EUREKA – Year 2 for Coach Chris Robinson and the reborn Eureka cross country team is here – and it looks a lot different than last season.
Wake up early and look around town when the Red Devils are training, and you'll quickly notice the progress.
Last season – EC cross country's first since 2016 – you could count the Red Devils' runners on one hand. This year, the Eureka roster has ballooned to 12.
"The thing I'm most excited about is how much the roster has increased," Robinson said. "We had five in the fall, and by the spring, that had really shrunk down to three that actually competed. This year, we're going to have, barring injury, scoring rosters for both the mens' and womens' teams.
"That's a huge improvement from last year, and it's really exciting."
Practices, Robinson said, are more vibrant. There are more excited voices in the air and a renewed sense of competition and inspiration for the returning runners.
Javy Garcia, Bryce Logsdon, Riley Reuter and Callie Aten were all a part of the co-ed squad that helped lay the foundation of the program last season and are back to set the example for the next class of EC runners.
On men's side, that group is joined by freshmen Nick Rulevish, Collin Lister, Hayden Skaggs and Bailey Morse. Freshmen Isabella Carbaja and Odessa Grove, sophomore Sophia Simonis and senior Nikki Tye are the newcomers on the women's side.
The roster features of range experience levels, from seasoned runners and competitors to enthusiastic first-timers, all working together to contribute to the team. Some are primed to compete in the first meet, while others are training to get ready to make their collegiate debuts later in the season. Both the womens' and the mens' team were picked to finish seventh in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.
On Wednesday, the Red Devils will officially open their season at the Titan Opener at Maxwell Park in Normal. The women's race will begin at 5:45 p.m., with the men's to follow. It will be the first of six meets slated for this fall – another stark difference from last year's COVID season.
"Last year, everything got moved to the spring," Robinson said. We really only had one official cross country meet. This year, we have a full slate of meets.
"We're excited. We're still young. We're still inexperienced, but we know we're still building as a team, and we aren't going to compare ourselves to those we're running against. We're going in with the mindset of 'as long as I can look at the person in the reflection in the mirror and say I'm a little bit better than I was yesterday, and I ran my best race, then I'm happy,' and that's what we're building for."
EC cross country alum Ian Cummings is also back as an assistant coach under Robinson in Year 2.
"I'm excited to be back," Cummings said. "Last year was great, but it had its challenges. Being able to come back with new additions to the team and running in the fall again makes it feel like being home, and I am happy to be a part of it."