Two weeks into the cross country season, and virtually every team has thrown their cards down on the table for all to see. Of course, the past is not prologue, as the saying goes, and much can change in the seven weeks remaining before state. Nonetheless, certain trends are appearing which are hard to ignore. Now that almost every ranked team in state (and many more who hope to be) has run at Detweiller Park, it is pretty clear who the teams to beat are. First and foremost, Sandburg has proved that their preseason national ranking of #2 was not a fluke. Their performance at the Richard Spring Invite this weekend throws the gauntlet down for every other program. The Eagles averaged 14:45 for their five-man average, and did so without one of their best runners, Chris Torpy. Perhaps more impressively, they put eight runners in under 15:08. Overshadowed by Sandburg’s big showing was a re-emergent Neuqua Valley program which put nine runners in under 15:13. To give some perspective here, when we won state in 2013, Chris Brenk was our 5th man running 15:13.
In fact, when one analyses the results of the first two major invitationals of the season hosted at Detweiller, one thing becomes abundantly clear: this is going to be a tremendously competitive season in our state. Consider this: in those first two meets, 4 teams ran under 14:58 for a five-man average, and 8 ran under 15:10. It’s pretty humbling to know that our 14:57 average at “First to the Finish” puts us squarely and inarguably in the position of 4th ranked team in state right now. That time was faster than we averaged in both 2013 and 2014, both years which led us to being state champions.
Here is a quick overview listing all teams that have run under 15:10 for a five man average at the First to the Finish Invite (FTTF) or the Richard Spring Invite (RS) since 2007, the year that the IHSA divided into three classes:
No teams under 15:10 in either meet
NV-14:50 (This Chris Derrick-led team went on to win NXN)
First, some caveats. It was great weather both weekends this year, leading to faster times. Second, both meets were deep this year, perhaps deeper than many of the previous years. Finally, the five-man average is just one measure of how good a team is. Lake Zurich, for example, had the 5th fastest 5-man average at RS this year, but finished 7th overall.
Nonetheless, it is clear that this has all the makings of a historically impressive year for our state. In 2015, 4 teams have run under 14:58 so far, equivalent to the numbers of teams sub-14:58 from 2007-2013 COMBINED. 8 teams have run under 15:10, while no other single season has seen more than 4 (in 2007) and that just once.
It is hard to compare state to state, but, biased though I may be, I have to believe Illinois may be the nation’s most competitive state this season. It’s hard for me to believe Lake Zurich, Buffalo Grove, York, or OPRF would not win most states’ championship meets.
Of course, how Illinois team’s would run against teams from other states is a matter of mere speculation – I suppose NXR will at least give a window into how deep we are compared to other states’ in the Midwest. At most, only three Illinois teams could get the chance to compete in Nationals. Before any of that though, there is to be a thrilling showdown on November 7th. I can vouch for our program, and I suspect for Lyons Township and many others that seeing the results from Peoria this weekend only motivates us to get better. And as we do, we’ll motivate NV and Sandburg and York and OPRF and Buffalo Grove and Lake Zurich and others to do the same. It is competition’s most virtuous cycle. And it will culminate in Illinois on November 7th. For any true fan of high school cross country, this will be a meet not to be missed!