October 31, 2015 – Survive and Advance
It was kind of epic. I showed up at KLM around 7:30 a.m. and met up with the boys’ and girls’ coaching staffs along with the building and grounds crew, our Athletic Director, and a few good-hearted volunteers to help set up for the morning’s meet. The rain started shortly after. It did not relent. Dirt turned to mud. The creek rose.
Cross country runners like to romanticize extreme conditions. Some road races are marketed on this very premise, with organizers artificially creating mud pits or stacks of hay bales for runners to navigate through. I suppose some of the participants in those races have fond memories of high school meets similar to today. I am sure, as a memory, this meet will stick with me for longer than most do. Sure wasn’t easy going through it, though! But, hey, isn’t that the essence of cross country?
The girls race kicked off the days’ events. I went out to scout the southwest and southeast corners, both of which featured tight turns through concentrated mud, though scattered hay was employed in a vain attempt to create better footing. Around the first and second turns, everything looked smooth. I headed back to our team area thinking to tell our team not to worry about course conditions. Little did I realize.
The best manner to express how harrowing the course had become is simply this:
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsFortunately, the girls of HC managed to avoid the worst of it, impressively nabbing 3 of the top 4 position en route to a convincing Sectional victory. The day was off to a good, though cold and wet, start. Then, it was our turn. Heading into the race, we really had only one goal: advance to state. The word of the week was ‘equanimity’ with all of us agreeing not to get too high or low after the race was run – so long as we punched our ticket to Peoria we would have gotten what we came for. Still, though, I hoped we’d run well, continue the momentum we’d started to build in the previous week. My first chance to gauge our progress was about 1K into the race, and at that point we seemed fine, though far behind Sandburg, whose 7 runners were packed up around our lead runner Blake. I wasn’t there to see the first creek jump, but somebody with a video camera was. Here is what they saw:
You can see that at that point, Blake was with the leaders and our pack was tightly together but around 15th-20th place. Nathan Hill, following instructions, was a bit farther back, and managed to avoid a catastrophe by literally leapfrogging over a downed Plainfield South runner. Another part of our pre-race strategy was to regain focus if anything unexpected happened, and that strategy paid off in this instance.
Hill would move up nicely throughout the race, and ended up in 27th as our 6th man. To put that in perspective, last year’s sixth man, Ethan Planson, was 44th. Today, Ethan was 15th, his second strong race in a row. Blake, despite a nasty fall early in the race, finished a strong 3rd, and will surely be among the leaders again next week.
Chris Brenk looked calm and collected throughout, methodically moving up in the latter stages of the race to take 11th overall, looking surprisingly comfortable given the situation. “Irv” was fourth for us today, finishing 16th overall, while Ryan Doorhy pushed through for 20th. Sam Fathizadeh, in a rare off day, ended 48th. He was disappointed, but is too much the competitor to be down for long.
The feelings after the meet were positive. We managed to stay focused for the duration of the race in terrible weather, and, consequently, our belief in ourselves was reaffirmed.
Tomorrow, many of our top 12, along with myself and Coach Westphal, will be headed down to Montrose Harbor in Chicago to watch the Big Ten Conference championships. We’ll be there to root for University of Illinois and their redshirt freshman Billy Magnesen. It will be an appropriate kickoff for state-meet week. After all, it was Billy who led us to our first state championship two years ago, finishing 12th overall and proving forever after that Hinsdale Central is a team that CAN win state.* From that point on, this team has always believed. In neither of the past two years did we have an undefeated season – in fact, in both, we lost within the final month. Yet, despite those losses, a core belief remained, as the state meet results attest.
Today, we were second for the fourth time this year. The coming week will be epic, too. I’ve no idea what the outcome will be. We could run great and finish 5th. We could run great and win. I do know this: no matter what happens, this year’s team has succeeded in building upon the legacy it was bequeathed. They’ve poured their hearts into this season, and it’s starting to show. They believe.
**-I should also point out that Scott and Elaine Moore braved the cold to come out and cheer for the team. Their son, Doug, was the lead runner on our 2008 team which was the first team in our tenure to qualify for state. In many ways, Doug and his teammates made everything that came after possible. Thanks to Mark and Sarah Magnesen and Bruce Gartner, also, for your support – and a special thanks to all the parents who volunteered to help today, or who came to cheer the team on. Thanks to all the current HCXC runners for your support – you, too, have made these final weeks possible. Finally, a huge debt of gratitude should be paid to Coach Kupres and Coach Snee for doing the lion’s share of the work in setting up and taking down the course today. Those two spent more time out in the rain than anyone – their contributions are beyond measure.