Moriarty High School’s cross country team spent the past several months running. With their Covid-delayed season lodged in limbo, runners showed up once a week wearing masks and social distancing—as per New Mexico Activities Association requirements.

They ran laps on the track around the Pintos’ football field and hoofed it up and down the roads near the campus.

Now, with the state giving the green light for high school sports to resume, cross country meets will be among the first competitions out of the gate, and Moriarty’s team could not be more stoked about running competitively for the first time in 15 months.

“I’m definitely happy that we get to compete again,” said Moriarty freshman Evalinn Volk, who ran for the Pintos in 2019 as an eighth-grader. “That’s the whole reason I do cross country, so I can compete.”

“To come out and run and get in a zone and forget about everything is just an amazing feeling,” junior David Vaquera said.

“It’s exciting,” sophomore Kaisa-Tinuviel Baca added. “Ever since the beginning of this school year, even when we were online, in like the fall of 2020, we’ve been running and keeping in shape and it kinda seemed like we were never gonna get a season, but now that we’re actually getting a season, it’s nice cuz all of our work that we’ve been doing is gonna pay off.”

And that payoff can largely be attributed to the team’s new head coach, Nicholas Arellano.

Arellano, a 23-year-old who graduated from Moriarty in 2015, was an assistant with the school’s cross country team for three years. When the former head coach, Tommy Negrete, and the other assistant coach, Loren Riblett, both stepped down in early October, Arellano offered to step up and keep the team moving forward.

A few weeks ago Moriarty named Arellano as its head cross country coach.

“He’s from the school and he really wants to be here,” Moriarty athletic director Joe Anaya said about Arellano. “He doesn’t just want to be any head coach, he wants to be our head cross country coach—that’s a great attribute.”

Aside from taking a hiatus for the holidays and pausing for the first two weeks in January for the state’s mandatory district-wide surveillance testing, Arellano has been orchestrating weekly workouts for Moriarty’s distance runners since Negrete’s and Riblett’s departures.

Arellano said he is very humbled to be given the opportunity to take the helm. It is his first-ever high school head-coaching gig.

“I did run for this program and it’s nice to give back to the community that I came from,” Arellano said. “I’ve been invested with the program and it’s nice to know I have an opportunity to build a program and hopefully see the success and growth of each of these kids.”

Arellano said he is encouraged by the runners, who have been showing up regularly and putting in the work.

“They’ve been staying focused since the beginning with coach Negrete and Riblett,” Arellano said of the runners who started working out last summer with the former coaches. “And even in the transition they’re still dedicated, which has been nice and that’s all I can ask for right now.”

Both Baca and Volk had high praise for their new rookie skipper.

“I think he’s a great coach and he supports us, and he has our best interests at heart, so I think he’s really awesome,” Baca said.

“He’s definitely a lot more supportive, and being a younger coach, he gets us more on a personal level which is really nice, he understands us a little bit more and what we’re going through,” Volk said.

Moriarty will start official practices on Feb. 22, and with the help of new assistant coach Tristen Bonacci, Arellano will have the team practicing five days a week doing six-mile runs, speed workouts, and two-mile time trials.

“The biggest thing will be keeping them focused and helping them understand that this is going to be a unique season, and we have to game-plan it as best as possible to make sure that they’re safe and to make sure the season can continue,” Arellano said.