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HCHS places fifth in boys, girls meets; ‘I expect big things this year,’ Vitatoe said at the start of the season

The Harlan County Cross Country team had an eventful meet on Saturday, with both the boys and girls teams placing fifth overall.

At the beginning of his season with the 2020-21 squad, HCHS Coach Ryan Vitatoe said the pandemic was having an incredible impact on cross country, noting how much of a shock it was to see so many guidelines for a sport without physical contact.

“For the most part, Coach Johnson and I have spent a lot of time talking with the team about good hygiene, wearing their mask and making good decisions away from practice. We’ve had a lot of emphasis on following guidelines, and the kids have adapted without any issues,” he said. “Honestly, they are all so happy to be back together and competing, they are willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve that opportunity.”

Vitatoe said it can be challenging for his runners to cope with the amount of guidelines at times, but with roughly 90 percent of them having already seen their spring track season canceled, Vitatoe said his team is taking every precaution seriously.

“You do not see our kids running around without masks when they are not participating in practice. They get out of their cars wearing it and they have it on anytime they are not actively participating. We treat it very seriously as we know this is a real virus, and the best way to ensure our season continues is by following the protocols in place,” he said. “Again, we know the pain of having a season canceled. It’s a horrible feeling for these kids, coaches and parents. Last spring was absolutely miserable. We had kids who statistically were among the best in the state as seniors and never had the opportunity to compete. We do not want to experience that again.”

Before the team’s first cross country meet, Vitatoe said he was expecting “big things this year,” and now that both teams placed fifth overall at the Wayne County Invitational on Saturday, goal after goal is being surpassed by Vitatoe’s dedicated bunch.

“This is the deepest we’ve been with the girls since probably 2015 and those girls were the Region Champs,” he said. “Now, I’m not predicting that for this year in any way, but I see a lot of similarities between the two teams. This group will have to work very hard if they want to match that type of accomplishment in a very tough region.

“I expect the boys to continue to compete at the level they’ve competed in the last four years. We have been very solid, and I believe we will continue that trend despite losing two good seniors from last year’s team. We are still deep, and we are very experienced. Each of the boys on this team has been varsity for three to four years. They’re battle-tested and know what it takes to be successful.”

Vitatoe said although his team has been realigned back to 2A, the experience of competing at a 3A level could be the key to their success, adding he fully believes both teams can qualify for state.

“Discipline is important to me,” he said. “A runner must be dedicated and disciplined to be successful. You have to have a different type of drive to be successful as a runner. You spend a lot of lonely time out on the road training. It’s not easy. I expect that type of discipline from my kids.

“For me, learning and accepting your role is paramount in achieving your potential. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a difference between accepting a role and limiting oneself. It’s a delicate balance Coach Johnson and I walk to urge kids to shoot for the stars while accepting they may not be the number one runner on the team day in and day out. We constantly push the idea of being a good teammate, even when you aren’t where you want to be during that particular day.”

As a counselor, Vitatoe said he is well versed in Ellis’ theory of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and how the role of self-talk plays in his teams reactions to everyday life, so it is important to him to discuss it frequently with his runners.

“When you have positive self-talk, you can expect positive results,” he said. “Honestly, it’s absolutely essential for a runner who doesn’t get the perks of timeouts, halftime or substitutions. They only have themselves to rely on throughout their competition, and self-talk is key to setting and achieving goals.”

With a determined set of coaches and perseverance to see their season to the finish line, the Wayne County Invitational is a few paces from the starting line for the HCHS Cross Country team.

Wayne County Invitational results:

Girls 5000 Meter Run

Peyton Lunsford — 22:28.03 (7)

Leah Taulbee — 24:29.60 (21)

Riley Key — 25:37.38 (31)

Summer Farley — 28:18.60 (45)

Olivia Kelly — 28:27.62 (46)

Cadance Fergeson — 28:50.48 (47)

Caitlin Rice — 29:04.04 (48)

Abby Vitatoe — 37:04.14 (62)

Boys 5000 Meter Run 

Caleb Brock — 17:29.73 (4)

Daniel Joseph — 19:34.91 (18)

Matt Yeary — 20:03.44 (24)

Lucas Epperson — 20:26.69 (33)

Cooper McHargue — 21:21.60 (43)

Austin Crain — 22:59.40 (54)

Breydy Daniels — 23:33.08 (57)

Kaden Boggs — 23:50.38 (60)

Andrew Yeary — 23:55.02 (61)

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