The Keene boys cross country team, from left: freshman Ian Cardinale, junior Jonathan Hills, junior Silas Johnson, junior Torin Kindopp and senior Marty Nelligan.

As runners up at the NHIAA Division I state meet for the last two years, the Keene High boys cross country team had high expectations for 2020.

Juniors Torin Kindopp, Jonathan Hills and Silas Johnson led the Blackbirds on the course this fall.

But their 2020 season came to an abrupt end just a few days before the state meet, when the school board determined that it would be unsafe to compete in the race.

Going into the season, the team knew it would be a year like no other. They didn’t know they were even going to have a season at all until Aug. 19, when it was announced that, with the proper precautions, the cross country team could begin their workouts. That’s about six months after the preseason normally begins. And even when the preseason began, details about the season itself were still up in the air.

“Everything from Aug. 19 forward was uncertain — what protocols were going to be added, the schedule was in transition,” said Keene head coach David Goldsmith.

Eventually, they figured out a season. Short? Yup. Limited? Yup. Any of the all-important invitationals? Nope. But a season, nonetheless.

“I’m grateful we had a season at all,” said Hills, Keene’s No. 2 runner. “I’m grateful we had a chance to compete against different schools. But it’s a little disappointing that we didn’t get to … finish our season out, especially with the short notice.”

Any time a team misses out on the postseason, the big question emerges: What would’ve happened if they had been able to compete?

“I linger on that because (the DI championship) was really our focus for the entire season,” Goldsmith said. “Torin, who had a time last year that would’ve put him only a few seconds behind the winner this year — it was my perception that he was going to be running for a championship.

“Jonathan and Silas had progressed considerably, so it would’ve been a good opportunity for them to see how their progress had been made,” Goldsmith said.

Through all the disappointment and frustration of missing the opportunity to compete at states, there was a sense of understanding of the school board’s decision. Although the NHIAA had set up protocols to safely run the race, the school board had set their rules and they were sticking to them.

“I understand their desire to keep everyone safe … but there are things that were done that I think were very realistic to allow a very safe situation,” Goldsmith said.

“Better to be safe than sorry, I suppose,” Kindopp said. “But all in all, I feel like we missed out on a chance that wasn’t too much of a risk.”

Keene athletic director Mike Atkins delivered the news to the team after practice just three days before they were scheduled to run in the state meet.

“We went off on our warmups, and we all immediately started talking about states,” Kindopp said, describing the day the team heard the news. “Throughout the first mile, we were all happy and laughing, just like a normal warmup, and then we get to the second mile — we do two-mile warmups — and then I noticed another person over talking to the coaches. I didn’t think much of it. But as soon as we … got back, I could see all three coaches were looking at us.

“It just felt off, especially with (the coaches),” Kindopp added. “It looked like they were just staring at us. And as soon as I saw that, the first thing that popped in my head was that we weren’t going.”

And sure enough, that’s when they got the news.

“We all knew it was potentially going to happen, so none of us were really surprised,” Johnson said. “We were bummed; everyone was quiet — the rest of practice was quiet — but we, at least I, didn’t know what to do. Like, ‘Why am I even running right now?’ because there was nothing to train for.”

“We went for a run afterwards,” Hills said. “And it was just kind of hard to grasp because we had gotten a whole season in at that point and were hoping to have states. All of a sudden it happened. Hard to wrap our minds around.”

It was a silent run, Kindopp said. Something he had never been part of before.

“We all just were thinking while working. It was a unique experience,” Kindopp said. “We were doing a sub-six pace on a seven-miler. It’s not something we usually do, but we were just trying to get our frustrations out.”

Immediately the focus turned to the future. The silver lining — if there is one — is that Kindopp, Hills and Johnson will all be back next year to compete.

“It’s motivation to push harder … for next year,” Hills said. “I want to come back stronger, faster next year and have the opportunity to challenge for a state title.

“We’re a strong team and I think we can come back stronger,” Hills added.

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.