Guest Blog: Joe Miscimarra

Below you will find an essay written by junior Joe Miscimarra.  Joe’s title for this piece is “Running with Guts” but my unofficial title for it is “Sisu Revisited” as he delves into a concept I once wrote about on this blog.  Joe has been an incredibly valuable member of the team, seeing huge time drops from when he joined us as a freshman, having a work ethic second to none, and, perhaps no less important, being the league commissioner for the team’s leaf-catching contest!  What follows is his inspiring essay, which I will be reading to team members at our pre-conference meeting this afternoon, but would also like to share with a wider audience:

This past summer, my family and I made the journey north to the “U.P.” or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where we stay in a log cabin that my grandpa built. The U.P. has the largest percentage of people with Finnish ancestry in the entire country, and it is common to see Finnish flags hanging on porches when driving through towns.

Although my grandpa didn’t have any Finnish blood in him, both my grandma and his friends did, so he conformed to the culture of the Upper Peninsula by naming the cabin “Rauha Maja” which, translated into English, means “peaceful cabin.” Additionally, despite an absence of plumbing and electricity, he felt compelled to build a Sauna right behind the single-room cabin, a necessity for any true Finn.

At Rauha Maja, before a day of preparing food on the campfire, doing yard work, and throwing rocks into Lake Superior, I kept my summer training up by running on the peaceful roads that lead to the cabin. The dirt path was lined with seemingly endless trees, similar to the trails at Waterfall Glen. Like any run, it was difficult just to focus on the workout itself, and with the tranquil setting and lack of cars contributing to the monotonous serenity, my mind wandered to other things. My thoughts revolved around an idea that was familiar to the cultural background of the region. This idea, wrapped up in a single word, is of Finnish origin, and helped me get through my 12 mile long runs and tempo miles. It is called Sisu.
Sisu (pronounced see-soo) is a word that has no direct English translation. I first learned about it a few months prior, and summed up, it is the Finnish spirit of constant bravery, resilience, and strength, and it completely applies to distance running. It contains all of the traits that athletes aspire to harness, including discipline, strength over a long period of time, and the ability to push beyond what you think is possible. Although the word itself does not have an English correlative, the closest translation is “having guts.”

This isn’t just a word that comes from Finland­– their country lives, breathes, and exists because of Sisu. In World War II, the Finnish army defended their country against the Soviet Union in a three-month-long battle called the Winter War. The Soviets outnumbered the Finns 3-to-1 and possessed 6,000 armored tanks, overpowering the mere 32 Finnish tanks. However, using guerilla raids on the Soviet line at night, the Finns managed to repel the invasion by the end of the winter. In fact, the Soviets suffered more than four times the losses than Finland did. The Finnish army fought through -40º Fahrenheit temperatures in 18-hours of darkness a day, and attributed their victory to Sisu.
Although this might be the first time you have heard of Sisu, I am not the first one to apply it to distance running. In the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Finnish runner Lasse Viren tripped and fell halfway through the championship 10k race, separating him from the front pack by 20 meters. However, Viren got up, returned to the front pack, and ran his way to both a gold medal and a world record. In an interview with Running Times, Viren described his interpretation of Sisu as “don’t give up.”

Personally, I’ve always struggled with finishing hard during races and workouts. When I was a freshman, I heard a motivational piece of advice for 3 mile cross country races: “The first mile is adrenaline. The second mile is training. The third mile is guts.” Even though I’ve learned through experience that this isn’t entirely accurate, I believe that in the end, the race will be decided by guts. Finding that drive has been my biggest area of improvement, and I’m sure that there are others on the team in the same situation. So, as we are all ending our seasons, I implore all of my teammates to run their final races with guts. I entreat everyone to be willing to endure more pain than the guy next to them, because that guy is in pain too. I challenge you to “Finnish” the race with Sisu.

Advertisements

Twilight Highlights

It was an action-packed week with the Devils unusually competing in back-to-back meets, on Wednesday at the Naperville Twilight meet and again Thursday at KLM in a dual with DGN.  Much has been written already on the Naperville Twilight Meet (see Dyestat, IlMileSplit, or recaps on Neuqua Valley and Minooka’s websites) and I will echo those voices in stating my admiration for the vision of the meet directors (Naperville North coaches Dan Iverson and Dave Racey, picking up on an idea first piloted by Neuqua Valley) and the meet sponsors (Naperville Running Company and New Balance).  I wrote a blog last year called “Track has a problem” about how important atmosphere is to performance (can you feel a buzz when you are there, either participating or watching?), and this twilight concept is one excellent example of how create such conditions.

Since the story of how the varsity race played out has already been told by abler pens than mine (see above), I will instead share the story of the meet from the HCXC perspective as a series of moments captured in time:

-“Hold on coach, I have something for you”

 As most of you know, this is the first time we have participated in this meet.  When Naperville North took the meet over they expanded the field, and we were incredibly fortunate to be extended an invitation to compete.  For me personally, one of the ‘highlights of the twilight’ was the opportunity to be in the midst of a group of the finest coaches in the nation, men I deeply admire.  Seriously, this was a hall of fame of coaches.  There was Dan Iverson, coach of the juggernaut Naperville North Girls, 4th in the nation last year.  His coaching colleague on the boy’s side is Dave Racey, who has led Naperville North to top 10 finishes in state every year over the past decade, including a thrilling 1-point state title over York in 2009.  Chris Muth and Ben Draper, coaches of the Yorkville Boys and Girls teams, have 6 state titles between them over the past 4 years, including an amazing 4 in a row on the girls’ side.  Paul Vandersteen has coached Neuqua Valley to two state titles and a national championship (in 2007).  My good friend John Sipple coached DGN to a runner-up trophy in 2013, shocking the state.  Paul Haas at Glenbard West coached his girls’ team to the state title that same year.  Kyle Nugent and Kurt Frazier, the boys coaches at GW, coached their team to their highest ever finish in the schools long history at state last year, finishing 5th.  Coach McCabe and Westphal are state title winners, too.  There were great coaches of up and coming programs, including Andy Derks at Plainfield North and Kevin Gummerson of Minooka, who has built the girl’s program into a state title contender this year, and his assistant Nick Lundin, who is also the head boys track coach and has built that squad from nothing into one of the most complete and competitive teams in state.  I literally felt like a kid invited backstage at a rock festival headlined by all his favorite bands.  What I admire about all of these coaches, aside from their many successes, is how open each has been to sharing wisdom and how committed each is to making our sport better.  An astonishingly generous act by Coach Lundin will illustrate what I mean:

This winter, I will be taking over as head coach for the Track and Field team at HC (Coach Kupres, who stepped down in June, will stay on as an assistant).  I am very excited about this opportunity, but also cognizant of how truly challenging it will be to balance being a good father to my newborn child with being as good of a coach as I can be.  In these final weeks before our child is born, I have been reaching out to head coaches for advice.  One of the first people I thought to contact was Coach Lundin, as we are the same age and I know he has managed the responsibilities of being head track coach with being a good family man (he has two young children).  Nick responded immediately to my email saying he’d be glad to share some thoughts.  A few weeks later, he emailed again, saying he hadn’t forgotten me, and that he’d “typed a few things down.”  When I saw him on Wednesday, he motioned me over to his team area, pulled an envelope out of his bag, and handed it to me.  Amidst the excitement of the meet, I did not get a chance to review the contents until the next evening.  What I found was an 8-page letter he wrote me full of insights and lessons he’d learned over the years of his coaching career!  When I reflect upon how much time and thought he put into this message for me, a coach he will be competing against, I am filled with gratitude and humbled by such kindness.  This act embodies the fraternity shared by coaches, and is emblematic of why I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

-“And in 21st place”

The first race of the day for us was the combined frosh/soph boys.  For the first time, we took our top 5 freshman and joined them on a squad with our top 5 sophomores, perhaps a preview of the team’s future varsity squad.  We especially felt uplifted by the return of Neil Cumberland to our lineup.  Neil was our top freshman last year, finishing 6th in conference.  He had a successful track season, too, but was derailed early into summer conditioning by a stress reaction.  After months of physical therapy and cross training, he ran his first meet this week and looked surprisingly strong given that most of his aerobic work has had to be done off the roads.  Neil finished as our third man in 19th place, and his presence in the race no doubt helped his teammate Colin Yandel, who tucked in right behind him, finishing 21st.  Sean O’Connell had been first across the line in 7th, followed by Steven Zaher in 12th.  Our top freshman was Matt Kusak, who ended as our 5th man in 49th place, just ahead of Sophomore newcomer Sam Schiavitti who was 51st.  Fletcher Spillers (56th), Will Ricker (63rd), Kevin Hopkins (78th) and Brandon Belgrad (90th) rounded out our lineup, all gaining valuable experience at the three mile distance.

According to the meet information we received, custom-made medals would be granted to the top 20 finishers.  Poor Colin Yandel had lost a fight for that final position down the final straightaway and appeared to be in the hard luck position of the being the first finisher not to get a medal.  It was thus quite fun to watch him whoop for joy when the announcer at the awards ceremony intoned, “and in 21st place, from Hinsdale Central, Colin Yandel.”  Colin had run a gritty race and has improved tremendously (and grown about a foot) since last year.  His unexpected medal will be a great memento from an electrifying evening.

-“Coach, can I talk to you?”

Shortly after the frosh/soph boys race, just as my adrenaline was wearing off, Blake Evertsen asked Coach Westphal and I if he could speak with us.  We walked over to a less crowded spot just off our team area, and he explained that he did not feel right.  I know Blake, and there is no one who loves competition more than he, so for him to tell us he wasn’t sure about running meant something really must be up.  Recognizing that the most important meets of the season remain, Coach W and I quickly decided it was best for Blake to head home.  We’d been taken off guard though, and quickly had to recalibrate our expectations for the meet.  We adjusted as best we could, telling out varsity top 7 to stick to our original game plan and that they’d need to step up in the absence of our usual frontrunner.

The moment I’ll remember from the varsity race was the first time the runners entered the stadium, just short of one mile into the race.  Our pack of runners came in together, tightly packed and, at that point, ahead of most NV runners.  Alas, we could not hold that position, and NV showed just how incredibly deep they are easily besting us despite missing their top 2 finishers (Connor Horn and Scott Anderson) from our first race against them at the HRD invite.  The positive news for us was that Chris Brenk looked more like his old self, finishing 4th overall, and our split from 1-5 was only 16 seconds.  It is hard to say if running without Blake affected our psychology.  The best news came days later, when Blake reported to us he was feeling healthy and ready to return to his quest of being the among the best in state, and helping to lead his teammates to the same

-“Wait, Bynan’s in the lead?!”

Blake’s announcement changed the tone of the meet for us, but things took a truly unexpected turn (literally and figuratively) during the boy’s open race.  When I first saw the racers come by, at about the 600 meter mark, we were looking great.  Jan Erik Naess was among the top 4-5 overall, and he was followed closely by a huge pack of Red Devil runners, including Michael Gates, Zach Sayre, Ruiling Ge, Ben Schnieders, Yuji Cusick, and John Bynan, all who were certainly in the top 15 or 20 overall.  Entropy then ensued.  The darkness, confused fans, and an ambiguous juncture combined to set the lead runners down the wrong path, and the orderly stream of athletes devolved into chaos.  It was a truly surreal moment, as collective confusion washed over the observers and participants.  Out of this disorder emerged John Bynan, in a small pack of athletes who best kept their wits about them when the leaders ran off course.  After a massive reshuffling, with most of the lead pack having ventured over 400 meters opposite of the intended direction, JB emerged into the lead.  Sensing opportunity, I yelled at him to seize the moment and do what he could to win.  JB traded leads with a DGN and Minooka runner between the 2 and 2.5 mile mark before making an authoritative move with 800 to go to put the race away….or so we thought.  As he entered the stadium though, two athletes (including our own Jan Erik) seemingly emerged from the ether, making the completely understandable though audacious decision to cut off part of the course in order to make up for the extra section they’d added earlier.  In the end, JB crossed the line second, behind a NV runner, though he was certainly the first to the finish of all the athletes who ran the regulation course.

For most of the rest of our JV athletes, the race left them confused and hungering for another chance to test their fitness.  It’s pretty tough to set out on a three mile run only to find out halfway through you are actually going to be running 3.5 miles!  Conference looms next.  We’ve never had more than 4 athletes earn all-conference in the JV race.  Could this be the year?

As a fitting coda to this story, JB this morning ran his 1000th mile of the season, becoming the second athlete on our team this year to do so (Blake hit the mark a few days earlier, we realized in retrospect).  I can say with certitude that nobody has worked harder this season than he has – his contributions to the team are immeasurable.  He has absolutely set the standard for commitment – he missed not one single day of summer running, he took care of his body in order to manage high mileage, and when he faced nagging injuries he was a role model of what intensive cross training should look like.  I know for a fact his work ethic motivated Blake, who upped his own mileage after realizing how hard his teammate was training.  If we should be so fortunate to earn a trophy this season, JB will have a rightful stake in it, regardless of whether or not he runs in the top 7.

“This looks like a rave”

IMG_1190

The above quotation is how a fellow coach described the Awards Ceremony held after the final race. Indeed, the awards ceremony at the Twilight meet was unlike any I’d ever been to before.  It was held in the middle of the track, under the stadium lights.  Music blared, and the gathered athletes tossed around neon necklaces that had been distributed by the race organizers.  It was clear the high schoolers in attendance were giddy to be there – for once, cross country getting a billing somewhat reminiscent of the fabled Friday night lights football players enjoy.  Our freshman athletes were wide-eyed, perhaps realizing truly for the first time, the future that being a runner could hold for them.

The next day, we were back at it.  While Thursday’s meet lacked music and stadium lights, we did have the envious setting of KLM on a lovely fall day.  Though DGN opted to use the meet for a recovery run (as all their athletes had raced the previous day) we used the race as an opportunity for our freshman to get a race under their belt at the three mile distance and for our older athletes to test out race strategies against each other in a low-pressure situation .  Our top 2 finishers, Michael Chadwell and Daniel Hu, have been handling varsity workouts since the beginning of the season, each regularly running 50 mile weeks.  Chadwell, who holds the distinction of having the most punned last name of anyone on the team, took home his first ever race victory, crossing the tape in 17:40.  Hu was next in 17:56, followed by Sophmore Kiril Kuzmanovski who earned the bronze, running 18:03.  Kiril will join Mac Anderson and Sam Schiavitti next week at conference, with all three vying to fill the role of all-important 5th man.  Our top freshmen in the race were Anshul Sankaran (18:37) and Charlie Carter (18:47), two young men who have improved tremendously this season, and, even better yet, are polite, respectful, and enthusiastic, all qualities which make them a joy to coach.

Full results are below:

IMG_1191

All these men will toe the line one final time this season – a week from today in our conference meet, hosted this year by Glenbard West.  It is amazing how fast the season goes by.  Here is to hoping that each man has that final race go by faster than it ever has for them before!

A Blog for the Moms

On the last official day of summer running, I gathered our team members around and spoke to them of an attitude I hoped we could all adopt for the coming season.  Quoting from a recent opinion piece written by the New York Times columnist David Brooks, I suggested we strive to exhibit “dispositional gratitude.”  Brooks explains,

The basic logic of the capitalist meritocracy is that you get what you pay for, that you earn what you deserve. But people with dispositional gratitude are continually struck by the fact that they are given far more than they pay for — and are much richer than they deserve. Their families, schools and summer camps put far more into them than they give back. There’s a lot of surplus goodness in daily life that can’t be explained by the logic of equal exchange.

Capitalism encourages us to see human beings as self­-interested, utility-maximizing creatures. But people with grateful dispositions are attuned to the gift economy where people are motivated by sympathy as well as self-­interest. In the gift economy intention matters…We’re grateful when others took an imaginative leap and put themselves in our mind, even with no benefit to themselves.

Gratitude is also a form of social glue. In the capitalist economy, debt is to be repaid to the lender. But a debt of gratitude is repaid forward, to another person who also doesn’t deserve it. In this way each gift ripples outward and yokes circles of people in bonds of affection. It reminds us that a society isn’t just a contract based on mutual benefit, but an organic connection based on natural sympathy — connections that are nurtured not by self-­interest but by loyalty and service…We live in a capitalist meritocracy that encourages individualism and utilitarianism, ambition and pride. But this society would fall apart if not for another economy, one in which gifts surpass expectations, in which insufficiency is acknowledged and dependence celebrated. Gratitude is the ability to see and appreciate this other almost magical economy.

Knowing that the season would be one filled with the pressures of high expectations, I hoped to remind our boys how lucky we were to be healthy and prosperous enough to devote ourselves to such a lofty goal, that we were in this together, and that so many others had helped clear the path for us – from the alums who helped build up our program to their parents who love and support them.

As Brooks suggest, to be grateful is to live with the awesome awareness that we often get back far beyond what we give (even in the full knowledge that we all give a lot).  Megan and I felt the full weight of this today when we arrived at the home of Alisa and Jeff Anderson for a surprise baby shower organized by Alisa Anderson and Wendy Brenk and attended by dozens of mothers whose boys (some now young men) I have (or had) the privilege of coaching.

I am very comfortable and used to addressing a room full of high school boys.  What I have no experience whatsoever in doing is addressing a room full of those boys’ moms.  As a consequence, I stumbled over my words in expressing appreciation this afternoon for the love, support, kindness, and generosity the women of Hinsdale Central Cross Country showed to my family.  Megan and I wish to thank all of you who helped make today possible.  It warms our hearts to know that we are bringing a child into this world that already has so many caring people rooting for his/her success and sending so many good wishes.  And who already has an extensive library of new books(!), many of them the childhood favorites of boys I coached.  Our sincerest hope is for our child to grow up to be as conscientious, polite, hard-working, and friendly as every single one of the boys raised by the moms who celebrated with us today.

parenting photo

I saw this image recently in my social media feed.  It speaks to what I most appreciate about the boys I get to coach, and especially about how grateful I am to their parents for having that privilege.  It is also advice I hope to be mindful of as I begin my own life as a parent.

School of Hard Knocks

I am a strong believer that, even when you don’t run well (especially when you don’t run well) it is important to use every competition as a learning experience.  Some of the work of coaching involves detailed planning and some of it involves thinking on the fly – in the immediate aftermath of a race, what do you say to your exhausted runners as they stumble out of the finishing chute that will be impactful?  What message gets conveyed to each level once they’ve reassembled near the team area?

Within minutes of the conclusion of their race at Behrens Park in Elmhurst this past Thursday, I had the freshman runners gather in a circle around me to let them know my visceral reaction to the way they’d raced: tentatively – without aggressiveness and well within their comfort zones.  “400 meters into the race, and all I saw was Green jerseys” I shouted at them, with more passion than anger, alluding to the mass of Glenbard West and York runners who’d gotten out far better than we had.  I told the wide-eyed young runners that I knew they were capable of more – that I believed they had the potential to develop into a special group, but that it would require them to reach down into reserves they’d not yet discovered they had.

Happily, the freshman group proved to be quick studies.  At the Palatine Invitational this morning, they applied their understandings from the recent lesson, starting out with much more assertiveness and positioning themselves much more favorably, as we asked them to do in our team strategy meeting yesterday.  In the absence of a few injured runners (Alec Hill, Michael Horton, Josh Terry) an identifiable top 7 is starting to coalesce: Kevin Hopkins, Matt Kusak, Brandon Belgrad, Will Ricker, Fletcher Spillers, Anshul Sankaran, and Charlie Carter.  These 7 all finished within 20 seconds of each other today.  Most amazingly, our top 5 freshman crossed the line with an unheard of 3 second split.  We were 2 for 3 on achieving our goals for the meet.  We aimed for 5 in the top 50, and exceeded this by putting 5 in the top 41 and having 6 guys in the top 50 (Anshul, who looks better with each race, finished in exactly 50th).  We also achieved our goal of taking a risk by running more aggressively.  We fell short of our other goal of 3 in the top 25.  Our runners packed up between 33-41.  We would have needed each guy in our top 5 to improve 15 seconds to get there.  In the end, we finished 6th place with 183 points, only 21 points behind 4th place York who’d handily beaten us just two days before.  We were ahead of several schools with excellent cross country programs, including New Trier, Palatine, Hersey, Jones College Prep, and Lake Zurich.  All things considered, it was a huge step forward for this group.

For our other three groups – the Sophomores, Varsity, and Junior Varsity – the races taught us some tough but important lessons.  One obvious lesson for our Sophomore group is that we will not perform well so long as our team remains incomplete.  We put forth a depleted squad – with several key members missing today’s action (fully 5 of our top 10 were not in the lineup).  The lone highlight of the race was the performance turned in by Steven Zaher, who led us with a 13th place overall finish.  Steven moved up nicely and picked guys off over the past half mile, which was an area that proved to be a weakness for us collectively on this day.  Sean O’Connell, our usual top runner, struggled in the heat and held tough for an 18th place finish, though he’d been in the top 5 at the halfway mark.  He is too tough of a runner not to bounce back.  Colin Yandel had a breakout race two days ago at York, when he broke 17:00 for the first time ever, but may have used up some of his reserves.  On this day, he ran as best as he was able, but finished farther back then he hoped to in 17:10, just breaking into the top 50.  Sam Schiavitti and Alex Choi did a nice job finishing as our 4th and 5th men today, helping to fill the void.  Sam broke 18:00 for the first time ever, and helped narrow the gap between our 3 and 4 guy from 1:25 at the York/GW tri to 50 seconds.  Alex is just coming off an injury and showed that he has the potential for huge improvements provided he puts in consistent training.

In the end, we finished in 12th place out of 26th, pretty far back from where we want to be.  If we can get our entire group to the line healthy for the last two major meets of the season – the Naperville Twilight Meet and the Conference Meet – we should show a lot better.

In the open race, like the varsity race it followed, we looked great at the halfway point: Jacob Belgrad and Jan Erik Naess were leading the race at that point, with Michael Gates and Ruiling Ge not far back.  The Palatine course folds back on itself, and finishes with a 600 meter sprint back towards the starting line – by that point, only Ruiling Ge looked strong, methodically passing runners one by one.  The enthusiastic senior who completed his first several workouts for our team in high tops when he joined us as a sophomore stormed home to an 8th place finish in a personal best time of 16:35.9, about 1 second behind our lead runner Jacob Belgrad, who was 7th.  Jacob is working his way back from an injury that had forced him to cross train for a few weeks: though he struggled in the final half mile, he is clearly on his way back and simply needs to get a few interval workouts under his belt.  He may yet be in the mix for a spot in our varsity top 7.  For that matter, so might Jan Erik Naess.  Though Jan, too, paid a high price for taking the lead early on, he managed a respectable 11th place finish, just two days after finishing as our top man in our tri meet against GW and York (we held out our Varsity).  Perhaps there is no more social trio on our team than Jan, Ruiling, and Jacob.  Certainly no three who smile more often.

A few other runners in the JV race deserve special mention (all deserve credit, though time prevents me from recognizing everyone by name in today’s blog): Yuji Cusick raced for the first time in over two years, and finished 60th overall in 17:19.  There are few individuals I admire as much as Yuji, as he’s managed terrible and frustrating injuries with patience and grace.  He has some way to go before he regains the level of fitness he had before stress fractures and other injuries struck him, but he took a great first step by mixing it up in what Coach Quick called “the deepest JV race in the state.”  Solid performances were also turned in by newcomer Rayed Yasin (56th in 17:13), Andrew Denos (69th in 17:26), and Luke Northey (who ran a PR of 20:16).  The JV ended 3rd overall, despite running short-handed (Zach Sayre, Emmett Grundberg, and John Bynan could all have been counted on to score low points), a testament to how deep our team is.  The team finished just ahead of York, though a ways behind New Trier.  It will be interesting to see how we fare at Conference, as no HC team has ever won on the JV level.  If we’re healthy, we may have a legitimate shot.   Which bring us to the varsity…

The Varsity race lived up to its billing as a showdown between us and our respected conference rivals from York.  Both teams scored less than half as many points as third place New Trier, but in the end, the Dukes emerged the victors in this early battle, nipping us by 9 points.  Frustratingly, we looked to be in the lead at the two mile mark, but, with the exception of Blake Evertsen who further solidified his credentials as one of the elite runners in the nation with his second place finish, we faded hard down the final straightaway.  This is partially a fault of the decision made by Coach Westphal and I to insist that we push hard from the gun (a strategy which we paid the price for later in the race), can to a degree be explained away due to the weather conditions (the 87% humidity and extreme sunlight took a toll on some of us), and may be in part due to the emotional energy expended earlier in the week due to assorted homecoming festivities.  Whatever the reasons (and these are not excuses) we did not show the fight that York did and thus deserved the place we finished today – 2nd, for the third major invite in a row.  Hats off to coaches Newton, Kern, Mimlitz, and Hedmen for getting their men ready.  The Dukes ran a far better performance than they did a week ago in Peoria and stole a race that was very much ours to win.  While we did not run terribly (we actually narrowed our split to 45 seconds, which was one of our goals) we did not fire on all cylinders – and in a state as strong as Illinois this season, there is no margin for error.

Palatine’s Coach Quick, the one man the in state who has done more statistical analysis of meet results than myself, informed us that the conversion between Peoria and Palatine is about 18 seconds – if you run within 18 seconds of your Detweiller time, you’ve had a pretty good race.  Here is how we fared:

Name                   Detweiller Time                Palatine Time                    Difference

Eversten              14:25                                   14:46                                   +21

Brenk                    14:56                                   15:20                                   +24

Hill                        15:26                                   15:21                                   -5

Fathizadeh          15:07                                   15:28                                   +21

Doorhy                 15:27                                   15:31.5                               +4.5

Irvine                    14:56                                   15:48                                   +52

Planson                15:21                                   16:14                                   +53

Total                                                                                                               +170.5

And here is how York ran:

Name                   Detweiller Time                Palatine Time                    Difference

Kern                      14:40                                   14:56                                   +16

Denning               15:09                                   15:14                                   +5

May                      15:11                                   15:16                                   +5

Devereaux           15:20.5                               15:42                                   +21.5

Tomaska              15:21                                   15:28                                   +7

Davies                  15:38                                   15:27                                   -11

Wolff                    15:50                                   16:16                                   +26

Total                                                                                                               +69.5

Pretty obvious which team had a better race today.  So, we lick our wounds, put this one behind us, and look ahead.  We will see York again in three weeks, and one can be sure that the Dukes will once again be ready for the challenge.  Blessedly, we will return to practice on Monday with the craziness of homecoming behind us (this is not to minimize the value of homecoming, but simply to recognize that we all have limits to the number of demands on our attention).  We can refocus, get back to basics.  The good news is that on a day we were not our best, we came within striking distance of an excellent York team.  In talking with a few of my coaching friends at the meet – Andy Adelman of Jones College Prep, Andy Derks from Plainfield North, Coach Quick – all of whom are at least my equal in their passion and knowledge about cross country – I was reminded that to score less than 100 points at such a loaded meet and refer to it as an off-day is a position envied by most.

So we’ve now finished 2nd to Neuqua Valley, Lyons Township, and York.  The best news, though, is that we get the chance for a rematch – with NV in a week and a half at the Naperville Twilight Meet, and with York and LT in three weeks at Conference.  And, of course, we’re likely to battle it out with all three of these teams and Sandburg (among others) for the three available trophies at state six weeks from today.  Fall officially started just three days ago – we got a lot of season left.  Plenty of time for our senior leaders Nathan, Chris, and Andrew to take control of the reigns and steer the team back on course.  The ultimate significance of these three second place finishes has not yet been determined.

There’s Something Happening Here

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:

2015

Sandburg-14:45

NV-14:55

LT-14:57

HC-14:57

York-15:08

Buffalo Grove-15:08

OPRF-15:09

Lake Zurich-15:09

2014

HC-14:59

Sandburg-15:06

NV-15:09

2013

HC-14:59

2012

York-14:55

O’Fallon-15:06

2011

Palatine-14:56

Belvedere North-15:02

2010

OPRF-15:01

Belvedere North-15:02

York-15:05

 

2009

Loyola-14:57

2008

No teams under 15:10 in either meet

2007

NV-14:50 (This Chris Derrick-led team went on to win NXN)

Naperville North-15:03

Hersey-15:03

Palatine-15:05

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!

“Second place is the…”

It is the second weekend in a row where we have had a major invitational and the second weekend in a row where we have finished second.  At the varsity level of the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational last weekend, we finished ahead of 17 teams and behind a very strong Neuqua Valley.  This weekend, we bested 43 class AAA teams but fell short to our highly respected conference rival Lyons Township.  Looked at in a certain light, our record is 70-2, surely good enough for any boxer to be granted a shot at a title fight.  Such are the expectations that have risen up around our program and within our community, though, that what we notice most is the “2”.

How should one process earning an actual, or even metaphorical, silver medal?  I’ve read studies which suggest that Olympic bronze medalists report higher rates of happiness and satisfaction than Olympic silver medalists.  Earn third, and you are thrilled to be on the medal stand.  Finish second, and you instead ponder what you might have done differently to finish first.  We could certainly play that game for our meet this afternoon.  Lyons Township beat us 80-96.  We had outstanding races from Blake Evertsen (2nd), Andrew Irvine (15th), and Sam Fathizadeh (26th) to keep us in contention, but ran without usual front runners Chris Brenk (16th) and Nathan Hill (46th) at full strength.  Had Chris and Nathan simply finished the same place they did last year (Chris was 7th, Nathan was 29th) we’d have emerged the victors (2+7+16+27+29=81 vs. 3+13+15+22+33=86).  Of course, this is a fool’s errand, as any team can play the ‘what if’ game to intended effect (LT ran well, though senior Connor Madell was a bit further off his teammate Vince Zona than a week ago, to cite just one example).

At this point in the season, finishing second place is easier to process.  The meets to this point are more checkpoints than endpoints.  The results serve as useful feedback that teams can use to gauge the success of their training schemes and allow for honest reflection about the level of commitment displayed by each individual as well as the collective.  While our bus ride home was not quite as insouciant as the past two years’ when we left Detweiller as the ‘First to the Finish’ champions, neither was the mood somber.  The ten athletes representing our team this weekend have displayed a maturity that comes with the wisdom of knowing the season is long – and that we have the necessary pieces to be a title contender and a good stretch of time to figure out how to put those pieces in place.

Today, like last week, proved to be a useful learning experience.  Sam Fathizadeh, Sean O’Connell, Emmett Grundberg, and Zach Sayre all had an opportunity to run the state meet course for their first time.   Blake Evertsen learned what it will take to be a state champion.  He ceded nothing to pre-race favorite Kevin Salvano, and with him, broke from the lead pack fairly early on.  At 300 to go, the two were even.  Down the straightaway, Salvano found a gear that Blake is still yet developing.  The athlete with a 9:04 3200 PR defeated the athlete with a 9:14 3200 PR, but only just.  Blake’s time of 14:25.8 is the fastest any Hinsdale Central athlete has ever run at Detweiller Park.  Few athletes I have encountered have the kind of inner drive he exhibits.  It will be fun to see how his career continues to develop.

Andrew Irvine, today, learned what it truly means to race.  For the first time in his high school cross country career, he ran like the elite athlete we knew he could be.  After a disappointing race at the Hornet-Red Devil Invite last week, where humidity sapped his strength and he finished looking sallow and drained, “Irv” bounced back in a major way, joining an incredibly select group of H.C. runners to break 15:00 at Detweiller in the Westphal-Lawrence-Kupres era (that lists includes Billy Fayette, Jack Feldman, Billy Magnesen, Kevin Huang, Chris Brenk, Josh Feldman, Matt McBrien, and Blake Evertsen…but does  NOT include all-state runners Zach Withall and T.J. Caveney).  Andrew ran 14:56 and finished 15th as our 2nd man today, with teammate Chris Brenk right at his side in 16th.  Chris showed courage gutting it out on a day he did not feel himself.  We saw last week a sneak preview of how good he could become (the athletes who were 4th and 5th today finished behind Chris at HRD).  Knowing Chris as well as I do, I know he will be disappointed with his own race, but cheered to know how well his dear friend and teammates Andrew ran, and motivated to move forward and get back to focusing on the daily process of slow improvement.

Our fourth man today was Sam Fathizadeh, which, I have to imagine, must have had that certain subculture of race result scrutinizers scratching their heads in wonderment and asking “Sam who?”  Here is a guy who finished his sophomore track season by running a PR in the 3200 at the ‘race at state’ in Eastern Illinois of 10:26.  Nothing up to that point would have predicted how much he’d improve.  One of the characteristics of our program that I am the most proud of is that every year it seems like somebody unexpected rises up to fill in a gap in our varsity top 7.  This dates back several years to the days when Pete Stubbings and Joe Berg emerged from relative obscurity, to more recent success stories like T.J. Caveney, Josh Feldman, and Griffin Gartner.  After Sam matched Griffin’s time and place last week, I told him he was going to run 15:18 today, just as Griffin did last year.  Instead, Sam, ran 15:07 – and finished in 26th place.  His time and place was nearly identical to what Josh Feldman ran at First to the Finish last year (15:07 for 27th) – and we all know how Josh fared at state that year.  What an amazing story it would be if Sam follows suit.

Ethan Planson, like Andrew, also rebounded nicely from a mediocre first race.  Planson was our fifth man today in 15:21, a Detweiller PR by 17 seconds, and a full 55 seconds faster than he ran last weekend.  His time is one second faster than T.J. Caveney ran here for this meet in 2013.  Caveney, like Josh, would later go on to nab an unexpected all-state spot.  Planson, we hope, will follow a similar trajectory.

So too might Ryan Doorhy and Sean O’Connell, both of whom finished ahead of Ethan last week and who were our 7th and 8th runners today.  Ryan improved his Detweiller PR by 48 seconds to finish in 15:27, about the same that Matt McBrien ran his junior year before he went on to finish 60th at state.  Sean, our lone sophomore to earn a spot on the varsity at this point ran 15:33 in his state meet course debut.  It is interesting to note that he ran the exact same time that Chris Brenk ran as a Sophomore, and Chris would go on that season to finish in 43rd place at state.  We are excited that Ryan and Sean are both young and will likely have more than one other crack at Detweiller before their high school careers are over.

A guy with a similar story to Sam Fathizadeh is Emmett Grundberg.  Emmett’s PR at the end of last track season was 10:53.  At the 2 mile mark today he was at 10:30, en route to a finishing time of 15:42 – pretty darn good for our 9th guy (in fact, better than our 9th runner in both 2013 and 2014).  Emmett improved 45 seconds from last week and finished 73rd overall.  As a junior, he has tons of potential.  Josh Feldman once again serves as a good model.  Josh was our 9th man on our 2013 state title team, when he ran 15:47 at this meet.  A year and 2 months later, well, you know the story.  But what will Emmett’s story be?

Nathan Hill and Zach Sayre were a bit off their game today.  Zach had a breakout race last week, earning his spot to Peoria.  Today was not his day.  But he is an athlete I have tremendous respect for.  He joined our team last year after playing soccer as a freshman and sophomore, making the decision to come out for the team even though he did not know many of the current members.  He has earned their respect through his work ethic, demeanor, and personality, and has become an integral member of our team.  He is still learning the sport, and has tremendous growth potential.

As for Nathan, he got out well, running even with Andrew in the early stages of the race.  Though he faded a bit, he hung on tough, and still managed to crack the top 50 and run faster than last week.  He was our 6th man in 46th place, with a time of 15:26.  To provide some perspective, four short years ago (in 2011) our second man, Ted Owens, ran 15:34.  We had 8 faster than that today.  Nathan, we know, is a genuine talent, the key guy on our 4*800 last season and a naturally graceful runner.  It is especially exciting to know he has two younger brothers, Alec and Colin, who, because of him, are learning to love running at a much younger age than is true for most (and shout out to Colin Hill, who is celebrating his 12th birthday today!)  Nathan, like Andrew and Ethan, will bounce back.  And when he does, we will be a very tough team.   We’ll need to be.  This year is shaping up to be one of the most competitive ever on the 3A boys level.  Two years ago, we ran an average time of 14:59 for our top five finishers and won.  Last year, we averaged 14:59 and won.   This year, we averaged 14:57 and finished 2nd to LT – who is considered by many to be the THIRD best team in state right now.

How does one deal with being fourth?  It’s the one spot that can sting even more than 2nd.  Let me just say this: whatever place we get in state, it will be up to us to define its meaning.  Our goal remains the same: be the best HCXC team yet.  We took a step in the right direction today.  Guided by the wisdom we’ve gained over the past several seasons, we know we’ll be ready the next time we come to Detweiller.  By then, the Fall leaves will be resplendent, the results of this weekend’s race a distant memory, and the stage set for an epic battle.

Hornet-Red Devil Recap

By now, much has already been written about this past weekend’s Hornet-Red Devil Invitational.  In a case study of the importance of considering multiple perspectives (a skill beloved by us history teachers), you can read relatively balanced accounts from our XC journalist friends at Dyestat and Milesplit, along with carefully composed overviews written by the coaches at Neuqua Valley, Palatine, Minooka and others – detailing what the meet felt like in their respective camps.  I’m a bit late to the game in offering up the Hinsdale Central boys’ perspective, but I offer, I think, a fairly legitimate excuse for my tardiness: after helping deconstruct the cross country course (removing poles, spooling flags, taking down tents, etc.) and a quick debriefing with Coaches Westphal, Kupres, and Snee over hot dogs at Portillos, I arrived back to a home already filling up with visitors – extended family in town for the other significant event I had scheduled for the weekend – a baby shower for my wife Megan.

My normal post-race process has been to spend the evening after invitationals with race results spread out across my desk, binders full of previous seasons’ efforts at the same meet ready and waiting in the bookshelf next to me, and Microsoft Word open on the computer in front of me.  This was, patently, not going to happen on Saturday or Sunday, as it is a rare occasion at this stage in my life to be surrounded by the warm embrace of so many family members at the same time.  Much of the weekend was spent reminiscing, telling stories, and making and eating way too much food.  Immersing myself in “stats” (to use the term Megan coined to refer my post-race number crunching) would have to be postponed, which I better start getting used to anyway, as having an infant child pretty well ensures against the long stretches of solitude which best lends itself to the composition of narrative.  I did get a short window of time on Sunday morning before everyone returned to the house, which I spent getting in a quick Waterfall loop with my good friend Alex Lyons, a young man just starting his teaching and coaching career at Downers Grove North who, last year, served as student teacher at Hinsdale Central in the English department and taught HCXC alumni luminaries including Alex Domiano and Nick Tandle.  It helped to have an hour to talk out the weekends’ results and performances from around the state with someone as geeked out about high school cross country as I am.  I returned home, showered, and took a quick glance at the New York Times.  Spending a Sunday morning running long and poring over the Times is a ritual I’ll surely miss when parenthood comes, though I know it will be replaced by new traditions I’ll value even more.  Yesterday morning, though, I knew I had time to read only one op-ed, rather the entire opinion section and weekly review of books, as I would have preferred.  Glancing through the headlines, I decided upon a column entitled “The Myth of Quality Time” by Frank Bruni, a regular Sunday contributor.  The article hit home on a variety of levels.  In short, Bruni argued that the most important moments we share are often unscheduled.  Bonding can’t be scripted, but occurs naturally and unexpectedly, and is much more likely to happen when we make an effort to be present for each other.

For me, this weekend represented new beginnings and old loves.  It was the first major invite of the season for the sport and the team that ennobles my vocation and makes “work” something I’ve never woken up dreading; it was also the first family ritual commemorating the upcoming arrival of the newest member of our clan.  Balancing work and family is a challenge we all struggle with, but when one finds value in both, it makes that tightrope walk a bit more manageable.  Bruni’s article allowed me to reflect upon the parallels between family and team – the two entities our athletes devote the majority of their time towards.  Today, for example, was the day of our long run – and what better way to check in and catch up then ninety minutes of time at a pace just relaxed enough to carry on a long conversation.  How often do we get 90 minutes to talk to a friend or family member?  Yet another reason to love our sport.

Suffice to say, the members of our varsity team have had enough face time with each other to experience the moments of connection Bruni wrote about.  The freshmen on our team, should they decide this sport is the one they want to embrace, will come to make those same close friendships their older teammates enjoy.  Like their families, they won’t really get to choose – their closest friends will be, to some degree, simply the other boys in their grade who decided, just as they did, to join Cross Country in high school.   That choice can change your life.  As freshman, neither Sam Fathizadeh, Emmett Grundberg, or Zach Sayre were even out for our team.  Each joined as a sophomore.  To be honest, I do not know entirely what their motivations were, but I am glad they made the decision to join us.  It was these three who saw the largest time drops compared to how they ran at last years’ Hornet-Red Devil Invite.  Sam improved 3:35 from last year, while Emmett improved 2:24 and Zach improved 2:02.  All three will be in the 10-person lineup representing us next weekend in Peoria at the First to the Finish Invite.  All three are classic examples of our favorite mantra: hard work pays off.  Their stories represent just a few of the many highlights at a meet that did not represent what we know we are capable of, but which, nonetheless, is a workable starting point for a season we’ve already invested tremendously in.  Here are some of the other storylines from this past weekend:

The Varsity

Due to adjustment made to the time schedule in order to accommodate the expected extreme heat and humidity, it was our most mature athletes who would toe the line first on Saturday at the annual Hornet-Red Devil Invite, the meet that most truly represents the start of the competitive season.  This group has a written compact which we composed in early December of 2014 to which they are all committed, as well as an unspoken bond forged though thousands of miles, intervals, and minutes spent engaged in general strength exercise, stretching, and ice bathing.  We were anxious to see where we were after months of grinding out workouts.  We were also eager to get a better sense of our competition, as up to this point the strength of other programs has been merely a guessing game.

Neuqua Valley answered that question quick – they ran with a sense of mission and sent notice to the state and country that they will be a force to be reckoned with.  Few are the teams we respect as much as Neuqua.  Coach Paul Vandersteen is one of our sports best ambassadors and a coach who has never been anything but complimentary to us and all other programs.  Several of our athletes are friends with the Wildcat runners – and it was our two programs who (independent of the coaching staff, I assure you) invented and executed the post-season “chocolate milk mile.”  At any rate, it was not entirely surprising to see Neuqua run so well, but it was certainly eye-opening for us, a needed reminder that hard work guarantees nothing if one does not execute, and also that our most important team goal must not be to repeat as state champions but rather to be the best HCXC team in history – and as we’ve stated many times, it is quite possible that we could be better that the previous two seasons’ teams and still not win state.  And after seeing results from the Sandburg-LT meet, I think it is safe to say we could be the best team in HCXC history and not even trophy!

What does seem clear is that we may be fortunate to have the best 1-2 punch in HC history in Blake Evertsen and Chris Brenk.  For the first time ever, we took the top two spots at the Varsity level (ironically, the only other time we took the top two spots at this meet in any level was two years ago at the sophomore level, when Blake and Chris first accomplished that feat).  Blake ran a controlled race and took command with about 600 meters remaining, powering down the final straightaway to earn his first ever victory at the varsity level in a fraction of a second over 15 minutes, a fine time for this course on such a humid day.  Chris needed a ferocious kick to pass all-state runners Connor Horn and Roman Drabchuk in the final 300, along with unheralded NV runner Scott Anderson.  We learned later that Anderson, the nephew of HC gym teacher and basketball coach Ed Lynch, fractured his foot during the race and will likely be out for the season, truly sobering news on what would otherwise be a very celebratory day for our respected rivals.  Knowing as we do how hard he has worked, our hearts go out to him and we wish him a speedy recovery, despite the fact that he makes our opponents even more scary-good.

Chris’s race was one of the highlights of the day.  I knew he was ready to race well, given how he’d looked in workouts, but to see him best such an impressive field and have such a great finishing kick was especially gratifying knowing how frustrating his previous track season had been, shortened by injury and not at all reflective of his talent or commitment level.  It will be fun to see Chris and Blake go head to head with the dynamic LT duo of Connor Madell and Vince Zona at next weeks’ ‘First to the Finish’ invite.

The other breakthrough race on the varsity level may have come from Sophomore Sean O’Connell.  Our initial plan was to have Sean race at the Sophomore level, but due to the schedule change the sophomore race was replaced by an ‘open race’ and so we decided to use the opportunity to see how Sean would respond to running against more experienced runners (we brought up Steven Zaher, also).  Sean started a bit more conservatively than most of his ‘red group’ teammates, but his strategy may have been more effective on this day – in the latter half of the race, he was moving up while many of them fell back.  Sean finished a single place out of the medals, earning 26th in 15:52.5.  To put this in context, Chris Brenk ran 15:59 as a sophomore, while Blake ran 15:55 as a freshman.  Later that year, Blake was 29th in state while Chris was 43rd.  Sean is that good.  He confirmed his position as a legitimate varsity contender, and may be a guy you see donning the red and white in Peoria later this November.  He’ll get his first crack at the Detweiller course next weekend.

Nathan Hill (19th), Ryan Doorhy (23rd), Sam Fathizadeh (28th), and Andrew Irvine (43rd) rounded out our top 7.  Nathan had been sick earlier in the week and ran on half a tank of gas, but should be rested and ready by next weekend.  Ryan and Sam ran decently well in their first varsity race.  Ryan’s time was faster than both TJ Caveney and Matt McBrien ran in 2013, and both went on to have great success that season (TJ finishing 25th in state, Matt finishing in 60th).  I pointed out to Sam that he was one place and one second removed from where Griffin Gartner finished at this meet last year.  Since early this summer, I’ve encouraged Sam to view Griffin as a model of a converted middle distance runner who became a huge contributor to the cross country team.  In a fitting coda to this story, I saw Griffin’s father at the meet.  He came to support the team, and I told him about Sam’s race and how I hoped Sam would get to experience the same moments of wonder Griffin amazingly encountered his senior year – hoisting up a trophy topped by a figurine of a runner even though he entered Hinsdale Central as a football player.  Andrew Irvine’s time and place were far from where he wanted, but much of that can be explained away due to the humidity, which took a particularly aggressive toll on him.  We are excited for him to bounce back in Peoria, as he has consistently been our 4th man in workouts.

Ethan Planson improved 12 seconds from a year ago, but was the other runner who most suffered in the heat.  He’ll be hungry to redeem himself in Peoria as well.  Grundberg and Zayre ran well as our 9th and 10th guys, as mentioned previously, while Jan Eryk Ness and Ruiling Ge rounded our our top 12 and also cracked the top 100.  Ben Schnieders, still coming off an injury, improved by 48 seconds to run 16:52, with Steven Zaher right behind him.  Steven surely would have been among the top Sophomores had he gotten that opportunity.  Almost all of our other varsity runners improved their times from the previous year: Michael Gates by 42 seconds, Michael Chadwell by 58 seconds, Joe Miscimarra by 33 seconds, and Daniel Hu by 1:45!  Meanwhile, Rayed Yasin, a transfer from Plainfield Central, made his XC debut running 17:14.  Rayed is an excellent 400/800 runner who decided to join the team to improve his endurance.  He is a welcome addition as he has a tremendous work ethic, and we’ve seen remarkable progress from him already.

The Freshman

Perhaps the two greatest HCXC success stories (though it is hard to say) are Zach Withall and Josh Feldman.  Zach was actually back in attendance for the HRD for the first time since he was a senior in high school back in 2010, while Josh, the day previous, had made his collegiate running debut finishing as the 5th man for the Illini Club team.  His parents joined other alumni parents including the Magnesens and the Cavenys in cheering the boys Saturday.  As a freshman, Zach finished 48th at this meet in 12:43, while Josh was 106th in 14:14.  Both would go on to become all-state runners as seniors.  Both did so through a combination of determination, hard work, and long-term commitment.  While the results of our first major invite were not as high as we’d have liked to finish (we were 8th of 16) a closer inspection reveals much to be optimistic about.  Four of our runners (Kevin Hopkins, Matt Kusak, Fletcher Spillers, and Will Ricker) ran better than or equal to Zach’s freshman place (and this does not include Alec Hill and Michael Horton, who were our top two freshman finishers at our first time trial but who could not compete due to injury), while NINE others (Charlie Carter, Anshul Sankaran, Josh Terry, Brandon Belgrad, Thomas Monson, Nate Sutton, Liam Walsh, Bradley Davis, and Will DeDobbeleare) finished with a higher place than Josh Feldman did as a 9th grader.  This is probably our deepest freshman team ever, and, if history proves a guide, they will make huge gains over the course of the year.  The best news of all was that of the 22 freshman athletes who ran in the LT dual meet early in the week, ALL 22 OF THEM improved their time on the exact same course on Saturday.  Adam Bagnall ran 2:20 faster.  Peter Taylor and Nick Sutton improved by over a minute.  Guantong Liu ran 2:56 faster!  If these guys continue to improve as rapidly as they have so far this season, we’ll be an entirely different looking squad come conference.

The Open race

As was true for the freshman, our main goal in the open race was for all runners to improve their times from the LT meet.  We very nearly accomplished this, with 20 of 23 runners getting faster.  Ethan Mortenson had the biggest time drop, taking 1:25 off his time.  I saw Ethan with about 800 meters to go in the race, about 10 meters behind an athlete from an opposing school.  The next time I saw him was with 300 meters to go, and he’d taken a 30 meter lead over that athlete, and never looked back – kicking stronger than I’ve ever seen him finish before.  Senior Scott McLaughlin and Sophomore Kaidi Hu also dropped over a minute, while Sophomore Ian Stevenson shed 52 seconds and newcomer John Wheeler improved by 58 seconds.  Perhaps the best race came from another rookie, sophomore Mac Anderson.  Mac joined us this season at the behest of his older brother Ben, and like him, may make a huge difference come Sophomore conference.  Two years ago, Ben helped secure us the victory with a courageous race finishing as our fifth man.  The addition of Mac to our squad certainly strengthens our hand, and if we are lucky enough to get Neil Cumberland back from injury in time, we will hope to repeat that feat.

Up Next

All except our top 10 will run tomorrow at Schiller Woods against Oak Park and Proviso West, while our varsity will next race this weekend in Peoria.  While our first big invite did not result in the euphoria felt in the previous two years, the results were sufficient enough to keep us motivated and remind us of the truism that the process will always be worth it, regardless of the final outcome.