High school coaches love to talk about well-rounded athletes – kids who engage in multiple sports and many different activities. Such involvements are a good thing, they say. That’s what the high school experience is all about.
Cross country, in particular, attracts student athletes involved in myriad activities, from student government and the National Honor Society to sports and community involvement.
Bob Barbaro agrees with the sentiment wholeheartedly – although he may reconsider after this season. Extra-curricular involvement diminished the numbers in his West Valley girls cross country program.
“A lot of these kids are just so busy that they don’t have time to run cross country,” he said. “I’m going to have to work the halls recruiting for next year in order to get our numbers back up.
“Already this season we lost one of our top four runners because it was just too much for her. She’s a dancer and she was doing her cross country workout and then going off to do a two-and-a-half hour dance workout. She came to me and said, ‘It’s just too much.’ I told her, ‘Of course it is!’ I don’t know how she did it for as long as she did.”
Busy though they may be, Barbaro’s Eagles hope to qualify several runners for the state Class 2A cross country meet, even though the Eastern Regional cut-off is 25 runners.
“We’re very young this year,” he said. “Our No. 1 runner is a freshman and she’s running real well right now. If we keep improving the way we have been, we can get several of our girls to state and that will be really big for the program.”
Part of the challenge this season has been getting runners up to speed.
“Some of our runners are busy doing other sports during the summer and they weren’t about to get in the kind of miles you need to be successful – and that’s a challenge for both boys and girls,” the hall-of-fame coach explained. “You can’t expect to be competitive in the fall if you don’t log the miles over the summer. We’re just now getting some runners up to the point where they should have been from running over the summer.
“It would be interesting to see where we’d be if we all came in on the same page.”
McCall Skay moved up from Centennial Middle School to take over the top spot on the Eagles varsity and has run well. She placed second at the Erik Anderson Invitational Meet at Plantes Ferry Park last month.
The meet features a 6K college cross country meet coupled with a high school invitational.
“I think we learned a lot at the Erik Anderson,” Barbaro said. “Both our boys and girls got to watch the college runners and got to see what it takes to be successful at that level.”
Skay turned in a strong finish to record a time of 19 minutes, 19.045 seconds, slightly more than a minute behind Riverside’s Jess Mildes. The frosh standout held off three different attempts to pass in the final 400 meters to maintain her second-place finish.
“With the girls, you get to see young freshmen like McCall just burst on the scene a lot more often than you do with the boys,” Barbaro said. “Right now she’s running well and I think she’s learning how to race.”
Kaitlyn McGlothlen has been a solid No. 2 runner for the Eagles and senior Brooklyn Robinson – who doubles as a standout pitcher for the West Valley softball team and drum major for the marching band – runs a strong No. 3.
“I think we’re still learning how to compete and I think we’ll get better,” Barbaro said. “We still have some big meets coming up. We already got beat by East Valley earlier this year and Deer Park is running very, very well.
“The regional meet will be at Plantes Ferry and we run well there. In fact, we’ll be running on the same course there that we ran on during the Erik Anderson and the kids like that layout better than the one we use during a mid-week meet. When we run there on the weekend, we can lay out a more direct course that cuts across some of the soccer fields. Mid-week, we try to run around them.”
One Eagle who already showed she can fly with the best is sophomore Mikila Salazar, the defending girls wheelchair champion.
Salazar turned in an 11:33 time to win last year’s state meet.
“She’s doing really well and looks very good,” Barbaro said. “She’s a big part of the team and a genuine inspiration to the rest of us. I’ll watch the girls come running back on a training run along Maringo and I’ll start to wonder where Mikila is. Then I’ll take a closer look and there she is, right in the middle of the pack, wheeling along with the team.”