Chico State runners adjusting to canceled season


Chico State Sports Information

Matt Herrera running in the 2019 season.

Cross country head coach Gary Towne instills a very simple catchphrase for his team to follow: If you aren’t taking steps forward then you are taking big steps backward.

This catchphrase seems easy to understand, but as we enter another month of COVID-19, it’s important that his athletes continue to push themselves and train.

Back in May, the CCAA made the decision to cancel all competition for the fall. On Aug. 6, the NCAA Division II Presidents’ Council canceled all fall competitions and announced the cancellation of all 2020 fall championship events.

Gary Towne and Matthew Herrera, a senior from San Bruno, recently spoke over the phone to The Orion to talk about this lost season, recruiting and the possibility of playing this season in the spring.

In early March, Towne, the head cross country coach and assistant track and field coach, was preparing for a weekend track meet when the news broke.

“It was pretty abrupt,” Towne said. “It was a real gut punch. It was difficult.”

 Matt Herrera running in the 2019 season.
Matt Herrera running in the 2019 season.

Now, Towne is trying to navigate through the offseason and keep spirits high.

“It has been a challenge,” Towne said. “I haven’t been able to see my team face-to-face. I have been working with them remotely through email and phone calls. I have been encouraging them to stay active and stay fit. In our sport, if you take time off you are losing fitness and losing progress that we are going to need once we are allowed back.”

Hererra, a track and field and cross country athlete, echoed Towne.

“It was hard to believe,” Hererra said. “Everything changed so fast. We had a meeting the day the season got cancelled and we realized the scale of the pandemic. We wanted to have our track meet that weekend, but we couldn’t.”

Towne has found a silver lining through recruiting.

“The free time has allowed for more in-depth phone calls with potential student athletes,” Towne said. “Back in the spring, I am usually focused on the season. It gave me time to communicate with juniors at the time and I got to get a jump on future recruiting.”

One of the biggest challenges that Towne has faced during this recruiting window has been physically seeing the athletes.

“We are not allowed to have official visits and that is one of the biggest parts of the recruiting process,” Towne said. “I’ve been sharing a lot of pictures and sharing links that have virtual tours of the campus. The biggest difference is not being able to facilitate these visits. It changes stuff quite a bit.”

Hererra has remained in the Chico area and tried to keep himself busy all summer.

“Thankfully I was employed all summer,” Hererra said. “That kept me busy through the summer. I have been trying to train almost every day. Thankfully we all know what it’s like to stay in shape since we have been on the team for a while. Put in the mileage and get the workouts in. The nice part of running is that you don’t need an organized practice to get the work in.”

As for a training regimen, Hererra said they try and train as if they were in a season right now.

“For a lot of our older runners, we are looking at 8-10 miles a day,” Hererra said. “We get workouts in twice a week and we do a Sunday long run. This is pretty much the same workload if we were in the season.”

Towne mentioned that most of his athletes are in Chico, though most freshmen did travel back home after the pandemic ended the season. Roughly 80% of his team is in Chico.

Towne can’t keep track of all his athletes training and said it’s pretty much on them to stay in the best shape possible. 

“I can’t ask them to share what they are doing with us,” Towne said. “They can ask me for advice on training. I’ve just been guiding those who reach out to me for help.”

In the same Aug. 6 press release, the CCAA hinted at the possibility of fall sports competing in the spring semester. The problem with the cross country team competing in the spring is that most of the runners also run track and field.

“There is potential that we could have an abbreviated season,” Towne said. “We could hopefully run it early in the year and then have the possibility of a regular track and field season.”

Hererra believes that only one season would be run during the spring.

“My guess is that we are just going to have just the track and field season in the spring and then we would get an extra year of eligibility in the fall for cross country,” Hererra said. “Everyone would then be able to have a full year of cross country and track. Of course everything would have to get better, but that is my guess.”

Whenever Chico State is given the green light, Towne and his crew hope that they can pick up right where things left off.

Matthew Wreden can be reached at [email protected] or @bymattwreden on Twitter.