The cars and trees zoom by the bus window as senior wrestler Matt Burgess travels on another hour long bus ride. Instead of staring out the window as time goes by, Burgess runs his plan for triumph over and over in his head preparing for any maneuver or challenge that could jeopardize a win.
Burgess takes advantage of the long bus rides that are a constant reminder of the re-alignment of athletic teams across the state.
Since 2013, VHSL school members are no longer arranged based on locality, but on program enrollment. Over the past two years, Burgess has acclimated to the switch from the central district to the 5A South conference 12.
“Different competition makes it harder,” Burgess said. “They have full teams. Petersburg did not have a full weight class.”
Burgess did not make drastic transformations in his athletic training to compensate for the conference 12 alignment. He has stuck with a ritual that has served him well since he started wrestling in 8th grade.
“[I prepare the] same way as always, work hard, practice, and don’t take any days off,” Burgess said when asked about how he has trained in response to the shifts in his meet schedule.
Though Burgess has a reliable plan to achieve his goals, the past two years have not gone by without challenges.
“Matoaca is in conference,” Burgess said. “They have a lot of state championships. They have a strong youth program, which makes them stronger for the future.”
As Burgess travels miles to each meet, he prepares mentally for matches. Burgess anticipates any action rather than preparing for the moves a particular athlete.
“Longer bus rides give us more time to prepare mentally for certain situations,” Burgess said. “If this happens, I am going to do this. You already thought about it, so you know how to react.”
For sophomore track runner Preston Ramsey, riding the bus back home in the late night makes a typical meet seem as if it is a day long affair.
When we went to regionals for cross-country in Chesapeake, it was three or four hours away, “Ramsey said. “The travel time gets rid of all the excitement because you know it’s going to be a long day.”
Different competition not only comes with adjustments in travel time, but it can also create unanticipated intensity among competitors.
.“Manchester is a superpower in track,” Ramsey said. “The conference change drives the team to work harder.”
For sophomore track runner Ross Johnson, the pros of the re-alignment outweigh the cons. Extensive travel time is a small price to pay for the rush that comes from running alongside new competition.
“[In Indoor Track Team] we still work as hard as we would in any alignment,” Johnson said. “The realignment has presented us with an opportunity to race new people.”
In the 5A South Conference 12, some teams from the Central District still remain. Matoaca still stands as a powerhouse, driving runners like Johnson to train more, run faster, and persevere through arduous races.
“The biggest challenge in the previous district was Matoaca,” Johnson said. “They were really our rivals, a team that we had not beaten in a long time.”
Virginia High School League has not complicated or altered Johnson’s pre-game regimens with the introduction of distance runners from Clover Hill, Manchester, and L.C. Bird during the mile race. For Johnson, the 5A South Conference 12 has verified that hard work mixed with a plan and confidence can produce victory against any team or at any location throughout Virginia.
“For track, I run the mile. It is my favorite race,” Johnson said. “My pre-race ritual is still the same. I just mentally prepare myself for the race and try to be confident in my ability.”