Runners return: SCVAL Season 1 kicks off Saturday with cross-country

For Los Altos High and the other cross-country teams in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League, this season will look like no other.

Delayed more than five months due to the pandemic, the season set to start Saturday will be considerably shorter than normal and races won’t be in the usual places.

Only four dual meets are scheduled – with hopes of adding varsity league finals in the sixth and final week – and all of them will be held on school campuses instead of at vast, scenic parks. That will make the sport “more like a mix of track and road racing, with some grass laps thrown in,” Los Altos coach Steph MacKenzie said. “But, hey, we’ll take it.”

MacKenzie is just happy to have any kind of season at all, stressing how important it is to get her athletes training and competing again.

“They have not been able to do anything for nearly a year, so everyone who came out for the team really appreciates being there and is willing to work hard,” said the coach, who didn’t make any cuts.

At 56 runners, the team is about half its usual size, MacKenzie said. She attributed that to some parents concerned with COVID-19 not wanting their kids running in groups and other kids choosing a sport like swimming, which has been moved to the same season.

“In my mind, I had 60 as the maximum number I could manage safely, so it just worked out perfectly,” the coach added.

The numbers may be down, but the team is not. MacKenzie said the boys and girls squads are “looking very strong.”

She called the girls team “the strongest and deepest I’ve had in years.” Lauren Soobrian leads the pack, coming off a season in which she was the fastest freshman girl at the state championships. The coach also expects big things from fellow sophomore Fiona Bodkin, junior Riley Capuano and freshmen Sasha Anderson and Maddy Randall.

Standouts on the boys team include seniors Kevin Andrews and brothers Hans and Niels Holst, along with sophomores Boden Sirey and Joseph Falkenburg, according to MacKenzie. Andrews, Sirey and Hans Holst all set personal records at state in 2019.

The Eagles first meet is set for Saturday at Los Altos. The Eagles will race against rival Mountain View in the afternoon. The 12 other schools in the SCVAL also will run at Los Altos that day – in waves of 14-20 athletes as well – but only two schools at a time for safety reasons. After all the teams have run, MacKenzie said they will compare times and score the meet as if they all raced head-to-head.

The league is requiring runners to wear a mask at the start of the race and as soon as they finish the course, but they are allowed to pull it down during the race.

MacKenzie said she hopes the varsity league finals can be held at Crystal Springs at the end of March, but parks are not issuing permits for group gatherings at this time.

Spectators will not be allowed at any of the meets while the county is in the “widespread” (purple) tier.

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