by Andrew Garda

Coach Sophia Kenny — you might know her by her former name, Sophia Wallace — has actually been looking forward to the beginning grind of the cross country season.

That’s because she spent the summer planning her wedding, planning a move, studying in grad school and coaching, all at once.

“My plate for the last eight months has been extremely full but everything kind of ended in time for the season to begin. The staff was very helpful and understanding when I had to take care of something or when they had to handle something for me. I was fortunate to have individuals to support everything that I had going on at one time,” Kenny said.

After all that, throttling back to just one thing — even if it involves managing almost 130 kids — is almost a vacation.

The group of runners she has this season looks a little different from what she managed in 2016, but the underclassmen will make up for losing a few runners to graduation, the coach said.

“We gained Meghan Hessler from spring track, who did soccer last year. She’s here now, so that’s a big addition,” Kenny said. “Tildy [Ferguson] has been here a few years. She’s a leader and definitely has to take the reins to show the team what it is to work hard and what it takes to keep Montclair’s cross country squad going.”

It’s a big enough group that not everyone will race during every meet. Not even a fraction of them will, though Kenny says they are always ready.

“We have a good crew,” she said. “A lot of kids here setting their base [time] for winter and spring but ... if we need them to step in and do a 5K they’ll be ready to go and do that too.”

Invitational meets limit the number of runners a team can bring and use, so many of the dual meets have a shorter, 2-mile race that allows those who aren’t at the big races to get their times and credit for being on the cross country team.

But Kenny says kids usually don’t settle for that short run.

“What I’ve seen, when we’ve chosen different invitationals for us to go to, kids fight [for a spot],” she said. “So you get a lot of kids who say ‘I want to run well because I want to be considered for that top seven or top 14 so I can go to Holmdel [Park] or wherever the meet may be.’ So there definitely is the sprinkle of ‘not everyone gets to go’ but you have to earn a spot to go certain places. That ignites a fire under them, which is cool to see.”

The team was told to rest after the spring season but hasn’t been idle.

“After spring season was done they were given time off,” Kenny said. “Active rest and active recovery, nothing too stressful. Let your body reset. At the beginning of July, preseason training began, and the upperclassmen were running captain’s practices. Varsity had their plans of what they needed to do on their own beyond going to the captain’s practices.”

As Kenny watched her squad run around the track at Woodman Field, she said it was clear most of them had done their work as nobody really seemed to be breathing too hard.

The season kicks off on the first day of school when the team heads to Newark’s Branch Brook Park for the first meet of the season.