Two weeks ago, Northeast boys cross country coach Larry Rudisell decided to give his team what was essentially a bye week with no competitive races scheduled, a move designed to provide a brief respite during a grueling season.
Sometimes prolonged rest can halt a team’s momentum. Sometimes it can occur when a team needs it most.
For the Vikings, the week off could not have come at a better time considering they had faced a slew of quality teams with a threadbare lineup.
Northeast managed to survive, winning a few meets, including a perfect score to start the season, and staying within striking distance of the team title in others.
But after dealing with a host of injuries, the Vikings returned last week with an influx of healthy bodies. Those extra feet helped out with a team title at the Pirate Invitational, in which Northeast beat previously undefeated Osceola 38-41.
“I’d have to say it was the best we’ve run all year,” Rudisell said. “The week was good for us in a lot of ways, especially getting some guys back. But it wasn’t like we were kicking up our feet and relaxing. We had some pretty tough workouts mixed in during that time.”
The biggest key was the return of Justin Burns (knee) and Stephen Rudderham (hip), who were dealing with nagging injuries from soccer. Both are among the Vikings’ top five runners and gave their team the depth needed to knock off the Warriors. Northeast’s top runner, Nick Spring, had the best result, finishing third at the Pirate Invitational in 17:07.
That result has the Vikings among the teams favored to win the St. Petersburg City Championships at Crescent Lake Park on Thursday. Northeast’s biggest challenge will likely come from Shorecrest, which has won nearly every meet this season.
Initially, Chargers coach Jeff Raab thought he would be short-handed, with many of his runners opting to participate in the pre-state meet in Tallahassee this weekend. But Shorecrest decided to stick with the city meet because the pre-state meet coincides with homecoming.
“It would have been too much for us to go to the pre-state meet as a team,” Raab said. “There was so much going on this week, plus we have our Bay Conference meet (on Oct. 15). That would have been three meets to try and prepare for in a span of six days.”
After a week off to recharge mentally and physically, the Vikings hope they will be ready for the Chargers and other formidable teams — such as a rematch with Osceola at the Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet — they will face in the coming weeks.
“I think we’re coming together at the right time,” Rudisell said. “We just need to continue to stay healthy.”