Running start: IHS reviving cross-country

Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 2:00 PM
Assembled outside Ignacio High School after a recent practice - and before an impending thunderstorm - is IHS' first cross-country team, boys' or girls', in decades. From left is freshman Avaleena Nanaeto, sophomore Vanessa Gonzales, head coach Marissa Duffey, junior Brianna Henderson and sophomore Jayden Brunson.

"I know we had it in 1987," wrote Ignacio Athletic Director Rocky Cundiff in an e-mail to the Times.

"Still researching, sir," he added when trying to pin down a precise year in addressing the question:

When was the last year IHS had boys' cross-country? Or girls' cross-country? Or both?

But while the "then" is still being worked out, the "now" is - or are - working out in preparation to toe the starting line Thursday, Aug. 30, in Aztec and officially revive the sport at IHS after decades of dormancy.

"I've been a teacher in the district for about a year and a half, and I had been speaking with Rocky about us trying to bring it back," said head coach Marissa Duffey, who will head up a four-runner girls' squad. Igncio runners have been on the Bayfield cross country team for the past five years, if not longer. "And it was just something we were able to do at this time; I'm really thankful about that. It's a great sport that should be offered to everyone!"

Duffey is a product of Kaneland High School in Elburn, Ill., and a 2011 graduate of Millikin University (NCAA Div. III) in Decatur, Ill., and a cross-country/track-and-field runner at both. This year she's coaching junior Brianna Henderson, sophomores Jayden Brunson and Vanessa Gonzales, and freshman Avaleena Nanaeto.

"We've been running around the school, and then over around the rec center," said Duffey, a sixth- and seventh-grade social studies teacher at Ignacio Middle School. "The first practices have been great. We're just building our base at this moment, to get comfortable with adding on mileage that we will do this season."

Asked whether or not she'd contacted established Class 2A girls' programs such as Telluride and Mancos for extra pointers in getting the reborn program off and running, Duffey said she hadn't; she opted to look closer for beneficial tips.

"I've actually spoken.with Bayfield and Josh Walton," she said. "I actually used to help him in Bayfield a few years ago as a coach for cross-country, so I went to him and said 'Do you mind helping me?' And he's been super helpful in helping me get on my feet with this."

"I just know that when I heard the team was going to get started, I was anxious to be a part of it in any way that I could. And I was lucky enough to be chosen as the coach!"

Competition at each of the seven meets (eight for any runners who qualify for State) Ignacio's slated to attend will certainly be tough for an "expansion-year" team, but Duffey knows her team's efforts will not only be seen in the present, but for future teams, as well.

"We're looking forward to continuing to grow and just have fun while we're out there," she said, "and we're committed to just having a wonderful season. "I just want people to see the positives of this sport."

"My goal continue to help this program expand over the years," she continued, "to make sure kids are excited about it every year so that the program continues to grow. Also into maybe middle school, and having it offered for anyone who wants to do it."