How strange it must feel in these strange times to be a TC3 Panther cross-country runner. While all other fall sports are on hold, the Panthers are gearing up to host their first-ever intercollegiate meet on the Dryden campus. The Tompkins-Cortland Invite will be held this Saturday (September 12th) and it will kick off a busy fall schedule that will see the Panthers compete in seven different meets, all packed very tightly together.
It says on TC3’s website, “While all teams will be able to practice during the fall semester, cross country, a non-contact sport which can compete in a manner that is in alignment with current safety protocols, will be the lone team competing for Tompkins Cortland this fall.”
While the team will indeed compete, it will do so in a revised format, and to get some clarification I reached out to Panther runner Robert Brehm. Brehm was one of the two original signees when the program was launched in the Fall of 2019, and when asked if his veteran status made him a team captain of sorts, he told me, “Yes, I am one of the leaders, and Andrew McDaniel (the other original signee) have a split role. He and I will be leading the charge.”
I asked Robert if the roster numbers have held steady, and he said, “We started last season off with six or seven runners, and we had a couple compete off and on.” He added, “You know… injuries, life…” have
This season, Brehm says, “We picked up a couple more kids,” and he talked about the preparation involved in gearing up for the first-ever Tompkins-Cortland Invite. “There is a lot of work involved in setting it up, for sure, but it is different preparing as a runner.” Asked why, he stated, “In a normal cross country conference race, all teams are competing at the same time, and you will likely have fifty to sixty runners on the course. . It can be a little tight out there. Now – due to the circumstances and the need for safety and distancing – each team will be going out at a different time and running by itself, so there will only be five to ten runners. There won’t be as much contact.”
Brehm went on to say, “As the lead runner, I will have to know the course a lot better than I would in years past, and when you’re not chasing someone it can be a little more of a challenge to find that extra motivation.”
Robert and I talked about how cross country is different than other sports, given there are no judges, and therefore no room for argument. If a diver, for example, does not like how a dive was scored, he or she might have an argument. In cross country, if you hit the tape first, you win. (Of course, there are some officials in place in some races to assure that all runners stay on course and do not take shortcuts.)
We also talked about how a Division III or a Junior College runner might be able to make the transition to a D-1 or a 4-year school. “Some runners at our level are here because they just did not have an opportunity to a Division 1 school,” Brehm offered. “It could be financial, it could be something else.” Many runners do hope to use this experience as a stepping stone, and in Robert’s case, the jury is still out, so to speak. He said, “I missed a year of baseball eligibility due to Covid, so I’ll know more after the baseball season next spring. Maybe I’ll stay and play two seasons. I’m still undecided.”
(The remaining meets will be held on September 19 and 26, October 3, 10 and culminating with the MSAC Championship and the Region III Championships, both of which will be held at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua).