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High school sports are back, but coaches and athletes face different challenges as COVID-19 continues.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Sunset boys and girls cross country teams in competed in and placed third and fifth at last years state championships. This year, runners have to wear masks while practicing and competing.

With high school sports back in play during the coronavirus pandemic, Sunset High School's cross country programs are now running at full force.

As past seasons have shown, the Apollos have high expectations for both their boys and girls cross country programs. The boys finished third and girls fifth at the state championship last year, while placing second to Jesuit High School in the Metro League championships.

However, this season is like none other, with athletes wearing masks and no league title or championship to look forward to. This is why Sunset head cross country coach Dan Neeway says he's taking a different approach with his teams this year.

"It's not a year where we talk in terms of competitiveness because there's just not the competitive options out there," said Neeway. "We have strong runners, but our approach is different."

He added, "It's less of a head-to-head contest than it is just a friendly opportunity to see some people who aren't your teammates and run against them on the same course on the same day."

As for keeping his athletes motivated, he says they're grateful for the opportunity to practice and compete after months of not being able to. It also makes Neeway's job a bit easier when some of his runners are self-motivated and go out the door on their own.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Sunset boys and girls cross country teams in competed in and placed third and fifth at last years state championships. This year, runners have to wear masks while practicing and competing.

"We've got a close group of boys, probably 15 of them, who have been running together for the better part of the year with or without me," Neeway said.

Runners on the boys team to look out for include senior Collin Beyer, whom Neeway says "pushes everybody to be better."

Beyer has had previous strong marks and has been actively recruited by colleges, the coach noted.

Other standout seniors include Alex King, Luke Wiley and Cooper Kingsbury.

On the girls team, Neeway says sophomore Paige Wiley is a humble, fun and energetic runner. Wiley placed 24th at state last year.

"Everything that I got out of Paige was a blessing last fall," Neeway said. "She's still a novice runner. She wasn't really a runner until she came to us. Even now, she still feels really green because of the disruption of any focused or serious training over the last nine months."

Despite her novice nature, Neeway expects big gains from Wiley in terms of comparative marks and performances.

The coach has also altered the teams' training schedule. As the season continues, he says that he sees their time together as part of one large running season that includes track. That means that Neeway will be seeking out 3K runs over 5K runs for his athletes.

"Our goals are simple right now. One, we want to stay healthy, and we want to keep striving to be better today than we were yesterday or this week than we were last week," he said. "We don't know what we're running toward. We don't have a track schedule. We don't have a last meet for our cross country season on the schedule. … The other goal is trying to get better, be better."


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