I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving break. Mine was wonderful, as I was surrounded by friends and family, many of whom I do not get to see very often. This started the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when we had our second annual HCXC Alumni November Portillo’s reunion. This was well-attended, with about 15 athletes from the more recent graduating classes fighting the crowded parking lots of Willowbrook Center in order to converge upon the restaurant that would be the likeliest candidate to be the regular meeting place if HCXC were a television show. The class of 2012 was especially well represented, with 7 guys (Somerfield, Khanna, Palo, Gesior, Aggarwal, Keller, Kennedy) enough to field their own team. Ryan would likely be the top runner of this crew right now, fresh off his victory in the ‘B’ race of club nationals. A highlight of this reunion was being presented with my very own “Illinois Club XC” t-shirt by Chris Kennedy – much appreciated given my wardrobe is decidedly lacking in Orange. The other highlight of the reunion was actually a chance encounter with an athlete from a rival team: Neuqua Valley’s Aidan Livingston. Though he’d unwittingly set foot in enemy territory, he tapped me on the shoulder to say hello and shake my hand – a classy gesture from an athlete who will likely be fighting for a top 5 spot for the Wildcats next year.
And speaking of enemy territory, Thanksgiving morning found me, as per tradition, in downtown Elmhurst for the annual Turkey Trot. I ran into a few more HCXC alums (Jake Hall and Jordan Antesberger), a few high school teammates, and lots of current or recently graduated York runners. Around halfway through the race, I was running in a pack with Jim Akita (a fellow graduate of York’s class of 1998 and the current head XC and Track coach at Elmhurst College), Kyle Mattes (a 2014 York grad who nabbed the final all-state spot in the 3200 last year and who now runs for Illinois State) and Matt Plowman (York’s #2 runner this past XC season and a returning all-stater in the 1600). I must confess that Akita and I could not, ultimately, hang with our younger competitors, and the two of us cruised into the finish line (cheered on by York’s Assistant Coach Matt Mimlitz) in a respectable 16:30 After that, it was Turkey and family for the rest of the weekend.
After taking a brief hiatus from this blog and from the intensity of the XC season, it is now truly time to start focusing on the coming seasons. We will be starting up the ‘Deep Freeze” winter conditioning club on Wednesday, which means team members can officially start meeting up with each other for runs after school. It is also time to begin formulating goals for track and for the 2015 XC campaign. Before we move on to those worthy endeavors, let us take one final look back on the season that was. To do so, I asked Josh Feldman if he would be willing to share the speech he wrote for our end-of-the-season banquet, and he readily assented. Current team members and their parents will have heard his words already, but he so beautifully encapsulated all that goes into a championship season that I wanted those not at the banquet to have the chance to see his words as well. Here they are:
2014 XC Banquet Speech: The Season
I recently looked back at my monthly running logs from my freshmen year. The one thing that stood out to me was that we really had no idea what we were in for. Even though we were a modest team at the time, with no conceivable idea of back-to-back state championships in just two years, we still ran with the magic that I have seen in the season.
This season started out very much like my freshmen year: we had no idea what we were in for. We started out as a group of individuals with potential yet did not have a distinct team identity yet. While Alex, Nathan, Blake, Matt and I trained in the long distance group, Griffin trained in the mid-distance group, and Chris was not even able to train as he had multiple injuries. By our post-track-season meeting in June, however, we saw the first phase of our team identity. We got a sense for what our team’s character would be like.
And now to this year’s freshmen. When I first saw you walk into room 155 on June 16, 2014, I knew that from that day, anything could happen with you. Who among you would rise up as a star at the end of the season? Who could be an historic Hinsdale Central All-Conference freshmen? Would this class place like we did as freshmen? I had no idea. While everybody always has this reaction to freshmen classes, I really expected them to be just like the freshmen classes of the past few years. I expected it to be a year of first beginnings, testing the waters, with maybe one or two good freshmen being All-Conference. I first realized I was wrong at our tri meet against Glenbard West and Lyons Township. This dual meet was special. I watched as this group of runners started to appear at the front of the race, and seriously began to challenge the other teams. Although they had a narrow loss that day, it was clear they would be like no other freshmen class. They proved it the following week by finishing 3rd place in conference, ending a long streak of consistent 4th or 5th place finishes. To the freshmen, remember that there’s something that your class has that we didn’t, something special. So don’t let anything stop you these next few years. Run like the great class you are.
I’d also like to note that my second thought when reading my freshmen logs was that I wished I had logged more often and more thoroughly so that I could now remember more of that first season. So to the freshmen, remember to live in the moment and enjoy your beginnings in this program.
Our sophomore year started to put together our team as potential champions. Everyone on the team started to take summer running much more seriously and ran more miles during the season than ever before. Many traditions were established: the 1000 mile club, wishes of good luck and support the week of state, and “mock awards,” traditions that still hold true to our identity today.
The sophomore phase of this season was in the “dog days” of summer running. We had only glimpses of our future potential, yet came together and, during days when any payback was far from sight, and ran down the streets of Hinsdale, the paths of Waterfall Glen, and the stretches of the Outdoor Track. It formed the basis for what was to come.
This year’s sophomores are the most outstanding and surprising sophomore season I had ever seen at my time in HCXC. I knew that this group of individuals would fit in well with our team after a summer of really getting to know them and become friends. John Bynan put in more miles in the summer than Irv, Scully, or I ever did as sophomores. After their first meet at KLM and a 45th place finish by their fourth runner Ben Schneiders at the Hornet Red-Devil Invite, I was unsure if this group would be able to live up to the unprecedented success set by the 2013 sophomore group. Even after an imperfect dual meet season and losses to multiples conference rivals, I was still unsure of them, even as their season was ending. I am glad to say that they proved me wrong. They ran a gutsy conference race and lived up to their capabilities, and made every step count, winning the meet by merely four points. It seems to have forecasted what would come a few weeks later.
Last year initiated our status as state title contenders. Like the seniors of last year’s team, the then juniors, sophomores, and freshmen all had great and historic seasons. It was a magical season that set the stage for our program’s future, and set the goal to repeat one year later.
The junior phase of this season was much like my junior year. A tough yet memorable few days on our team’s trip to Wisconsin, a long a successful summer with multiple athletes on pace to join the 1000 mile club, and exciting victories at both the Hornet-Red Devil Invite and the First to the Finish Invite resembled the fun rewards we could reap from a hard summer’s training. We seemed poised to have a fluid season as the state’s #1 ranked team, and cash in on our talent and our summer training.
The juniors sitting right there have really been through it all with our class. We have trained together, experienced highs and lows, and become best friends. They have already left a large and unfinished footprint on our program’s history.
“One guy goes down, another rises up” This is what made our senior season so historic and special. The path to the state championship has been an uphill climb with many twists and turns, many obstacles along the way. The first of which came when we learned that junior Yuji Cusick had a stress fracture in his hip. We held strong despite this setback, only to find that junior Andrew Irvine suffered a stress fracture only weeks later. After our team trip to Kenosha, senior Alex Domiano missed a couple weeks of running and was thrown off the 1000 mile challenge by an IT Band injury. Still, we pushed through to more victories, with help from rising stars Nathan Hill and Griffin Gartner. Nathan Hill’s worsening sinus infection led to more concerns, yet Alex Domiano and Griffin Gartner again pulled together to give us the conference victory. Another forecast for what would become a few weeks later. Finally, nearing the end of the season, it truly set in how different this year would be than the last. Without Matt McBrien in our Sectional lineup, we lost the meet by over 60 points, very unlike our breakthrough race at the 2013 Sectional meet. I recall that on our team trip to Kenosha, most athletes stated that their number one fear for the season was injury. I remember that I was concerned that there would be other teams that would unexpectedly have a breakthrough season and pose a powerful threat to our defense of the state title. This season, we faced our greatest fears, and we overcame them. And that has made the accomplishment far more rewarding that we envisioned last December.