ERIC NEWMAN Sun Sports Editor
There’s a lot of change happening for the Northland Preparatory Academy Spartans cross country program.
Hopefully that’s a positive thing.
The Spartans, who finished second in the Division IV state championship on the girls side and sixth in the boys competition last season, have a new coach in Xavier Rodriguez and a mostly new roster for both squads.
Rodriguez took over earlier in the offseason, after assisting on the track and field team in the spring. He’s spent many years as a personal coach for athletes, but this is his first opportunity to lead in the head role for a full squad.
“Having my own team now is a lot of fun, because I get to be more hands-on with the schedule, where we race, training and everything. It’s a cool new opportunity,” he said.
The Spartans, a successful team in their division, are revamping their rosters due to graduation. Meg Moyer, last year’s fastest runner on the girls team, finished 10th individually as a junior in last year’s state championship. She returns for her senior year, but many of her top-scoring teammates graduated.
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Similarly, the top three boys scoring-wise graduated on the boys team. Declan Norris, an incoming senior who finished 29th individually last year, is back as the team leader.
But despite the program’s overall youth, Rodriguez believes there is plenty of talent that can help the Spartans compete at a high level again. Much of that belief stems from a slew of athletes who are running distance for the first time after competing under him on the spring track and field team.
“I think we’ve got some really good carryover from the track. So even though we’ve got a lot of new runners for cross country, I know a lot of kids from there. There’s a lot of momentum from the spring to now,” Rodriguez said.
One of those runners, who the team hopes can earn solid scores immediately, is incoming senior Miyah Weiss.
“I was more on the sprinting side in track, and coach helped me make the transition to distance,” she said. “Now I’m really falling in love with it. It’s peaceful and it’s a nice outlet for me in my life and that I will be able to compete in.”
The Spartans have trained for about the past eight weeks in the summer, with around 20 combined athletes making some or all of the team’s practices. Though many of them are new, Norris said he has seen rapid improvement, especially from the novice distance runners.
“This summer they’ve definitely gotten faster. We’ve practiced a lot, and everyone’s enjoying the community of this team,” he said.
Weiss echoed the sentiment.
“There’s some people who are jumping in and fitting right in. You can tell when someone’s comfortable with it, and you can tell that it’s where they want to be,” she said.
Rodriguez said many of his athletes are already running at the same clip they reached on the track in the spring even though it’s just mid-summer. If the group can keep getting better as the offseason winds down, there’s a lot to be excited about.
There are still some nerves, as the team has yet to face true competition and will not do so until the first race of the season. Along the same line, though, there is a high level of anticipation for the Spartans to figure out what type of team they can be with the new squad.
“I think we’ve seen how we’re doing now, but we’re excited to see what the races are like, see how we stack up against some of these other teams and what level we’re all at,” Weiss said.
Northland Prep opens its season on Sept. 3 at the Peaks Invitational in Flagstaff.