The season is now upon us. Actual competition will be beginning very soon. By early December, we hope, we're crowning a new 2A Boys champion in New Mexico.
This year won't be like so many years before, however. The most important respects in which it figures to be different boil down to four. One, runners will be wearing masks. Two, coaches will be working with a maximum of nine athletes. Three, teams will run five and score four instead of the usual seven and five. And, four, some teams undoubtedly made better use of a troubled summer than others. Each of these figures to play an important role, and we'll discuss the potential impacts of each before we're done with this article.
But, since we're talking about 2A Boys here, let's start with the idea of running five and scoring four. In no other classification does this figure to make as much of a difference as it does in 2A. Where there is less depth--and that condition is axiomatic with 2A--the move from five to four scorers takes an advantage away from programs with more kids. In a sense, it levels the playing field just a little. You don't have to have as many horses to make a run at this year's state title.
Based on results of returning runners from last year, Cloudcroft, Newcomb, and Pecos figured to have the upper hand on the field coming into the season. All three returned deep teams that figured to have at least five runners going easily under 20 minutes. Removing one scorer, however, brings Navajo Pine and Academy for Tech and the Classics much closer to the fore. It's possible that Rehoboth Christian comes into view here as well.
Max Preslar of Cloudcroft still figures as the individual favorite, and probably by a good margin if his summer has gone well, but no matter how far out in front you are, you still score one point. The trajectory of Cloudcroft's fall will be more determined by how the other guys on the team did than how Preslar did over the summer.
The next point is wearing masks. I've heard from several New Mexico coaches that they have zero intention of manipulating--shall we say--this rule. And, I commend them for their integrity on this front.
That said, anyone who has been running with a mask over the summer has learned something about which masks restrict breathing more and which masks restrict breathing less--and both types of masks might be entirely legal. As an example, you really don't want a mask that seals around your lips when you breathe in--and some, not all, legal masks do exactly that.
For the record, the purpose of masks has to do with the exhaling part of breathing, not the inhaling part. Thus, there is no fault to be found in choosing a legal mask that least impedes inhaling.
There's also the issue of slippage of masks. I've run with a mask on enough over the last five months to know it's actually fairly difficult to keep the mask up over my nose for an entire 5K. Almost impossible, in fact. That's how gravity works. I'm not sure how enforcement of this rule is going to go, but I do know it makes a difference when the mask slips down below your nose.
What I can foresee is that there's a huge enforcement task facing New Mexico officials this fall.
The mask variable is one that's very difficult to predict how it's going to go in advance. And, you don't necessarily have to be trying to manipulate the rule to discover some more advantageous means of using the mask or the advantages of using one mask over another.
Before leaving the topic of masks, there's one more issue to bring up. We tend to assume masks impact everyone roughly equally. Honestly, though, I don't see any simple reason to believe that is the case. People vary in all sorts of ways on almost any measure you can think of. It stands to reason, then, that masks will be more of an impediment to some runners and less to others. We may learn a lot about that this fall--it might as well become a kind of laboratory for learning about human performance.
Coaches working with a maximum of nine athletes is another enormous issue coming home to roost. Essentially, this rule means that one coach works with boys or works with girls, but not both. Yes, there are only five boys who will be racing (at least when it comes to the crunch time of the season), but you can't fit a full boys team and a full girls team into the allotted nine.
So, many coaches--and especially many small-school coaches--who have worked with both the boys and girls teams in years gone by are going to have to choose one or the other this fall. Some of these coaches haven't even had assistant coaches in years gone by. They're going to have to now.
Let's not pretend this isn't going to impact the fortunes of many teams this fall. It's impossible to say right now exactly how this will impact which programs, but we'll see it develop as we move through the season. A great assistant coach will be more valuable this year than ever. Finding those highly effective assistant coaches figures to be more difficult among the small schools than among the larger schools.
Finally, let's talk about the question of how the last six months have gone. Like most states, New Mexico shut things down fairly tightly about the end of March. Since then, there have been all different levels of training going on, or not going on--as the case may be.
It's not a secret that I actually live and coach in Colorado. We're almost to the end of our (abbreviated) cross country season now. We've seen less parity this year than we've seen in a long, long time. It's altogether obvious which teams were getting together (as best they could) during the summer, getting work done, and which teams were not.
The same will hold true in New Mexico.
Again, probably nobody has the comprehensive sort of information needed to tell us now who the teams were that faithfully paid dues over the summer and which ones didn't, but it will become apparent soon enough.
Toward the top of this article, I mentioned six teams that have a realistic hope of being in the title hunt for 2A Boys this fall. That's a starting point, yes, but probably at least one or two of those teams--and I have no idea which ones--may have frittered away their chances by having a lackluster summer and early fall of training work. Conversely, there's probably a team or two or three further down the pecking order of performances from last year that has done an excellent job of training over the last six months. Those teams will come into the season and surprise a whole lot of folks as they go. They will become legitimate contenders--seemingly out of the blue.
But not really out of the blue. There is no magic in fall; fall only reveals how summer was spent.
It will be fascinating to watch the season develop.
An invitation: The cover photo for this article was sent in by ATC coach Tim Host. If you have a similar photo that might work for 2A Girls, please feel invited to send that to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't wait too long, as that article will be coming soon.