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Runners ready for ‘season unlike any other’

The 2020 Unicoi County High School cross country program includes, pictured from left, back row, Luke Capps, Tristan Duncan and Canaan Webb; front row, Marissa Soulier and head coach Thad Higgins. (Photo contributed by UCHS)

By Trey Williams

The coronavirus pandemic that’s swept across the country has affected cross country at Unicoi County this year.

Four runners are on the roster as they begin the final week of preparation for a season-opening run on Aug. 29 at South Holston Dam.

“We are currently trying to get the word out that we are still accepting runners for this season,” Blue Devil coach Thad Higgins said. “It’s been difficult since we haven’t had the students all together at the high school very much this year. If anyone reading would like to run, they can just call me at the high school anytime during school hours.”

A trio of runners returned from last season – junior Marissa Soulier and sophomores Canaan Webb and Tristan Duncan.

“I’m always excited to see what Marissa is going to bring to the table during a season,” Higgins said. “She had several top finishes last season and I can’t wait to see the growth she’s made this year.

“Canaan and Tristan both had great seasons last year. Canaan’s was cut a bit short by an injury, but he’s back from that and ready to pick up where he left off. Tristan began to run really competitive times at the end of the season and he’s brought that same momentum into our practices this summer.”

Freshman Luke Capps is generating optimism after an encouraging middle school run.

“We’re very happy to have Luke with us this year,” Higgins said. “He had a really successful career at the middle school and I can’t wait to watch him continue that at the high school.”

Higgins alluded to the “new normal” associated with the pandemic.

“This is going to be a season unlike any other,” Higgins said. “Our races have all added restrictions to ensure public health standards are met such as masks must be worn by all spectators, adding extra heats and limiting spectators and even team entries. We also typically run one or two races in Virginia, but they’ve postponed those races until next spring. So we won’t be able to run those this year.

“Still, we’re happy that it looks like we’ll still be able to have a season, and we can’t wait to get started competing.”

UCHS officials remind fans planning to attend races that face coverings should be worn and social distancing guidelines should be followed at all times. Temperature checks will take place upon entry.