New Goals for a New Year


The first blog entry I ever wrote was published on June 15, 2012.  I had decided to use the extra time afforded by the summer months to begin an on-going narrative which aimed to reflect on lessons learned from seasons’ past, chronicle the efforts of the current squad, and offer both motivation and praise to team members.  I had no expectations or grand designs, but began writing simply as an experiment, hoping that telling a story of our team in a manner different than the traditional newspaper articles might have the benefit of inspiring the individuals I coached to see their efforts as part of something bigger than themselves.  I was not sure if, or how long, the blog would continue, nor had I much inkling of what the next few years would hold in store for our program.  I did, however, have high aspirations, as that very first post, read with the benefit of hindsight, reveals:


June 15, 2012-Entry #1-Looking back, looking ahead 
As a new season of Cross Country is about to get underway, I thought it would be useful to think back on how our most recent track season ended as a way of setting the stage for the incoming group. As you all know, the last Hinsdale Central runners to feel the track beneath their feet in the 2012 season were Ted Owens, Neil Pedersen, Jack Feldman, and Mike Korompilas in the state finals of the 3200 meter relay. That race will be one I always remember and seems, in retrospect, an appropriate coda to that particular senior class, and an end to a significant chapter in the development of our program. The race contained in less than eight minutes all the elements of epic drama: underdogs doing battle against well-seasoned opponents, thrilling surges, moments of ecstasy and agony, and, ‘ultimately, a conclusion that fell just short of our dreams.  (NOTE: In the final straightaway of the second leg, Neil Pedersen pulled us into the lead, but in the end, we finished 11th, just out of the medals). Nonetheless, the four runners on that relay could leave with their heads held high, and as coaches, we could not have been prouder.


In short, I think the 2011-2012 year will be remembered as the seasons that marked our program’s arrival as one of the premier distance squads in state: we were regional champions in Cross Country, runner-up at Conference and Sectionals, and reached state for the second straight year…The challenge, then, for the 2012 XC team is to prove to the state that we are not ‘one-hit wonders’ but a perennial powerhouse. The 2010 and 2011 teams laid a solid foundation, and it is now our privilege and duty to build upon it.


As the year 2016 begins, I find myself, and our program, at another transition point.  In May of 2016 I will turn 36.  Half of that life was spent as a child and a student in grade schools.  The other half constituted college and graduate school, joining the teaching profession, getting married, buying a home, and, finally, becoming a father.  Now a third phase of life begins, marked foremost by being a parent but secondarily by taking on a new role as head Track and Field Coach.


I take over the position of head coach from Jim Kupres, who I have worked with for the past decade on both the Cross Country and Track teams.  Jim will remain on staff, assisting with the middle distance runners.  I am fortunate to be taking over a staff that he largely assembled, which is among the most competent and motivated in state.  It is my challenge to build upon the foundation he established, and it is my goal to take the team to a new level; while we’ve achieved great success with our Cross Country program over the past few years, the Track and Field team has not yet developed to the point where we can challenge perennially for the conference or sectional titles, to say nothing of contending for a trophy at state.


Part of my decision to apply for the head coach position was the opportunity to share my passion for this sport with a wider audience.  My hope is that members of the track team from events beyond distance will begin to read this blog, along with their parents (though, admittedly, now that I myself am a parent, the opportunities to write blog posts may be fewer).


In that spirit, let me offer that hoped for new audience a brief explanation of how the blog has evolved and of how I hope to use it in my new capacity as head coach.


I have several groups I hope to reach through this blog: first and foremost, current and former team members, along with their friends and family.  Secondly, the wider high school cross country and track community, including athletes and coaches from other teams.  My goals include profiling current team members, telling bits of our program’s history, offering context for meets beyond what can be read through a look at the results page, putting forth ideas about how to improve our team and our sport, educating athletes and families about the unique challenges posed by Cross Country and Track, and sharing some of my own experiences running and coaching, which have informed my approach.


If there is one major idea that animates my coaching philosophy, it is that there is a great sense of purpose one feels in working together with a group towards a common goal.  In Cross Country, our goal the past three years has been to earn a trophy at state.  In 2013 and 2014, we exceeded those goals, not just getting a trophy, but winning outright.  Those state titles will forever be two of my proudest achievements, and memories of those two November days continue to make me smile.  In 2015, we fell short of our goal, but the pursuit of it was no less purposeful.


I don’t try to sell our sport by arguing that it will be fun.  Training is not comfortable, and I don’t pretend otherwise.  However, learning how to manage that discomfort leads to growth.  Speaking personally, I rarely enjoy my runs, but I almost always feel good after finishing.  I feel accomplished and I feel fit.  The daily pain and discomfort brought on by running with the team at practice is more than offset by the fulfilling sense of identity I get as a coach for the Hinsdale Central Cross Country and Track teams.  I hope it will be so for the kids I coach as well.


As their coach, what I hope to instill is genuine confidence that comes from achieving something that seemed impossible.  The most rewarding moments of coaching come from when an athlete has that ‘breakthrough’ race and suddenly realizes they are capable of much more than they’d once believed.  Our role as coaches is to try to identify that potential in athletes before they see it in themselves, and then guide them to discovering it.


This guidance can differ depending on the particular sport, but the common elements include setting high expectations and holding student/athletes to them, pushing students to never give less than their best at practice, teaching them how to handle the pressure of major competitions, helping them see evidence of their improvement, and celebrating their accomplishments with them.  We have generally managed to uphold these values, and will continue to do so.  That part won’t change.


So what will be different in 2016 for the Hinsdale Central Track and Field team?

-We will be meeting together as a team every Monday.  This is part of our efforts to promote a greater sense of team unity, something sorely lacking in some years past.

-We welcome to our staff our new throws coach, Mr. Dan Daly.  Coach Daly spent the last 14 years as the throws coach over at Hinsdale South, where he also has served as an assistant varsity football coach.  This past fall, he helped the Hornets Football team reach the final four, their best ever finish.  Coach Daly brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, along with great enthusiasm and a refreshingly upbeat attitude.  He will be an excellent addition to our staff.

-We will have a new free lap timing system which will allow us to get accurate split times for distances as short as ten meters, which will greatly assist in our sprints training.  The ‘freelap system’ is cutting edge technology that is used by many of the best track coaches across the country.  Thanks to a generous grant from the Hinsdale Central boosters, we were able to get one for our program.

-We will have a new logo as a symbolic representation of our new identity:


This identity will be rooted in a common quest: to win a conference outdoor title, something we have achieved only once since World War II on the varsity level; and to have all team members finish the season faster and stronger than when they started.


To be a bit high minded, it is my hope that we can take the diverse and disparate parts of our track team and out of them form a whole.  We’ll have 300 pound throwers and 100 pound freshman distance runners, 9th graders and 12th graders, guys coming to us from soccer, football, and cross country (among other sports), guys of different ability levels and from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.  It should truly be the most diverse team in the school. Heterogeneity poses challenges: how do you get people so different to find common cause?  But diversity also can be a source of strength, as creativity is fostered by the clash of different ideas.   My hope is to incubate a culture that embraces these differences while also channeling them in the same direction, towards a sense that we are all working for the same cause, like different battalions of a military all fighting, some by land, some by sea, some by air, for the same ideals.


It can sound silly, but I refuse to give up my romantic notions about sport.  Though many of the Track and Field events are much more technical skills than cross country running, it is the spirit of competition that lies at the heart of both.  Let us, HC tracksters, strive to achieve that famous Latinate trifecta: citius, altius, fortius.  So long as we join that quest together, I promise the effort will be worthwhile.

On the birth of my daughter



First, a disclaimer: I struggled with whether it would be appropriate to publish this blog, as the topic is personal more than professional, and the subject only tangentially related to running and coaching.  The name Clio comes from Greek mythology: she was a daughter of Zeus and the muse of history.  And she is my muse for this atypical post, which I am writing simply because it is my impulse, my way to process.  And because, some day, I’ll be grateful that I took time to record my thoughts – Clio will have a written record, from her father, of the day of her birth.  I have decided to share that record here because a few people asked me to do so, and because significant life events like births (and deaths, marriages, graduations) can alter one’s world view profoundly: if ever there was a time to offer insight and perspective to the young men I coach (one goal of this blog) this would seem to be it.


We’ll start the story on the night of Wednesday, November 18th.  Megan and I had planned a ‘date night,’ our weekly ritual of going out to a nice dinner, an always welcome occasion which we knew would become increasingly less frequent in the months ahead.  On a whim, we chose to go to Talley’s Kitchen and Bar in Clarendon Hills, a spot I’d passed many times but never before dined at.  We had a lovely meal: vegetable risotto and club soda with lime for Megan, steak frites with red wine for me, and talked through Christmas present ideas, little knowing how dramatically our lives would be changing within the next 24 hours (Megan’s due date was November 29th, so we both figured we had some time left).


Without going into too much detail, I can say that it was on our short walk through downtown Clarendon Hills that Megan first realized her labor was beginning, though it would be another hour before I became privy to that information.  We made one last errand on our way home, to the Verizon store on 75th and route 83 to upgrade Megan’s phone.  It was after exiting the Verizon store that Megan grabbed my arm, looked at me, and said, “I think it’s time.”


We tried to stay calm.  Went home.  Packed bags.  Megan showered and I shaved.  I contacted my Department Chair to let her know I’d need a substitute for the next few days, and hastily prepared lesson plans to give to whoever that might be (alas, I had to delegate to the substitute one of my favorite lessons, on King’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail,” one of America’s most beautifully written and righteous essays).  We completed our usual evening chores, focusing on the mundane to keep the nervousness at bay: emptied the dishwasher, filled up the coffee pot (though turned the timer off on this occasion), swept and vacuumed.  And then we loaded up the car, and off we went, fairly well-prepared all things considered (though lacking winter clothes, something we didn’t realize we’d need).


The drive from home to the hospital was surreal: we came via an unusually quiet Madison street, passing by the high school before cutting through downtown Hinsdale, where shopkeepers were just then closing down for the night.  We entered the labor and delivery wing of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital just after 10:00 p.m., got checked in, and met with the nurse on duty.  She ran a test on Megan to determine if the labor had indeed begun, and the results came back negative.  The palpable effects of adrenaline subsided immediately upon hearing this news, though the nurse told us that the doctor wanted to run one additional test, just to be sure.  As Megan and I waited for these new results, we began the process of reorienting our mental frames back to the ordinary, summoned the will to be patient just a while longer.


The nurse finally returned after an hour, even though she’d told us she’d be back in 30 minutes after she left with the test sample.  With a grin, she said: “Well, look’s like you are staying!”  Megan and I could only look at each other in wonderment.


Our nurse suggested we try to get rest, as the most difficult phases of labor would not likely begin until the next day’s sunrise.  Megan called her twin sister Liz with the news, and then we tried our best to sleep, though dreams came fitfully.


True to the nurses’ word, contractions came more regularly the following morning.  I will spare you the details, other than to note the obvious that the labor progressed as it has for time immemorial.  As the hours ticked by, we came to know our nurse better, and to meet other members of the hospital staff.  Shirley, our nurse, hailed from the Philippines, one of 11 kids.  She had two grown children, both of whom had graduated from Hinsdale South.  In a few days, she’d be hosting Thanksgiving for over 50 relatives.  She had a perfect bedside manner and a wealth of wisdom to share about birthing based on her 34 years of on the job experience.  Megan was as comfortable as it is possible to be at that stage of labor, reassured by Shirley’s competence and compassion.


Liz had arrived earlier that morning, and the two of us worked together to keep up Megan’s spirits and to keep her calm and prepared for the hardest phase of the labor soon to come.  By late afternoon, Shirley began prepping the table for the baby’s delivery.  We chatted amiably with her, excitement growing as we knew the time for meeting our baby approached ever closer.  Our genial conversation was interrupted, though, as Shirley radioed for ‘a friend’ to come assist her.  Then, chaos.


Before I could realize what was happening, there was a swarm.  Nurses and midwives rushed in.  Somebody pulled an oxygen mask from the wall, placed it over Megan’s mouth, and ordered her to breathe into it.  Plugs were yanked out of the wall by shaking hands.  The brakes on Megan’s hospital bed were released, and she was rushed out of our room, down a hallway and through double doors.  I chased after but was prevented from entering the surgical wing by a forceful but sympathetic nurse.


I was escorted back to the now eerily silent delivery room, and Liz and I looked at each other speechlessly.  Those moments of sheer panic were followed by foreboding and worry.  There was nothing to do but wait, and in those minutes I thought about how long it had taken us to conceive, how truly momentous the task of being pregnant and giving birth is (young men, you have NO IDEA how much hard work, dedication, and discipline is involved in pregnancy – our distance training, challenging though it may be, does not even begin to compare).  Should anything happen to Megan or our baby, I was not sure how either of us would ever recover from the devastation.


Mercifully, the wait for news was not long.  A midwife who was at the hospital to assist another patient had heard of our distress and came to offer the calming balm of information.  “Megan and the baby are both stable” she reported, and Liz and I both breathed sighs of relief, though we couldn’t yet let go of all fears.  Not long after, a nurse came to get me, telling me that it was now OK for me to join Megan in the surgical wing.  She brought me through the vaunted double doors, and gave me scrubs and facemask to wear.  Shakily, I put on the protective blue outer covers, and before I could even finish I heard the cries of our baby.  They brought me into the room, and the doors opened onto what will be one of the indelible images of my life: a glance first to the corner of the room where nurses were attending to our minutes old baby, and then to Megan, lying on the surgical table, who looked up at me, and, joyful and teary-eyed, said, “it’s a girl.”


Clio Delaney was born, via emergency c-section, at 5:50  p.m. on Thursday, November 19th.  She weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces, and was 19 inches long.  For the first hours of her life, she was wide awake, with big black eyes and an astonishingly calm and gentle demeanor belying the scary circumstances of her birth.  While the doctors finished up Megan’s surgery, I was given a short time period to be alone with Clio.  I held her in my arms, looked at her, and could not stop smiling.


Megan was brought in to join us, and we became a family.  I gave Clio to Megan to hold for the first time, and euphoria swept over us, though tempered by exhaustion.  I took out my phone, and after taking a few photos, selected Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” as Clio’s first song.  Listening to music is one of the joys of being human.


In the hours ahead, we would learn what happened: a blood vessel burst where the placenta and umbilical cord connect, so the baby was not getting enough oxygen.  Our nurse, Shirley, realized something was awry when monitoring Clio’s heart rate.  Her quick thinking and expertise prevented complications in Clio’s birth that could very well have arisen had we been in less able hands.


Here is the connection to HCXC.  We speak often of cultivating a ‘culture of excellence’ within our program.  This means that each individual aspires to do the very best they can, not just for themselves but for their teammates.  It means that the team actively promotes certain values: hard work, self-discipline, an unwillingness to take short cuts, while discouraging others: negativity, mediocrity, undependability.  It means certain habits and ways of acting become so ingrained that new members of the team become seamlessly integrated, and soon start sharing and contributing to the team’s shared norms.  The best recent evidence I have that HCXC has instituted a true culture of excellence is that the freshman athletes, on their own volition, have created and implemented a training plan for their off-season conditioning, whereas in the first years I coached at Hinsdale Central, we literally had only one athlete on the team who trained regularly over the winter months (Pete Richard, who later went on to have a successful collegiate career at DePauw and who now works in Chicago and continues to train).


At its best, high school sport allows young men and women to acquire life skills and to gain valuable practice experimenting with implementing these skills in comparatively lower stakes environments.  In the ‘Labor and Delivery’ and ‘Mothers and Babies’ wings of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, I witnessed what a culture of excellence looks like in a professional, real-world context.  In a moment of crisis, the nurses and doctors in charge of helping Megan safely deliver her baby were able to draw upon decades of training: they knew enough to identify a problem early enough to address it, remained focused in a critical and high pressure situation, and managed to expertly execute a precise surgical maneuver all the while keeping us calm and informed of what they were doing.


This culture of excellence extended far beyond the surgical team, but was evident among all staff members we encountered at our stay in the hospital, from the Doctors and Nurses, to the high school volunteers, consultants, and orderlies.  The people who attended to us were very obviously going above and beyond what their job responsibilities required.  They showed genuine interest in our well-being, patiently answered our many questions, and showered Megan and little Clio with care and affection.  To undergo an unplanned c-section can be a traumatic experience, but the staff that cared for Megan during her hospital stay did much to help her heal both physically and emotionally.  I am sure nursing has its inherent rewards, and I know also that these nurses are working in part to provide income for their own families.  But, it must be said, to exhibit such professionalism and kindness at 6:30 a.m. at the end of a 12 hour graveyard shift, and to do so day after day, year after year, sometimes for decades, requires reserves of strength and depth of character that are, simply put, uncommon.


Those two wings of the hospital are almost entirely female domains, far removed from the predominantly male realms I encounter in as my job as coach.  Clio was born in world where, in the week she was born, a terrorist attack had been committed in Paris, bombs were set off in Mali, and protests over police brutality broke out in Chicago.  But I will tell her that she was also born into a more immediate world where the people who tended to her were motivated by love, empathy, and compassion.  These individuals ensured that Clio was properly cared for and established the conditions which set her up to thrive – and they did so knowing that they’d likely never see her again after she left the hospital.  And they do this for every single baby born in that hospital, and for every wide-eyed and disoriented parent accompanying that baby.  These doctors and nurses did not become this way by accepting mediocrity.  They exhibited excellence in their job.  It is my hope that by encouraging our athletes to reach for excellence, they will come to develop the skills that our medical team had; skills which changed forever for the better little Clio’s life, to say nothing of her eternally grateful parents.

November 7, 2015

This photograph, more than any words I could write, best captures the feeling of today

This photograph, more than any words I could write, best captures the feeling of today

In our team meeting this morning, after reviewing the day’s itinerary, I concluded by sharing two thoughts: first, that I had no regrets about our training this season and would not have changed how we prepared for state; and second, that, no matter the outcome, I (along with Coach Westphal, Kupres, and Snee) was and will continue to be incredibly proud of each and every one of the young men who were there listening to us, soon to head to Detweiller.

Cross Country is a mysterious sport.  I genuinely felt as though we were ready to have our best races of the season, but, dispiritingly – and with one notable exception – we ran our worst.  After two state meets in a row of experiencing the purest elation at the close of the day, we left Peoria today humbled and a bit shell-shocked.  It wasn’t a matter of not giving it our all – our seven men certainly did that.  It just wasn’t our day.  I can’t explain why.  Our game plan was no different from the previous two years, but the outcome was the polar opposite.  I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.

The one genuine highlight came from Blake Evertsen, our heralded junior.  Blake ended fourth overall, the highest finisher in our school’s long history.  He was within one second of the runner-up position, just edged by Sandburg’s Chris Torpy and York’s Charlie Kern.  Between Kern, Blake, and OPRF’s Irwin Loud, the WSC is already shaping up to be as intensely competitive as ever next season.  A silver lining on today’s outcome is that Blake will be back to help lead us next season, as we aim to recapture a trophy.  It is certainly not too soon to make that declaration.

As for the rest of our top seven, I can say this: we went for it.  The race splits show us in third place at the mile mark.  The men on our team followed pre-race instructions and got out very hard, so as to avoid traffic around the first turn.  It is a strategy that worked wonders for us in 2013 and 2014, though it may have worked against us today.  But, I think of the famous Teddy Roosevelt quotation:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

We did not toe the line today with the goal of getting second.  We ran to win.  We failed in the attempt.  There is no shame in that.

Some perspective taking is necessary.  In the 70 years in which the IHSA has hosted the state meet, our 9th place finish today represents the fifth best final place ever for Hinsdale Central.  There was a time, not long ago, when we’d have been thrilled to place that high.  The last two seasons changed our program, so that now 9th place seems a disappointment, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.  However, no teams in the state will be feeling sorry for us.  Over the past three seasons, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to enjoy success beyond what we once thought possible.  The best way to think about today’s performance (as I told our top 12 after the race) is not to view it as a singular moment but to put in the context of the arc of the four years of high school.  In that time, Nathan, Chris, and Andrew – along with all their senior teammates, have seen the team finish 12th, 1st, 1st, and 9th – a pretty remarkable record, and one most high school cross country runners never get to be a part of.

And so, the emotion I feel more than any other as I write this is gratitude.   Gratitude to the parents of our runners who have entrusted us with their care over these past months and years; who have made the trips to the meet locations each weekend, changed schedules to accommodate practices and meets, and juggled career and family responsibilities in order to make it possible for their boys to devote so much time, effort, and emotion to our program. Gratitude to our alumni, who continue to give back to our program through messages of support, through the care they continue to show to each other and to their former teammates, and for the passion they still have for cross country.  Gratitude to our current team members who may not have made the top 12 but who contributed to our program just as much.  Taking a page from the playbook of the great Fayette-Manlius coach Bill Aris, we encourage our athletes to be contributors rather than participants.  The boys on our team who travelled down to the Peoria to cheer on their teammates are exemplary in this regard: each has given 100% effort on a daily basis, and in so doing has enriched the culture of our team.

I feel gratitude towards Sean O’Connell, John Bynan, Ben Schieders, Jacob Belgrad, and Steven Zaher – the five athletes who comprised our official ‘alternates’ this season.  How gratifying to know all five will return next season, along with others including Emmett Grundberg, Colin Yandel, Sam Schiavitti, Mac Anderson, and Alec Hill, to help join the quest which has begun already.

I feel gratitude towards Blake Evertsen, Ethan Planson, Ryan Doorhy, and Sam Fathizadeh.  They comprise a battle-tested foursome that will form the core of that quest, with a strong supporting cast waiting in the wings.  With a year of experience running at state, they will be better prepared next season, as we do battle once again.

I feel gratitude to Chris Brenk, Andrew Irvine, and Nathan Hill.  This is not the conclusion I scripted for them, but though they have run their final cross country race as a Red Devil, I hope they can take solace in knowing how much I appreciate their investment into our program.  All three had to overcome adversity in their careers with us, but all three have kept the faith.  They persevered through the hard times, as they will through this difficult moment of their high school running career.  All three are men of exemplary character, who teachers in my department often speak highly of whenever the conversation in the office drifts to cross country.  All three, I think and hope, will continue to run in college, where other highlights await.  I thank them for making challenging goals and pursuing them with every fiber of their being.  You can never be judged anything other than admirable when you do that.

Finally, I feel gratitude to Megan, my wife, and for the child we’ll be meeting in three weeks or less.  Looming over this season has been the awe-inspiring knowledge that, at its conclusion, a completely unprecedented and thrilling epoch of my life will begin soon after.  The season is now over.  In so many different ways, a new chapter begins.

The Final Sendoff

The reach of the HCXC community is wide and it echoes back through the decades.  An amazing amount of support has flooded in over this past week, as we have received messages of good will from over 50 friends, family members and alumni – from Grandparents in their 80s to younger siblings not yet 10.  Alumni from 5 different decades reached out to us, from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

We had notes send from Washington DC, Boston, Baltimore, New Haven, and New York City on the East Coast to Atlanta, Columbia-South Carolina, Blacksburg-Virginia, and Raleigh Durham in the South, to Stevens Point-Wisconsin up North, to Denver, Los Angeles, and Claremont-California out West.  In our own midwest, letters came from Davenport, Iowa, from Urbana-Champaign (several), and even from Elmhurst and La Grange!

All of you who sent letters or who simply have kept us in your thoughts, you have contributed a significant gift to our team – you will be the proverbial wind to our sails when we toe the line tomorrow.  We cannot thank you enough.

So, here it is, the 2015 final sendoff:

Momentum Builds

What an awesome gift our alumni have given us.  A huge thanks to Chris Brenk and Chris Kennedy for collaborating on the second annual alumni support video.  This gives us a strong wind behind our back.  Thanks as well to all the alumni who contributed messages of support in the video:

From the class of 1982(!)-Paul Kivela (12th in the 1981 AA state meet)

From the class of 2011-Billy Fayette (all-state in XC and track), Zach Withall (all-state in track)

From the class of 2013-Dylan Palo, Rajan Khanna, Kevin Labotka, Chris Kennedy

From the class of 2014-Emmett Scully, TJ Caveney (all-state in XC), Kevin Huang (all-state in XC)

From the class of 2015-Griffin Gartner, Matt McBrien, Austin Kleber, Sean O’Flaherty, Nick Tandle, Matt Tobia, Alex Domiano, Sunil Dommaraju, Max Maydanchik, Josh Feldman (all-state in XC)

To all the family, friends, and alums who have sent messages of support, we cannot thank you enough.  It’s not too late to send a message – direct any notes to the top 7 to me ( by Thursday night, and I will make sure they are included in the packet to our team.  Truly, words cannot do justice to how much gratitude I feel for you all.  Now, on to state!

To HCXC friends and family – we need your support!

As has been our tradition the past few years, we want to send our boys off with final words of advice and encouragement. Please consider composing a message addressed to the men of HCXC (if you’d like to see some examples, see last year’s messages here: Email your message to me at no later than Thursday, November 5th. I will collect all the messages together and put them in a packet for our top 12 athletes to read on the bus ride down to Peoria. I firmly believe that this ritual has had an extremely positive impact the past few years, reminding the boys how much we care about them and how proud we are.

And on we go to State!

Sectional Recap: Survive and Advance

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:

//, 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.