The course at Midlothian Meadows has always proved challenging for us. Since 2012, its been our biennial Sectional destination, the final hurdle to clear to earn the coveted invitation to compete at the Illinois high school Cross Country championships. In 2012, we were bruised and battered by the race’s end, but did just enough to qualify for state. A week later, we bounced back with a 12th place finish, at that point, our best finish in 14 years, and in so doing laid the groundwork the following year’s state championship. In 2014 we returned as favorites only to be blasted by an emerging Sandburg group who put 5 in front of our second with a sterling 9 second split. Somehow, a week later, we turned the tables to win our second consecutive state championship. This year, we were not the favorites, but understood that so long as we stayed within ourselves, a return to Peoria would be the likely outcome. In that regard, we accomplished our mission. We were not as sharp as we could be, but neither did we fold under pressure. Our men ran composed, establishing positions by the midpoint of the race and holding steady through to the final chute.
The state-bound team was composed today of:
Blake Evertsen – 8th – Our lead-man since his Sophomore year, he was a bit off his game today, though that matters not one whit. What does is that he’ll be moving on to the state meet, the truest testing ground our state has to offer.
Sean O’Connell – 14th – The junior had his second solid race in a row (and his second 14th place finish in a row). He is running with confidence and will make his state meet debut next weekend.
Ethan Planson – 21st – The reliable senior returned to the course where he ran his varsity debut two years ago. Then, he was our 7th runner and just getting some big meet experience. Now he is a seasoned veteran who will be making his third trip to state next weekend.
Neil Cumberland – 23rd – Neil had perhaps the best race of the day, moving up steadily throughout the race. He is still only discovering his potential.
Jan Erik Naess – 26th – He might be the most unexpected member of the top seven based on pre-season predictions, but he has been running strong all season and especially his past three races. The affable Canadian remained poise to finish as our strong fifth man.
Ryan Doorhy -33rd – Another veteran, Ryan struggled a little with the heat and mud, but gamely held on to finish in the top 35. He’s run in state for both Cross Country and Track and thus will be unfazed by the crowds of Detweiller when he toes the line next week.
Sam Fathizadeh-41st – Sam burst onto the scene last year, emerging from obscurity to join the top 7. However, he’s faced considerable adversity since then, a stress fracture sidelining him for his entire junior track season. The road back has been a difficult one, but he’s fought to keep both injury and doubt at bay. He managed to push through pain today to finish as the second best 7th man in the meet.
Ben Schnieders, Jacob Belgrad, Sam Schiavitti, Alec Hill, and Colin Yandel are our alternates for this year, and each has worked incredibly hard to achieve that distinction. All five will join us on what has become an annual tradition – and one we hope we can continue far into the future – of making that early November minibus drive through the cornfields of central Illinois to the cross country mecca of Peoria.
On the day before the race, I had read to the competing 12 excerpts of blog posts I had written from back when they were freshmen and sophomores, alluding to the possibility they might one future day have the honor of donning the red and white to represent our team during the state series. Today, I saw junior Steven Zaher (the embodiment of a ‘team’ guy) and a large Sophomore contingent consisting of Matt Kusak, Keegan Caveney, Bradley Davis, Brandon Belgrad and Anshul Sankaran – all of whom made the drive south to cheer on their older teammates and, I hope and believe, to gain inspiration for their own personal quests to be in the elite final seven one or two years hence.
The duty to inspire now falls to all of us who support HCXC. As has become our annual ritual, I am putting out a call for current team members, alumni, family, and friends to send a brief note to our squad as they prepare for next weeks’ state championships. Please address your note ‘to the men of HCXC’ and send to my email at email@example.com I will collect all the notes and prepare a packet to give to each of the top 12 to read on the bus ride down to Peoria on Friday. Thank you, sincerely, to all who have taken the time to read this, and to all of you who have supported us this season and beyond.