With the Southland Conference’s decision to postpone fall semester sports this year in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, teams at Nicholls State University are remaining hopeful for the opportunity to compete in the spring.
We’ll be taking you inside the Colonels’ fall sports programs as they look for the silver living in their newfound extra months of training and preparation.
Check out part one, featuring the Nicholls volleyball program, here.
Cross Country | Head Coach: Stefanie Slekis
Entering her fourth season as head coach of the Colonels’ cross country and track and field programs, Stefanie Slekis is putting a specific emphasis on the word “postponement” in light of the SLC’s decision.
“We keep emphasizing that it’s not cancelled, it’s postponed. I think that those two words have a very different meaning. All of our high school seniors dealt with the cancellation of their outdoor track and field season, and obviously all of our collegiate athletes had to deal with the cancellation last spring,” Slekis said. “I think that’s kind of the hope that our group is kind of staying positive through. It’s that this isn’t a cancellation, it’s a postponement.”
Nicholls’ track and field programs competed in their 2020 indoor season, which lasted from January through early March. However, the suspension of spring sports halted the 2020 outdoor season, which was set to begin on March 14.
Despite the setback, Slekis and her men’s and women’s teams are focusing on the positive side of the situation, which is an entire fall to train and prepare younger runners for the season.
Since her teams participate in a fall, winter and spring sport each year between cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field, Slekis said her message to her athletes has been clear following the SLC’s decision: we’re going to be racing in some capacity, so let’s get ready to race.
“[We’re] highlighting for our group why it can be better to have a whole fall to train,” Slekis said. “I think it’s almost like a sigh of relief to think, ‘Oh, I have three moths to train at a collegiate level before I go race an 8K,’ as opposed to rushing in and racing your first 8K within six weeks of being on campus.”
As a member of the NCAA Cross Country Executive Committee, Slekis said she and her athletes take peace in knowing that their program will likely get to be part of discussions surrounding what the fall might look like for cross country teams.
“I think that we will get to give some feedback to the sports committee. We’ll get to kind of be in the loop a little bit on what it might look like,” Slekis said. “I think our athletes will know that I’m getting to be part of that process and kind of seeing how it plays out and that it won’t just be sprung on us the next day of what [the season] might look like.”
Slekis said there is a chance the cross country season could run adjacent to the track and field seasons, which would require creativity in determining what to do with, for example, track and field distance runners who also run cross country.
In professional running, Slekis said, it is not unlikely for distance runners to compete in both track competitions and cross country competitions in the same season. Unlike collegiate sports where cross country takes place in the fall, professional cross country is a winter sport.
“Professional runners, you’ll sometimes see…maybe they’ll run a fast indoor 5K and then go run the U.S. Cross Country Championships that are in February to qualify for the world cross meet, which is in March, and then they’re back racing outdoor track right after that,” Slekis said.
Slekis said she expects to see a deeper bond form among her athletes this fall. Over the summer, the teams participated in group Zoom calls, which included appearances from professional runners, but she said being back on campus together is the most exciting part of it all.
When the Colonels resume competition in the spring, Slekis said she expects fans to see a more competitive team–one that she describes as the program’s “best team yet.”
“I’m really excited about the young people we added to our team and also the growth that the upperclassmen have, so I think that we’re ready and excited to be really competitive in the conference this year, “That’s where I think we’re focusing on the positive of having this whole big fall…We’re getting to be in training and supporting each other and having ourselves in the best possible shape for the spring.”