The Georgia men’s cross country team receives a pre-race pep talk from distance coach Patrick Cunniff. UGA hosted its first and only home meet of the season, the Bulldog Invitational, in Athens, Georgia on Aug 31, 2019. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean)

The Georgia cross country team is returning to competition this fall after a long and unprecedented absence. With their schedule being released, the Bulldogs look to overcome the challenges this year brought and have another strong season.

Georgia’s first challenge came when the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships were canceled in mid-March due to COVID-19. With the cancellation, sadness and disappointment were high among the team.

“It was frustrating,” sophomore runner Wesley John said. “We were all really ready to bust out a lot of new fast times.”

But they were able to maintain a positive attitude through those tough times. As events were canceled and the world was put on hold, the Bulldogs did what they could to stay encouraged.

“[There were] definitely some low points, but I think everybody was able to look to cross country when all else failed,” fifth year runner Jack Bradley said. “[We] were able to stay positive enough to keep some momentum going even when it seemed the most bleak.”

This attitude and mindset gave all these runners the opportunity and drive to have a good summer of running. According to multiple members of the team, the summer was a great, yet different, time of training.

While it was a beneficial summer of training and hard work for the team, there have been some unprecedented changes over the past several months. John and his fellow teammates talked about training alone, and were happy to get back to semi-team training

“It was kind of a relief to be able to work with our teammates,” John said. “We're not gonna take any of it for granted.”

Even when returning to school and working in a team atmosphere, there were still many social distancing guidelines that made it a challenging experience for the team. The Bulldogs are so used to working and running together that it is a very strange feeling for many of the athletes to be separated.

“This is a whole different world,” head coach Patrick Cunniff said. “Instead of having snacks or having a team breakfast or anything like that... We’re immediately trying to space out and stay away from each other.”

But despite all these challenges, Bradley has been impressed with his teammates’ resilience and he said this has been the most fit the team has been in his five years in the program.

Regardless of inclement weather causing the cancellation of the first and only home meet of the season, the Bulldog Invitational, the two other regular season meets quickly approach. The team is confident and prepared, with Cunniff saying that he believes a lot of runners are going to “really surprise some people."

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