NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – All interscholastic sports will have to adjust to new guidelines that are intended to keep student-athletes and coaches safe this season. However, cross country has the advantage being a non-contact sport involving little equipment held entirely outdoors, which lends itself more naturally to socially distancing—particularly for runners who can easily separate themselves from the pack.

Leading the North Salem girls’ squad this year in their quest to win a fourth consecutive league title is senior Ava Jolley. Last year, Jolley took second place at the Section 1 Coaches Invitational, first place at the Westchester County Championship, first place at the Section 1 Championship, third place in the New York State Championship, and fourth place in the New York State Federation Meet.

Instead of piling expectations onto his star runner, Chris Gould, coach of the cross country team, said he told Jolley to relax and have fun.

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“Given the type of season we’re having here, I want her have a fun season. I want this to be all about fun. No pressure,” Gould said. “Last season, she was getting noticed and recruited [by colleges] pretty heavily. So, there is not really pressure about having to perform, per se.”

Joining Jolley on the girls’ side are returning sophomores Isabelle Schembri and Mia Santis. Isabella Fryer is a freshman runner worth watching, Gould said. But winning a league title will be tougher without Juliette Intrieri and Emma Litchfield, who graduated in the spring.

“With the girls, we’ve won three league titles in a row,” Gould said. “So, we certainly have a goal of hitting that fourth. We lost a couple of seniors who helped us get there.”

Gould said the boys’ side has also shown some talent, singling out sophomore Jake Greenberg and junior AJ Laquer. In total, the team boasts 15 boys and five girls, with only five upperclassmen.

“We had our first practice [Tuesday, Sept. 29],” Gould said. “We had a good, solid first practice. A good portion are younger and fairly new to the sport.”

The team must practice 10 times before competing. So, if everything goes according to plan, North Salem will be able to compete by Saturday, Oct. 10. Large meets with dozens of schools and hundreds of runners are out of the question this year, meaning most meets will be dual meets with one other school.

“I think a lot of schools are thinking about keeping all the meets within their league,” Gould said.

The exact schedule has yet to be finalized. But because North Salem has a “legit” cross country course, Gould said, he anticipates hosting many meets this fall.

“As for going to other places, we’ll have to see,” Gould said. “There is so much that has to be decided. For me, I’m just training them as if we’re going to have a relatively normal cross country season.”