic.
With the starting gun for the fall season never being fired, many students – along with players – are left to wonder what the fall season could have been. While an official fall schedule was never released, there are a few meets that the Governors likely would have succeeded in, one being the APSU Cross Country Invitational.
The Governors find regular success in their hosted event, highlighted last year by Thomas Porter’s school record 15 minute, 21 second 5k time that earned him eighth place. The team also finished with their best overall performance of the season, placing third in the meet.
Other events that have been a staple to the team’s success are the Fast Cats Classic in Owensboro, Ky and the John Flamer Invitational in Edwardsville, Il. Redman posted a personal best of 17:46.2 in Owensboro last season, while Porter placed top 15 in Edwardsville, guiding the team to fifth-best finish.
On the women’s side of the sport, the team is a veteran-led squad heading into the spring season, with all but freshman Mikayla Filkins being an upperclassman.
The storied headline for the women’s cross country team last season was Emmaculate Kiplagat. Kiplagat was the first Gov to cross the finish line in four of the Governors five meets last year, but has since graduated out of the program. Many may wonder who will be the next Gov to take over for the well-decorated APSU Alumna.
“In terms of being able to step into her shoes,” Woodward said. “I very easily think that sport is kind of open to anyone on the team.”
Two key returning pieces to the team heading into the spring season are juniors Mikaela Smith and Molly Howard. Howard, who had three top 30 performances last year, looks to continue her dominance, while Smith aims to keep the momentum going after an overall impressive sophomore campaign.
Similar to that of the men’s team, with a fall schedule never released for the team, fans are left only to speculate what could have been for the fall. From an analysis of years past, there are a few outings of which the Governors likely would have found success in throughout a fall season.
Last year, the team’s best performance came at home in the APSU invitational, where six Govs placed inside the top 25. Howard highlighted the match, placing a team-best 10th and helping her team place fourth overall.
Another meet that APSU fared well in a year ago was the Mu**ay State Open, in which five Governors earned top 20 finishes, headlined by Keleah Shell. The senior completed the meet with a season best 15th place finish and assisted the Govs in taking home third place as a team.
In times where uncertainty has become the norm, it would be easier for some athletes to lose motivation for an upcoming season. After having the fall taken out from under them just weeks before the first meet was scheduled to take place, coaches Woodward and Brown addressed their team, telling them to keep an optimistic mindset.
“You all have to keep your heads up. Keep moving forward. Do not focus on the negative,” Woodward said. “Focus on the positivity…Keep moving forward and, if anything, look at this as an opportunity to focus really hard on your academics.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has affected the state of a fall cross country season, one thing that it has not changed is the passion for success throughout the Govs men’s and women’s cross country teams. The teams – along with their coaches – will use this time as preparation to come back stronger and faster than ever in the spring of 2021 in hopes of being crowned OVC champions.