Game day preparations for most members of the Washburn girls soccer team begin long before the opening kickoff — with cross country practice as the sun rises in northern Aroostook County.
Dual practices are the norm for the Beavers, many of whom are thriving this fall both on the soccer field and cross country trails.
Washburn won the Eastern Maine Class C girls cross country championship last weekend, and on Tuesday began competing in the Eastern D soccer playoffs as the division’s No. 1 seed after completing an undefeated (13-0-1) regular season.
“Usually we have cross country practice right after school,” said Washburn sophomore Carmen Bragg. “We’ll go there first and then go right to soccer so we’re running all the time.
“Pretty much every day the practices are back to back. And on the weekends we don’t have soccer but we’re always continuing our running to prepare ourselves for these races.”
But while back-to-back workouts are the practice on days when there are no meets or matches, a game day requires an additional sacrifice for the Beavers.
“It’s really important that we run every day to keep up that endurance,” said Washburn sophomore Carsyn Koch, who will attempt to win a second straight Class C individual cross country state title Saturday at the Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland.
“So the way we do it when we have a soccer game is we usually meet at 5:30 in the morning at somebody’s house and go running before school, then we shower and get ready for school and then go to the game right after school. It’s challenging.”
Student-athletes doubling up on sports during a given season is not all that common but not rare, either.
Whether to allow a student-athlete to participate in more than one sport in a season is a local policy decision, according to Maine Principals’ Association executive director Dick Durost. It’s a practice allowed most often by small schools whose enrollments necessitate such cross-training in order to provide their students a wider array of interscholastic sports options.
Another program experiencing major success with dual-sport athletes in recent years is Bangor Christian. The Patriots’ boys soccer team is the two-time defending Class D state champion and ranked No. 1 in Eastern Maine this fall with a 14-0 record heading into Wednesday’s quarterfinal playoff match against Shead of Eastport.
Many of the key players on that team also helped Bangor Christian win its second straight Eastern C boys cross country championship last Saturday at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.
“They’re all great athletes,” said Bangor Christian cross country coach Kendall Jipson. “It makes life a little easier on the coach when you have kids who are ready to do the work, and they’re very competitive.”
The Washburn girls and Bangor Christian boys take different approaches to preparing their athletes to compete in both soccer and cross country.
While Washburn typically conducts separate practices, Bangor Christian’s dual-sport athletes do much of their cross country training within the confines of soccer practice.
“We just do soccer practice, and my dad (Bangor Christian boys soccer coach Aaron Wilcox) makes sure we get enough distance running during soccer practice,” said BC senior Bradley Wilcox, the Patriots’ career goal-scoring record holder in soccer as well as a top runner who currently is recovering from a leg injury. “I’d estimate we run about 2 1/4 miles before we even start practice, and then we have sprints at the end so we definitely get sufficient training in soccer practice. If our coach wanted any extra cross country practice I’m sure she’d let us know.”
While the Bangor Christian soccer players engage in longer-distance running at the start of practice, Jipson conducts cross country workouts with other runners who aren’t playing soccer while also maintaining a steady flow of communication with the dual-sport athletes.
Throughout the week I meet up with the soccer guys and have them run for me and get a time from them,” said Jipson. “Aaron and I are communicating all through the season, and I have great one-on-one talks with the guys as well.”
Coaches and players involved agree that the training required in one sport helps lead to success in the second sport.
“Soccer does complement cross country because the soccer games they play are almost like an inherent speed workout,” said Washburn cross country coach Michael Waugh. “It helps their leg strength and it helps fine-tune that quickness. Obviously in distance running the endurance aspect is needed, but the soccer component is also key because it helps their speed.”
While the sprinting and change of direction involved in soccer builds leg strength that is beneficial in cross country, distance running is pivotal to conditioning that can be a determining factor not only late in races, but late in soccer matches.
“As a midfielder you definitely need that long-distance training, it helps you get through the whole game, and then just transferring over to cross country it helps there, too,” said Bangor Christian junior Sam Proctor. “I think where we’re a possession team anyway we try to keep the other team chasing and that conditioning gives us the upper hand physicality wise, and in endurance and stamina. I think it really helps us out in the second half.”
Few can argue with that belief, given the Bangor Christian boys and Washburn girls’ status as regional cross country champions as well as top-seeded and unbeaten teams in soccer.
“The training kind of goes hand in hand because the endurance we need in soccer we get from cross country and the sprinting action and the ability to pass and have a good finish we get from soccer,” said Koch after the regional cross country meet. “It works out, I guess. It is tiring and it’s tough sometimes, especially when we have a soccer game day and we have to wake up at 5 to go running, that’s definitely tough.
“But we’re here and we’ve won, so we can definitely say it’s paying off.”