Cross country teams fight illness on way to MIAA Championship meet

Fluid, fuel and rest.

That is what Hayden Smith, cross country head coach, tells his team in the midst of a season plagued by illness.

“I send that e-mail out a lot,” Smith said. “A lot more people are sick this year, and it has affected us.”

With only one more MIAA meet left in the season, the Britons have faced everything, including mono and exercise-induced asthma.

“It definitely seems like we have been missing guys at every practice and many races due to injury and illness,” said Nick Shaheen, Flint senior.   “As a team, we have been proactive in treating our injuries and illnesses to shorten the recovery time as much as possible.”

In June, Shaheen came down with mono and as a result, he could not train during the summer. In the last three weeks, Shaheen has placed in Albion’s top five, with his best time coming in at the MIAA Jamboree with a time of 27:24.

Like Shaheen, Ben Alger, Grass Lake junior, was not able to train this summer after undergoing compartment surgery. Since coming back, Alger has been one of the men’s most consistent runners according to Smith. Alger has finished in the Britons’ top two in three of the four races this season.

“We seem to be more motivated than ever, trying to pack closer together in races and even practice,” Alger said. “Collectively, we seem to have more drive than in the past.”

As a team, the Britons’ best finish came at the MIAA Jamboree, collecting 102 points to place fourth. The injuries and illnesses have allowed other runners to step up for the men’s team.

“We have been fortunate to have two good first-year runners with Deion Pruitt (Ann Arbor first-year) and Matt Melvin (Bangor first-year)” Smith said.

Pruitt ran the fastest time of any of the Britons this season. The first-year standout ran a 25:48 at the MIAA jamboree.

“I’m the lead runner for the team this year and when we are faced with challenges, I make sure I step up my performance to help push my teammates,” Pruitt said.

The men are not the only ones facing challenges.

“We have had a lot of girls suffer from exercise-induced asthma this year, and they can’t run when they can’t breath,” Smith said.

In 2008, Erica Hope, Livonia junior, was among one of the Lady Brits’ top seven, but this season Hope was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma and even had to pull out of the race at Adrian.

“It has been really frustrating, but I am trying to keep pushing through it,” Hope said. “My teammates and coaches have supported me by holding me up, telling me when I should stop pushing myself too far.”

Erika Nichols, Greenville senior, motivates Hope and the rest of her team.

“Because people can get injured quickly or be injured for a long time, one thing I try to do on a consistent basis is encourage and make light of the positives,” Nichols said.

The Lady Brits have relied heavily in Nichols in the meets. In the MIAA Jamboree meet, where the women placed sixth, Nichols’s time was 19:35, the fastest 6K in Albion College history.

Nichols and the team have discussed goals for the MIAA Championship at Adrian on Oct. 31.

“I want us to come out and run hard. It’s time that we put all of our hard work on the line,” Nichols said.

Both the men and women will face tough competitors. For the men, Calvin and Adrian are ranked in the top ten in the DIII Great Lakes cross country rankings.

“We were disappointed with our fourth place finish at the Jamboree earlier in the season,” Shaheen said. “We hope to improve our overall standing in the league.”

With the MIAA Championships less than a week away, Smith is not making any promises.

“We won’t know how we’ll finish unless we are healthy,” Smith said. “That’s the part of sports that is over looked, not everything is in our control.”

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