CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa cross country coach Dave Paulsen says the cancellation of the sport this fall is “heartbreaking.”
“It’s heartbreaking for the kids, (because) the student-athletes put so much time and effort into preparing for a season,” Paulsen said. “Not that those efforts are in vain by any means, because we still have some things to look forward to, but the excitement of having a season right at your fingertips — on the heels of not having a season in the spring — it kind of hit a little bit different, I think, for these kids.”
Paulsen — who is also the school’s track and field coach — is UNI’s only coach who has now had to endure cancellations of multiple seasons. Adding to the disappointment is the athletes who compete in track and field in the spring and cross country in the fall have now had their last two seasons canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s also unique for Paulsen and his runners is their eligibility and classifications due to competing in multiple sports.
“Coming into the year, we had a kid on the team that was a junior in cross country, a sophomore in indoor track and was a freshman in outdoor track because of the COVID-19 redshirt,” Paulsen said. “So, the eligibility component is super tricky. We’re working with our student-athletes and our academic people to try and figure out what the best moves are. Trying to figure that out is going to be a big-time challenge.”
While Paulsen awaits direction on eligibility complications, he also sees an attempt to make up the fall cross country season in the spring as a complicated task.
“Cross country could be a challenge, because we also have the indoor and outdoor track seasons,” Paulsen said. “Trying to wedge another competitive championship season in the middle of those two would be a challenge. If for some reason the indoor season would be canceled, then maybe I could see the possibility of squeezing a compact cross country season in late February, early March, through April.”
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Similar to UNI football coach Mark Farley, Paulsen complimented his team’s adherence to the COVID-19 safety protocols and being socially distant from others while off campus. The fifth-year coach also told The Gazette that he felt confident about the school’s protocols heading into the fall semester because they witnessed them work firsthand when the required daily symptoms questionnaire caught what ultimately turned out to be a positive case.
“We’ve had some student-athletes test positive, or have been exposed,” Paulsen said. “Everyone that we’ve had test positive — super mild symptoms, if any at all. I’d say probably 95 percent of everyone were asymptomatic, with maybe the other 5 percent having very, very mild symptoms.”
Whether it’s the indoor season that begins in January or the outdoor season that begins in the early spring, Paulsen is realistic about the likelihood of further cancellations and postponements as long as there isn’t a COVID-19 vaccine available.
“You can’t ignore it and pretend it’s not possible, but you have to prepare for best-case scenario,” Paulsen said. “I think outdoor track probably has the best chance of any sport to happen with the NCAA. I think it’s probably the safest as far as what you can do, other than maybe golf or tennis.”