I went for a run this afternoon (always a good way to gain insight) and realized there was more I needed to write.
Of the graduating seniors, five of them broke five minutes for 1600 by the end of their freshman year. Those five were Alex Domiano, Matt McBrien, Josh Feldman, Nick Tandle, and Matt Tobia.
It was thus poignant and appropriate that our five senior participants at this year’s ‘race at state’ held at EIU’s O’Brien Stadium every year on the Friday night after prelims were these exact same five runners. All five have been major contributors to our program since that freshman year: Alex, Matt McBrien, and Josh all ran in the top 7 for state championship teams (Matt twice, Alex once for a state title team – and before that as a member of our 2012 12th place team, and Josh as the surprise all-state runner for this year’s squad). Nick was our second alternate this year – and was fast enough to run top seven on virtually any team in the state outside of us and Sandburg. Matt Tobia finished as our 13th runner in Cross Country, the first man left off our top 12 roster submitted to the IHSA. He had a solid track season and would have run our anchor leg in the 4*800 if we had qualified for finals, which we very nearly did.
These five seniors chose to run at the ‘race at state’ because they care about their sport. They did not have to do so. There was nothing at stake and nothing to prove. They ran simply to have one final chance to compete as high school athletes. And while only Josh ran a PR (2:03.7 for 800 meters), I was nonetheless proud of them for making the decision to race (McBrien and Tandle drove down on their own, just to do so).
The ‘race at state’ is a pretty unique event: anyone of any age or gender can compete. You pay $5 and you can pick any two events you want to run: anything from the 100 dash to the 3200, from the 300 hurdles to the 1000 meter steeple chase. We use the occasion to give our alternates on our relay card one final chance to run fast. This bore fruit for us in personal best times from sophomores Jacob Belgrad (4:32.2 for 1600) and Sam Fathizadeh (10:24.2 for 3200). Sam’s time gives us 28 runners this season who have broke 10:30 for 3200 (29 if you count Nathan Hill’s times from Cross Country). I am probably more proud of this statistic than any other, as it far exceeds our previous best (19 last season) and is truly reflective of how many talented and committed athletes we have the privilege of coaching.
I was also especially proud of Max Maydanchik, Griffin Gartner, and Nathan Hill, all of whom decided to run the Race at State in the evening after coming oh so close to making the 3200 final. Max and Nathan even ran PRs – (Max circling the track 4 times in 4:37.7; Nathan establishing a new 400 best of 53.5), giving each a double PR day.
Coach Westphal and I left around 10:00 p.m. after the 3200 ended to pick up pizzas for the athletes who’d postponed their dinner in order to race. The final event of the evening was the 1000 steeple chase. Unbeknown to us, several of our alternates signed up to run the race. It was a fitting way to end the season: a race that was more about spending quality time with teammates than it was about the end result.
When I titled my previous blog “This is how it ends” I was choosing a title that was not entirely accurate. One athletes’ season is not yet complete. Josh Feldman will compete in the Midwest Distance Classic on June 13th at Benedictine College in Naperville. He will compete in the 3200 against some of the top runners in Illinois and surrounding states. Josh’s goal is to run in the low 9:20s to establish a mark which might help him earn a roster spot as a walk on for the University of Illinois Cross Country team (Coach Stewart, if you happen to read this, you will not find an athlete more singularly focused and committed). Whether he gets that spot or not, Josh will continue to run – if not for the varsity Illini, then for the Club running team. What will we do without the leaders-by-example that were Josh, McB, Domi, Tobia, and Nick? While, we asked the same last year as Emmett, TJ, Billy, Kevin, Aria, Jack, Jake, Sam, Nick, Zach, and Keaton moved on. Our juniors became seniors and ably filled the void. Chris, Yuji, Irv, Bender, Nathan, Ruiling, Jacob, Gatsey, D.Hu, Grammie – you’re up!