West Cross Country Wins First Race of the Season

West High’s Boys’ Cross Country athletes gather on the track of Fred Peterson Football Stadium on the morning of February 20, listening as Coach Druten speaks. Masked and distanced, the team prepares for their first race against El Segundo High, kicking off the 2021 season.

Art/Photo by West High Cross Country

West High’s Boys’ Cross Country athletes gather on the track of Fred Peterson Football Stadium on the morning of February 20, listening as Coach Druten speaks. Masked and distanced, the team prepares for their first race against El Segundo High, kicking off the 2021 season.

Lauren Ng, Staff Writer

   As cheering spectators lined up on Del Amo Boulevard, West High’s Cross Country teams ran three miles to victory at their first Pioneer League meet of the school year. On Saturday, February 20, West athletes competed on home soil against El Segundo High School: the first race after a 340-day hiatus. West came out on top for all three events – a triumphant start following a difficult pre-season.

   The journey towards the first race has been long and winding for West’s Cross Country (XC) community. Mr. Druten, West High’s Athletic Director and Boys’ Cross Country coach, referred back to March 13, 2020 – the initial school shutdown, which included all sporting activities. “We really didn’t know what to do. There was a big learning curve, and we didn’t have all of our summer to practice like we normally do,” Mr. Druten recalled.

   Starting in September, cross country was allowed to begin athletic conditioning on campus. However, official races were cancelled three times in the past year in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Mr. Druten expressed his view through an analogy: “It would be like getting ready to go on a date, and your date not showing up three times in a row… it’s hard to… ‘get dressed’ the fourth time.”

   Additionally, teams have downsized, since pandemic safety has been a concern for some. “We have a lot of kids that want to run, but at this time, they just don’t feel like it’s safe to run, and I totally respect that decision,” Mr. Druten acknowledged.

   For athletes active in the 2021 season, races remain a priority. Mr. Druten explained that “[races] are our exams. We study, we practice… we get to prove what we’ve learned during these races.” In the past year, this opportunity has been fleeting. “I can’t tell you how excited we are,” Mr. Druten said two days prior to Saturday’s race. “I don’t care what the score is… if kids look like they’re having fun, then we win.”

   However, both the scoreboard and athletes’ experiences indicate that the race was a win-win. 

   A lower amount of points translates to quicker finishing times: the combined West Girls’ team (both JV and Varsity) won 24-34, and the Boys’ Varsity race ended with a victory for West of 18-45. West’s Boys’ Junior Varsity team won 15-50, earning a perfect score. Frank Wong (10) placed 6th out of the 32 Boys’ JV athletes. However, he was just one of West’s many high-scoring runners in this event; in fact, the first 16 finishers were all from West. “Coach [Druten] says that for all the years he’s been coaching he’s never lost a league meet, and we didn’t start today,” Wong shared after the race. 

   While the team scored as high as possible, the journey leading up to the meet was not always in good spirits. Wong admitted that “having to wait 11 months for our next race has been hard motivational-wise for the entire team. If you ask any cross country runner what the hardest part of running without the team is, most of them will say it’s getting out the door and having the motivation to get a run in.” 

   Sophia Rabang (10), an athlete on West’s Girls’ Junior Varsity XC team, faced similar challenges. “I was actually considering quitting cross country because I was losing hope [in] having a season. As February rolled in and we [were] promised a season I was so happy, I kept running,” she said. 

   The prospect of a race served as a glimmer of hope and incentive for some athletes to push forward. For Wong, the aspect of competition was a driving force. He was “determined to not get beat by any runner from the opposing school,” which he achieved. As a whole, “there were a lot of PRs [personal records] all around,” Wong added.

   After the race, Rabang felt worried for safety. “Since the finish line was quite small I was scared of getting close to the other team since we all are breathing heavily and trying to catch our breath,” she explained. But despite feeling “terrified, really anxious and honestly ready to throw up” beforehand, she placed 7th out of the 31 runners in her event. Rabang is proud of both herself and all of her fellow teammates: “We race together as a runner, as a team… I hope it stays like that.”