On November 2nd, 2019, the Wisconsin high school cross country season came to a close. A select few left Wisconsin Rapids as newly crowned state champions. The remaining majority of competitors from the 107th edition of the WIAA state championships started to look ahead and set their goals for the following year.
Over the months that followed, however, those aspirations were put on hold as the COVID-19 pandemic put many aspects of high school athletics through uncharted territory. With cancellations, shifted schedules, and new season formats, some wondered whether there would be a return to the hallowed cross country ground that is the Ridges Golf Course.
Although a return to Wisconsin Rapids for a state tournament has yet to be determined, there is one certainty that has the Wisconsin high school cross country community just as eager and excited as any other year. There will indeed be a postseason, and it is finally here.
A New Tournament Schedule
The altered tournament schedule will be similar to the regional-sectional format that used to be the norm during fall competition. The 2020 version of the cross country postseason consists of each division being separated into "sub-sectionals", which will be contested on Monday, October 19th and Tuesday, October 20th. The top two teams, along with the top five individuals not on qualifying teams will advance to sectional competition. Each sectional race (which will take place on Friday-Saturday, October 23rd and 24th) will be composed of four teams and ten individuals who qualify from their two respective sub-sectionals. As has been tradition to qualify for the WIAA state meet, the top two teams and top five individuals from non-qualifying teams will move on to the final meet of the season.
Notable Division Shifts
Mixed reviews have accompanied this new postseason design. Due to the significant number of schools not competing during the fall, the WIAA was forced to redistribute remaining teams into the three divisions. This required a multitude of placement shifts. The defending Division 2 girls state champion, Shorewood, among others, has moved to Division 1. Aquinas, the two-time defending boys champion in Division 3, made the shift back into Division 2. The shifts mean top-ranked teams will compete directly for a place at sectionals and the state meet. Some also expressed concern over the logistics of having two important yet taxing competitions in the same week. As of now, the state meet location and format have yet to be announced, adding another layer of angst leading into the final stages of the season.
Perspective: A Season of Adaptation
Some predicted a cancelation of the 2020 season due to the many adjustments stemming from concerns surrounding COVID-19. The simple fact that we are moving into the championship season of cross country is a gift in itself. School personnel, coaches, parents, and athletes have made all the necessary sacrifices to make this season a reality. Those efforts have not gone unnoticed by the cross country community. We have been provided the same exciting competition that only cross country can offer. Although unorthodox and against most traditions, the changes made this year have brought with them a newly appreciated perspective on how special our sport is. As we move into the homestretch of the 2020 season, don't forget to embrace and enjoy these last weeks of the season. Before we know it, we'll be busy thinking of our goals for 2021.