At about 2:05 this afternoon, during the 5 minute passing period between the penultimate and final classes of the day, I did a quick check of the hourly forecast on Weather.Com and read that the chance of thunderstorms at 5:00 PM was 95%. I glanced forlornly out my classroom window, and the skies seemed to confirm the prediction. I’d had this date penciled on my calendar for months, was greatly anticipating the challenge of competing in a dual meet against my alma mater York, nearly a year to the day they’d frustrated our best effort yet to defeat them in a head to head matchup. In ten years of coaching cross country, I cannot recall a single instance of a meet having to be cancelled due to inclement weather. It struck me as cruel and unfair that mother nature appeared ready to wreak havoc on our plans.
As my 10th period African American History class started, I pushed the weather reports out of my mind and focused instead on communicating to my students the importance of the 15th amendment. While we discussed the constitutionality of various state voting laws, the string of thunderstorms moving in across the Great Plains continued on their course towards the Chicagoland area. Outside, the clouds remained impassive, giving no indication of what might be in store.
The bell rang, and my students filtered out of my classroom. I grabbed my backpack and water bottle, and rushed down to the coach’s locker room to touch base with Coach Westhphal on contingency plans in the event of a storm. We decided to combine the Varsity and Sophomore races as a way to finish the meet quicker. The weather seemed to be holding, so we carried on with our premeet preparations, handing out name cards to our athletes – then hustling over to KLM to plant flags and build the finisher’s shoot.
I arrived before Coach Kupres and Westhphal (they arrived a short while later in a golf cart loaded down with stakes, tarps, and spray paint) and so decided to take a lap in order to run off some nervous energy. About 1200 meters in, I rounded the racquetball courts and noticed the unmistakable figure of Dyestat’s Mike Newman walking towards the starting line. I took that as a good omen – I know Mike does not live close, so for him to have travelled to be at the meet he must have calculated that we had a good chance of getting the races in.
Other fans, too, began to arrive. A very light drizzle could be felt, but my stress began to alleviate as it appeared likelier we’d be able to run after all. As the first of York’s three busses pulled up, the anxiety of not being able to race gave way to more the more recognizable feeling of adrenaline that pumps out when preparing to do battle against a respected competitor. I met York’s Assistant Coach Matt Mimlitz, and we agreed on a 5:00 PM start time for the combined varsity/sophomore race. Though the computer had told me that there was a 95% likelihood of storms at that time, this also meant that there was a 5% chance there would not be. As it turned out, it was our lucky day.
Flashing back to a year ago, we had not had as much luck. As I recall, last year’s meet against York was also held on a day when storms were predicted, and we’d run the Varsity race first. At that point in the season, York was ranked 1st while we were ranked 2nd. We’d also made a decision to hold out Billy Magnesen, our top runner, due to knee pain he’d been experiencing the week previous. The meet was in Elmhurst, and we were running against the defending state champions. We, at that point, were the underdogs – the upstart team from Hinsdale that did not have any prior history among the state’s elite going up against the most storied program in Illinois history. We fell short that day, as we would again three weeks later at Conference. Yet in the end, those losses achieved a greater significance, part of the narrative arc in a season that ended with us hoisting up our first ever state championship trophy.
The scene this afternoon was, in some ways, quite different: the roles somewhat reversed with us playing the role of host – and York in the unfamiliar role of underdog. In other ways, though, there were some important parallels to last year. Like then, I had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Newton before the race, and he was gracious and complimentary. Like then, the Magnesen family came to support the team, even with Billy not running. It made me happy to see them. It helped cement the feeling that this race would in some small way serve as a coda to last season.
What I will say of the race is simply this: for the first time in my coaching career, and probably the first time in several decades, Hinsdale Central defeated York at the Varsity level in a dual meet. Tempering any enthusiasm about this fact was the reality that our reliable and gutsy junior Nathan Hill took a nasty spill crossing the creek jump on his first loop. He’d been with the lead pack, but twisted an ankle on a rock not visible beneath the murky water. By halfway through the race, he was conspicuous by his absence. I did not know yet what had happened to him, but knew it couldn’t be good, as Nathan is too tough a competitor to bow out under any but extraordinary circumstances.
Such is the strength of our team that we managed fine without him. Blake Evertsen and Chris Brenk fended off a spirited effort by freshman sensation Charlie Kern Jr. to finish first and second in the race, while Matt McBrien, Josh Feldman, and Griffin Gartner finished 4th-6th, all besting York’s Matt Plowman, an all-state track athlete with a 4:09 1600 PR. Our split was 19 seconds, which is better than we ran at Hornet-Red. Griffin Gartner has officially arrived, and his emergence could not come at a better time – as he now gives us insurance in the event, as of today, that one of our varsity guys faces trouble.
Final score: HC-18, York 39. No time to rest on our laurels. LT awaits us in a week – and they will play hosts, relishing the opportunity to knock us down a peg.
And in case anyone thinks York’s best days are behind, an examination of the freshman results should dispel that misconception. In addition to Kern’s incredibly impressive time of 15:11 in the Varsity race, the Dukes took the first 5 spots in the freshman race. For us, Neil Cumberland ran a lifetime best of 10:29 to finish 6th overall as our top runner, while Adam Jaber made his high school debut finishing as our 2nd man and 7th overall in 10:35. Sean O’Connell was next, finishing 8th in 10:37, and then Colin Yandel (11:17) and Kiril Kuzmonovski (11:19) rounded out our top five. While York defeated us handily, we can take some solace in the fact that 14 of our 17 freshman ran lifetime bests. It is also worth considering that this year’s seniors fared no better against the Dukes when they were 9th graders – yet through hard work, commitment, and perseverance, they’ve positioned themselves as legitimate state title contender/defenders. And today, they made a little bit of history. I hope that they make a lot more before it’s all said and done.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the most improved runner’s from today’s meet. Big props to the following athletes from our team:
Most Improved List – York Meet (Based on who improved their overall course PR the most)
- Nathan Saltzman -1:16
- Ben Lotsoff -1:02
- Alex Konstantonivic -0:55
- Michael Cresto -0:29
- Michael Gates/Ruiling Ge/Brendan Krupp/Tom Lorenc -0:28
- Jack Borys/Sam Fathizadeh -0:27
- Robert Callan -0:20
- Kiril Kuzmanovski -0:19
- Nathan Colleran -0:17
- Justin Lue -0:14