HC vs. LT and GW – Recap and Analysis

At the beginning of last week, our principal made an announcement encouraging all students to exhibit good sportsmanship as our football and soccer teams prepared for competitions against local rival Lyons Township.  The HC/LT rivalry has raged for ages, and far precedes the lifespans of any of the current athletes now carrying it on.  As any new recruit at University of Michigan quickly learns of the looming importance of all match ups against “the” Ohio State University, so too do all freshman at both Hinsdale Central and La Grange quickly buy into the aura and mythology of their frequent athletic contestations.

Late this afternoon, we had our second of what will ultimately be six races this season against LT, who hosted us along with fellow conference competitor Glenbard West for a mid-October West Suburban tri-meet.  Conditions were about perfect for racing: not a cloud could be seen anywhere on the bright blue canvas of sky overhead, winds were mild, the grass cut short above hardened earth.  The course was slightly altered from its traditional layout, as construction near the tennis courts rendered the famed ‘jungle’ section impassable for this calendar year.  As a consequence, the course was shortened to 2.85 miles and featured roughly three loops, each just less than one mile, in a layout that could not be any more spectator friendly.  I could watch almost the entirety of each race.

And after having watched three of them, here was the most salient fact: if you totaled the scores from the freshman, sophomore, and varsity levels, and used this number to determine an overall champion the final tally would have been:

Hinsdale Central – 84    Lyons Township-85

About what you’d expect from such a storied rivalry.  In the LT media, this would likely be framed differently: as the story of LT taking 2 of the 3 races (the Sophomore Lions bested us 28-30, while the Freshman Lions overtook us on a 6th man tie-breaker after being tied at 28 through 5).  Glenbard West is an emerging team, though struggled on this particular evening and finished third on all levels.  It is a testament to the strength of our conference that the team ranked 9th in state by the Illinois Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association managed only one runner among the top 10 at the varsity level.

Let’s break down the action.

The Sophomores: At the Locktoberfest Invite last Saturday, LT soundly defeated us, with their 5th runner (Ronald Vantassell) finishing 2 seconds and 1 place behind our third runner, Ryan Doorhy.  Today, we closed the gap, though fell just short.  The race started with a large pack running together, a red and blue mixture coming though the first mile in 5:13.  Ethan Planson then made a decisive move, with only teammate Jacob Belgrad responding, and the pack quickly thinned out.  The particular mathematical logic of the dual meet format dictates than any team which places its first three runners before an opponents lead runner is automatically guaranteed a victory regardless of how its fourth and fifth runners fare.  I considered this possibility as I watched Ryan Doorhy  halfway through the race fighting for position against the top two Lyons runners, some 50 meters behind Planson and Belgrad.  If he could summon the strength to outmaneuver both, we’d score an upset – this seemed our only possible route to victory, as LT’s 7th runner was ahead of John Bynan, our current 5th man.

Doorhy fought mightily.  Every time his opponents in blue seemed to start pulling away, he managed to muster the strength to stay in contact.  In the end, Doorhy couldn’t quite manage, finishing 5th in 15:23 behind Alex Pall (15:18) and Graham Kutchek (15:22) of LT.  However, a quick glance at last weeks invite in Lockport reveals how much Doorhy closed the gap – he’d finished 23 seconds back of Pall and 14 seconds back of Kutchek there – had actually been 26 seconds back of LT’s John Hagen who he bested on this occasion.  Teammate Ben Schnieders finished as our 4th man: he cut in half the gap between himself and LT’s Dan Palmer, a rival who beat him by 10 seconds at Locktoberfest but by only 5 tonight.

John Bynan looked much better today as our 5th man, running 16:09, a significant personal best.  Our split was 61 seconds on 5 – not great, but a significant improvement on the 1:22 split we ran last week.   On the Sophomore level, we finish the regular season with a 3-3 record, with all three losses (to York, DGN, and LT) by narrow margins.  This team has been getting slowly stronger all season and it will be fun to see how they run at Conference next weekend.  For the guys outside of the scoring 7, the improvements have been bigger yet.  The difference between the Jack Kanzler and Michael Cresto of mid-October to the Jack Kanzler and Michael Cresto of late August is astonishing.  They, and Emmett Grundberg, and Sam Fathizadeh, and Michael Denos are joggers no more.  Their strides have smoothed out, their pace more even, their race day poise more evident.  Its been a joy to watch.

The Varsity:  The expectations for our varsity are so high that my immediate visceral reaction to their race was disapointment despite having our top 4 separated by 3 seconds and an 11 second split on 5, our best of the season.  Owing to tremendous kicks by LT’s Connor Madell and Alex Lima the score narrowed from a relatively comfortable 22-33 victory to a heart accelerating 26-29 squeaker within the space of the final 50 meters.  One lesson from today: don’t let a 1:55 guy remain close to you in the last stage of the race!  This race, like the Sophomores, remained tightly packed in the early going, with the pack narrowing down to 11 (5 LT, 5 HC, 1 Glenbard) by the 3200 mark.  With 800 to go, Blake Evertsen and Chris Brenk tried to break the pack, but the crew remained close.  Down the final straightaway, Madell and Blake fought, the race tempo dropping considerably.  On this day, Madell took the win, with Blake a step behind.  Next came a speeding Lima, finishing half a foot in front of Brenk and a full foot ahead of McBrien and a spirited Feldman.  Then a trio of conference foes in Arata, Zona (cousin of Doorhy), and Glenbard’s Chris Beuchner before Griffin Gartner sealed the narrow victory with his 10th place finish.

Some solace can be taken from knowing our 5th man finished 3 seconds behind the guy who was 6th overall in Locktobefest.  We did not run our best today, but we also recognize it has not been an easy week, that Nathan Hill will be back to his old self now that his months old sinus infection has finally been properly diagnosed, that Alex Domiano is not yet training at 100%.  5 weeks remain until state, which  is plenty of time to get healthy, rested, and ready.  It will be up to us to do so, but so long as we do, we’ll be ready when it counts.

For the first time in over half a century, we have finished the dual meet season undefeated.  We’ll head to conference as the favorites, with a big target on our back.  The fiercest fight we’ve faced yet this season was against LT today.  We get to face them again in 9 days at conference.  Then a week after that at Regionals.  Then a week after that Sectionals.  Then a week after that at state.  Then Nike Regionals.  No down weeks for us or them!

The Freshman: Without a doubt, this is the best the freshman have looked all season.  By the midway point, I could for the first time ever see a recognizable front pack.  Adam Jaber is finally coming into his own and ran with guts today, making up a huge gap on two runners who’d opened an early lead and losing only in a final foot race down the last straightway to finish second.  Neil Cumberland, Sean O’Connell, and Steven Zaher ran with 4 seconds of each other to finish 5th-7th.  For Zaher, this was a major step forward, as he’d been 55 seconds behind Cumberland at Locktoberfest.

The team race, though, would be decided by the 5th runner.  Colin Yandel, at 5’2″ and 95 pounds, represented our best chance to seize a victory.  Colin ran valiantly, but in the last meters was passed by two giants, LT runners full heads taller than him.  In the chute, his exertion was evident, as he gasped for breath.  Had the race ended 10 meters earlier, we’d have emerged with a surprise victory.  Instead, we settle for a tie through 5, and the motivation to seek redemption at Conference.

Years from now, someone from the latter half of this race will become a case study in what can be achieved through hard work, just as Brendan Krupp, Ben Anderson, Alex Lambert, and Joe Griffin now are.  Will that be Nathan Colleran, who improved to 12:43 and has run at least as well as a freshman cross country runner as his older cousin TJ Caveney?  Could it be from the pack of Liam Bots (the one guy smaller than Yandel), Jack Borys, Ben Lotsoff, or Spencer Martin?  Or perhaps it will be Nikolai and/or Alex Kowalchuk?  I can attest from personal experience that having a twin brother makes one faster, as their is always someone you want to beat in practice each day.

So the Freshman finish the regular season 3-3, with losses to York, DGN, and LT.  Can they improve on their current rank as 4th of 7 in conference?  We will find out soon.

The return of three of our finest:

The absolute best news from today was the return to action of Garrett Schmidt, Andrew Irvine, and Nick Tandle.  All three guys had to miss different amounts of practice time, and all for different reasons.  All three have overcome considerable adversity, and it lifted our spirits to know they were back.

Schmidt, as readers of this blog know, suffered a very serious case of pneumonia this past summer.  Fluid filled 80% of his lungs, and he had to miss the first two weeks of the school year.  Garrett was finally cleared to run a few weeks ago, and the going has been tough.  When I visited him in the hospital in late August, he got winded from simply having a conversation with me.  On his first day back, he was exhausted after a single mile.  He’s been doing a little more each day, and finally made it to three miles this week.  We decided to dispense with having him warm-up and cool-down, and to use today’s race as his training run for the day.  Garrett led our team’s ‘breakdown’ on our 5th stride right before the race started.  He opened his senior season much later than he’d planned, but managed a 20:11 on lungs only recently returned to normal.  While it was not the season he’d envisioned at summers’ start, its been a journey that has impacted Garrett profoundly, giving him a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures of running, something those of us blessed with good health sometimes take for granted.

Irv! Irv! Irv!

Without a doubt the guy on the team who can inspire more cheers than any other is Andrew Irvine.  Andrew’s work ethic is incredible, and his personality is winning.  It was a huge blow when we learned early in September that doctor’s had diagnosed a stress fracture.  After an excellent summer of training, Andrew’s dreams of running top 7 were deflated.  Being ever resilient, he set right away to doing whatever he could to cross train.  The recovery has progressed quicker than expected, and Andrew was able to begin running last week.  He begged us to run against LT, and after consultation with Coach Westhphal and I, we agreed to cut his leash.  Given how few miles he’s been able to run in the past six week, Andrew had an excellent season debut, covering the course in 15:29.  He finished as our 11th varsity man, just ahead of his friend Michael Gates, who’d finished 4th at the open division of Locktoberfest last weekend.  With 9 days until Conference and 5 weeks until state, we may not have heard the last of him this season after all.

Last but not least, I cannot express the emotions I felt watching Nick Tandle do what he loves most: run to see how fast he can go.  He did not run last week, waiting nervously for some for some medical tests to be returned.  The news was the best he could have hoped for: he did have some mild anemia, but was otherwise cleared to run.  He finished today as our 8th man, running 14:56.  He hasn’t lost a step.  We have an extra pep in ours after seeing him back to his old self.

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