WESTERLY — Westerly High's cross country runners are grateful to have a season in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
But they are also thankful they don't have to wear masks while they compete. Initially, RIIL restrictions required masks be worn when runners were within 6 feet of each other, but that rule has since been eliminated.
Now runners only have to wear masks before and after races.
"It would have been really, really hard. I remember my first distance training run, Tanner [Kelly] and I wore masks for the whole time and it was an 8-mile run. By the time we were two miles in, the mask was all sweaty and it was getting stuck in your nose. It was impossible," Westerly junior Jake Serra said after Saturday's Southern Division meet with Toll Gate and Rogers at the Bradford Preserve.
Serra won the race, covering the 3.1-mile distance in 17:58. Westerly defeated Rogers and Toll Gate, both by 15-50 margins.
Westerly also took the girls competition, defeating Toll Gate, 17-42, and Rogers, 15-50. Sophomore Kaya West was first in 20:29.
Kelly agreed wearing masks would have been a big hindrance, at best.
"I definitely would have hated it," Kelly said. "I probably would not have been able to come close to what I ran today."
Kelly was second in 18:02. The other Westerly scorers were Nick Cozzolino (third, 18:43), Brandon Tallardy (fourth, 19:55) and Jake Delicato (fifth, 21:06). Westerly had the first seven runners across the line.
Kelly, a senior, made sure his teammates stayed together and near the finish line while other Bulldogs were still on the course.
"I really want to build a strong team, helping each other out," Kelly said. "I really like the pack mentality."
Both Serra and Kelly have a goal of making the state meet as a team.
In the girls race, West finished six seconds ahead of teammate Maddie Lorello, who turned in a time of 21:52.
"I felt good today. I got a little tired a the end, but I thought I had a pretty good day. The wind was kind of blowing at us at the finish," West said.
Winds were a steady 15 mph, sometimes gusting to 25 or better.
West said she, too, was glad the team can compete minus masks.
"Originally, we were going to have to wear them, but they changed it and I was happy about that," she said.
West, who did not run indoor track last season but was ready for the outdoor campaign before the pandemic ended things, hopes to finish in the top 25 at the state meet.
Lorello's time of 21:52 was better than the times she ran on the course last season. Lorello had times of 23:24 and 22:17 on the Bradford course in 2019. She said the 23:24 was one of her worst runs of the season.
Lorello said increased training has helped improve her performances this season.
"I think I definitely trained more over the summer than I did last year," said Lorello, a senior. "I put in more work this year."
Lorello hopes to break to the 20-minute barrier consistently before the season ends. She did it once last season at the Brown Invitational at Goddard Park in Warwick with a 19:49.
Lorello said the trail portion of the Bradford course is the toughest challenge. The first mile of the course is run on a field before entering the wooded trails.
"I know I have to push up the hill because after the hill I only have to use energy for another half mile and then it's all down hill," Lorello said. "It helps to get ahead of the other teams before the hill."
The other Westerly scorers were Jenna Burke (third, 22:04), Anna Nyberg (fourth, 22:57) and Kailie Kennedy (sixth, 24:52).
Both Westerly teams are off until Saturday, when they host Chariho and North Kingstown.