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Varsity cross country works to overcome challenges of individual sport, prioritizes connection

The varsity cross country team stands together after their first league meet. The team competed in the Westside 2 Mile and came in fifth place Sept. 5. Photo provided by Kim Smith.

Across the 12 sports Archer offers, six are individual: equestrian, swimming, tennis, track and field, surfing and cross country. This year’s varsity cross country team placed fifth overall in their first meet, second place in their meet Sept. 7, first overall Sept. 21 and ninth overall Sept. 23. Their most recent meet took place Sept. 29. They have eight meets in total this season and will have three additional ones if they qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation.

The Baylor College of Medicine found that athletes who play team sports learn cooperation, collaboration and empathy, while those who play individual sports improve their autonomy, resilience and ability to reach personal goals.

According to “How Athletes Can Maintain Good Mental Health” by Trine University, unlike team sports, individual sports can lack connection between peers, which can lead to increasing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Archer’s varsity cross country captains said they strive to make their sport feel less individual and combat the downsides that come with individual sports. Junior Gabriella Specchierla said her favorite part of cross country is the supportive team environment the captains cultivate.

“There are only two seniors this year, but I think they both offer a unique perspective. And they’re both different, but they both work really well together,” Specchierla said. “Chloe is really good at pushing the team and making sure we’re giving our best effort, and they’re both super enthusiastic and energetic. And then Kayla is a very kind person, is there to support the team. They work really well together and make sure that we’re connected.”

Co-captain Kayla Bruce said because they started cross country for the first time their sophomore year, their experience has been unique. For every meet, Bruce said, mindset is crucial.

“I just know I’m running for myself, and my goal is to do as best as I can every time. It’s certainly a challenge, but I think once everyone is finished with the race, we’re all there to cheer each other up, or cheer each other on to the finish line,” Bruce said. “But for me, individually, I set my intention, saying to myself how specifically I really want to improve from the last time I ran.”

The team practices practices Monday through Friday. They train by running terrains such as Brentwood Country Club, beach run, UCLA campus or around the neighborhood. Bruce said the team focuses on creating a steady, achievable pace by prioritizing endurance over speed.

“Normally, practices should be harder than the actual meet so you can be overprepared. My goals for myself are to not stop running no matter how hard it is and to maintain a steady pace where I can not be super exhausted, but keep going,” Kayla Bruce said. “Normally, that means a slower pace, but when it comes to going incline, you get momentum when you go down, which makes it easier to continue.”

Senior and co-captain Chloe Hayden has been on the Archer cross country team for two years. She said that running is a challenging sport, and she feels accomplished after finishing her daily mileage.

“I just keep saying, keep going, keep pushing. It’s a lot of understanding that. Afterward, if you stick with it, you’ll feel so much more satisfied, and you’ll feel much more enjoyment if you did complete your goals,” Hayden said. “Again, I think the mental part just comes with the team. Trying to create that connection makes it a lot more fun because you’re all in it together.” 

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Sydney Tilles
Sydney Tilles, Senior Reporter
Sydney Tilles joined the Oracle as a staff reporter in 2022 and became a senior reporter in 2023. She is on the Archer tennis team and dance company. She loves learning about current events, participating in service learning and activism. She has a passion for government, politics, and social justice.

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