Winthrop High School sophomore Sage Fortin, left, junior Olivia Vance, center, and senior Madison Forgue run along the trail behind the high school during cross country practice on Wednesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

WINTHROP — The Winthrop girls cross country team is coming off a strong season in 2019, with a first-place finish in the Mountain Valley Conference meet and a fourth-place finish in the Class C state championship meet.

One year later, the Ramblers won’t be entering meets as team, with only three runners this season in senior Madison Forgue, junior Oliva Vance and sophomore Sage Fortin. They need a minimum of five runners to score as a team.

Last year, the team also had seniors Maya Deming, Alexis Emery and Jillian Schmelzer.

The mentality for the three returning girls hasn’t changed — they still want do well in the meets they do run in this shortened season.

“It’s definitely different, having a team of three, going from winning MVCs to, as Maddy said, now only being able to individually place,” Fortin said. “But I think we have personal goals, each of us do, to place individually.”

It’s the first time in the nine seasons of Ed Van Tassel’s tenure as head coach of the cross country program that a team will be just running as individuals at meets.

Van Tassel hopes this season is just an aberration with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s not something I want to get used to and it’s not an expectation of this program,” Van Tassel said. “I feel like this year has been a little different. There have been seasons where we had a thin roster and kind of teetering (to not having enough runners to score as a team), but we were always walking the (school) hallways and get a couple other kids to come out. I feel very uncomfortable doing that this year because I am not sure where every kid is as far as COVID and the risks. Do they want to be interacting with other schools? Do they want to be interacting with us as a team? I am very hesitant to do that, so numbers are down this year.”

The girls were hoping a couple other girls would show up so they can post a team score.

“We were definitely hoping to get some newcomers, but I am totally fine with the three of us,” Forgue said. “I love my teammates dearly, so we are going to roll with it.”

Winthrop High School junior Olivia Vance, left, senior Madison Forgue, center, and sophomore Sage Fortin gather for cross country practice at the high school on Wednesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Both Fortin and Vance believe having Forgue on the team as a senior is important.

“I think Olivia and I are both happy to have Maddy to run again with her for her senior year,” Fortin said. “We are grateful for a season. Maddy is a great leader and she sets examples well and she pushes us the best we can every practice.”

Individually last year, Forgue finished 12th in the Class C state meet, an eighth-place finish in the Class C South regional meet and a fifth-place finish at the MVC Championship. Fortin finished 26th in the state championship meet, a 16th-place finish in the Class C South regional meet and a 12th-place finish at the MVC meet.

Right now, the regional meets and state meets dates have yet to be determined.

Van Tassel believes Vance is set to break out this season after her 34th-place finish at the MVC meet, a 51st-place finish at the Class C South regional final and a 75th-place showing at the Class C state championship.

“Madison and Sage are kind of leading the pack at this point,” Van Tassel said. “Olivia is in a situation where she was our sixth, seventh runner last year and under normal circumstances she would be primed for a breakout year. They are good friends, they are hard workers, they are supportive of each other, which are all things we want to make keystones of our program.”

Vance said the practices are different this year, as the team usually has running partners. Last year, Forgue and Fortin ran similar times while Vance is a few minutes behind. The time disparity has pushed Vance to close the gap.

“I think it is. I don’t know if they think it’s different, but I think it’s different because since I am usually in the back, I will run by myself at the end of the run,” Vance said. “I am usually with them the whole time until the end. It’s definitely different than having a running buddy.”

At the end of the day, the team is just happy that they can run competitively this fall.

“I will say this whole year has been strange, everything feels different and is different,” Van Tassel said. “I am going to sound like a broken record, we are happy to have a season, we are happy to be training, we are going to have a chance to compete and we are going to focus on that as opposed to some of the opportunities we might be missing.”

Winthrop High School senior Madison Forgue, left, junior Olivia Vance, center, and sophomore Sage Fortin run along the trail behind the high school during cross country practice on Wednesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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