By Jed Blackwell
Last year's altered high school cross country schedule saw several marquee events scuttled, but several have returned to this year's calendar.
Included in that list is the Eye-Opener, to be held again this season at the Milliken Arboretum course, hosted by Spartanburg High School.
Vikings coach Jack Todd (meet director) said he's pleased that the event will return, particularly for the teams and runners involved.
"It's so good for the runners to be able to run in these big meets again," Todd said. "To be able to run on first-rate courses like the one at Milliken is fantastic as well. Hopefully, it will be a good cross country season across the state."
Predictably, the Eye Opener will see some changes in procedures designed to maximize safety and minimize health risks.
"You want to keep the integrity of the competition, but to do all you can to minimize risk," Todd said. "We had early registration, which decreased our numbers to around 98 teams. We won't have an awards ceremony, because that's where people gather the most. As the top 10 in each race cross the line, we'll give them their t-shirts in the chute. We'll announce the top three teams, and coaches can come up and collect the awards afterward. Then we're doing some typical things like putting hand sanitizers around in different places, placing our portable toilets six feet apart to cut down on the lines being close together, and making constant announcements about physical distancing. The team tents will be 25 feet apart, with the teams in a bubble, somewhat. We'll minimize the times at the start lines, when the teams spend the most time so close together. We don't need them there for 10 minutes beforehand. And we'll have our volunteers with close contact in gloves and masks. We just want to make it as safe as we can for everyone."
Todd said he appreciated the efforts Milliken made to help put on a safe event as well.
"They don't have to do this," he said. "We're grateful they let us run out here, and they cut the grounds, they provide security on race morning. They've just been great to us for 20 years."
Once the races start, Todd is expecting a top-notch event.
"The International race is more competitive, but the Championship race is good as well," he said. "It's hard to say what we'll see, but it's a very good field. You know Dorman will be good. They just won the Western North Carolina Cross Country Carnival and the boys are the four-time state champions. Fort Mill is good. We're good. Wade Hampton is always good, and just won the Fight Like Wyatt Invitational. I think it's going to be really, really competitive."
More pre-meet coverage: Team entries list | Entries by individual
The last time the Eye Opener was contested, in 2019, both boys and girls meet records fell in the International races, as Greer's Coen Roberts and Science Hill's (Tenn.) Jenna Hutchins set new marks. Todd won't make bold predictions for this weekend's event, but he does point to favorable conditions.
Athletes to watch - compare athletes here
Boys: Sam Kolowith (Dreher), Elijah Poore (Walhalla), Holden Tutich (Chapin) and Jake Wadas (Wade Hampton)
"The forecast looks really, really good," he said. "The International boys race goes to the line at 8 a.m., and it looks like it might be 60 or 61 degrees. After running in the 90s recently, it's going to feel so good to them out there. I really do expect some fast times. If it rains a lot mid-week, it could slow the course a little bit. But I think they'll get it cut low, we'll get some cool temperatures, and we'll really see some good competition."
College races are scheduled for Friday night. scrunners.com will be onsite both days.