A meet to remember—and forget

Conor Dunham was third and Chris Hawkins second behind Eric Walker of St. Rita in the 55-meter high hurdles, as the Wolfpack moved out to an early lead at the Chicago Catholic League Indoor Championships.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Conor Dunham was third and Chris Hawkins second behind Eric Walker of St. Rita in the 55-meter high hurdles, as the Wolfpack moved out to an early lead at the Chicago Catholic League Indoor Championships. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Less than an hour after leaving the University of Chicago’s Henry Crown Field House following the Chicago Catholic League Indoor Track and Field Championship meet, my family was on its way over the Skyway and the interstate to a Florida spring break road trip. The prospect of 18 hours of driving with two 7-year-olds supplied plenty of necessary distraction.

It was probably also just a good thing to leave the meet in the rear view mirror.

Our Saint Ignatius Wolfpack boys track team  competed well at the 2014 CCL Indoor meet, but the result was disappointing as our team came up just short in defending its 2013 title, finishing second to Loyola Academy, 121 points to 112.

For the second time this 2013-14 school year, our Saint Ignatius boys had the early lead in a  contest only to have Loyola’s team close with a rush for the win.  Back in October our cross country boys had a lead going into the last mile before losing 31-35 (low score wins).  At the CCL indoor meet on Saturday, March 22, as I tweeted after six events, it was Ignatius 57 and Loyola 49.  But Loyola took a lead 73-70 after the ninth event, and then pulled out to a bigger 19-point lead before the 1600-meter run.

Chris Korabik finished second in the 800-meter run, and then won the 1600-meters for the Wolfpack.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Chris Korabik finished second in the 800-meter run, and then won the 1600-meters for the Wolfpack. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Seniors Chris Korabik and Taylor Dugas then stepped onto the track and executed a perfect race plan, with Korabik setting a strong pace up front and Dugas biding his team behind the chasers, which included Loyola’s Matt Randolph and Christian Swenson, along with Fenwick’s Sal Flight.  All the runners had competed in earlier events.  Korabik (2:01.49) and Dugas (2:03.81) had finished second and third in the 800, as Flight (2:01.46) nipped Korabik at the tape for first.  But in the 1600 Korabik was in the lead almost wire to wire, winning in 4:27.83—and Dugas made a strong move in the second half-mile to take second in 4:30.61, a personal best on a big meet stage.  But Loyola still scored important points as Randolph and Swenson held on behind them for fourth and fifth place.  That left the Wolfpack ten points behind.

Meanwhile results came in from the triple jump, as well, in the Wolfpack’s favor.  Early in the event senior Sheldon Pierce matched his personal best from last year’s outdoor season with a jump of 44 feet and 7 inches, which would hold up for the win.  But our second 44-foot jumper, senior Chris Hawkins, who had earlier finished second in the 55-meter hurdles, was struggling with a hip flexor injury that had begun bothering him in the long jump.  Hawkins managed one legal jump at 40-01.00 for fifth place.  Loyola’s Josh Word finished two inches and one place in front of him.

Going into the 200 meters, with two events left, the Wolfpack was two points behind.  But it was advantage Loyola.

In the 200, senior Conor Dunham, who had climbed out of a sick bed this week to finish third (6.87) in the 55-meter hurdles earlier in the meet, gutted out a fast closing race to finish in a virtual tie with Loyola’s John Miller in 23.54.  But the Fully Automated Timing system photo gave the literal photo finish to Word in fourth.  Dunham got fifth place points—and Loyola’s Javier Shelly finished seventh.

With only the 4×400 relay left, Loyola had a five point lead.  The Wolfpack would have to win the 4×400—and Loyola would have to finish fifth.  Dan Santino, who earlier had finished second in the 3200-meter (9:40.07) behind Swenson (9:33.04), went to the start line for Ignatius, with senior Nick Beltran, Dugas, and Korabik to follow.  It was a team that we figured, on their best day, each athlete could run 54-second 400s and finish as fast as 3:36—and it turned out not to be their best day as they ran 3:41.44 for third place.  Loyola countered with a team that included Josh Word, second- place finisher in the individual 400.  The race was over after the first leg, as Loyola moved out to a big lead right away, going on to win in 3:34..67.

In the end, Loyola had simply had more scoring athletes than our Ignatius team, which had depended upon scoring big points from fewer athletes—Pierce, Hawkins, Dunham, Dugas, Korabik, all seniors, most notably.  They had indeed scored big points—but not quite big enough.   The distance runners scored 43 points against a maximum possible 54 points—a strong effort.  There had been a few other good efforts.  Senior Mickey Smith cleared a personal best of 12 feet and 6 inches in the pole vault for second place, with junior Josiah Simmons, who had not had a chance to vault in a pit all season, in seventh place after clearing 9-06.  Junior Andy Weber was fourth in the 3200-meter in a strong time of 9:47.72.  The 4×800 relay team of juniors Kallin Khan, Sean Freeman, John Lennon, and Brian Santino finished second in 8:37.95.

But Loyola’s larger team effort had made the difference, with wins in all three relays—4×800, 4×200, and 4×400.  Loyola’s individual sprinters Word, Miller, and Shelly had scored important points in the 400 and 200, placing two in each event.

Our very realistic pre-meet calculations had scored Ignatius with 113 points, and we scored 112—so we weren’t really very far off our game.  We competed hard in the face of some adversity.

But Loyola simply outscored its seeded projections—outscoring even optimistic projections, perhaps.  To win we would have had to do that, as well.  Injuries and illness probably made our efforts realistic , as opposed to outstanding.

It has been a long indoor season—made longer by the snow which has only this week melted from our outdoor track.  We are used to practicing on the outdoor track sporadically all winter in recent years, and even in “bad” winters we have usually been able to practice on a clear track at least by early March.  We have been afflicted with the track and field version of “cabin fever” as we watched the snow continue to pile up in early March when it should have been melting.

Our team will have to improve—and get healthy—if we want to defend our CCL outdoor and IHSA sectional titles at the end of May.  Without the 20 points that Jack Keelan scored for us last year at the state meet, it will be hard to match our fourth place finish and 28 points there.  But our team still has a chance to do so.  We return Conor Dunham as the top returning finisher in the 300-meter hurdles, and Pierce, Hawkins, Korabik, and even Santino and Dugas are potential state meet points scorers, as well.

As disappointing as it was to lose the indoor CCL meet, we will hope to be at our best at the end of May, as opposed to the middle of March.  The next two and a half months will tell a different story, we hope.

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Team touch across some generations

The Wolfpack track team takes a team photo on the National Mall in Washington, DC, with guests Tom and Joan O'Hara.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The Wolfpack track team takes a team photo on the National Mall in Washington, DC, with guests Tom and Joan O’Hara. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Tom O'Hara, Track and Field,Before the start of the Jesuit Invite at Georgetown Preparatory School outside of Washington, DC, on Friday, February 21, sophomore Dan Santino approached Saint Ignatius alumnus Tom O’Hara, class of 1960, near the small grandstand beside the main straightaway.  After they had been introduced, Santino politely asked O’Hara a question:  “What did it feel like to set a world record?”

Fifty years ago, almost to the day, O’Hara twice set world indoor track records in the mile run, first running 3 minutes 56.6 seconds in New York on February 13, 1964, and then 3:56.4 on a small 11-laps-to-the-mile track in the Chicago Stadium on March 6.  More than 18,000 spectators were in attendance for the Chicago Daily News Relays, a hometown crowd for Chicagoan Thomas Martin Ignatius O’Hara, who was running for Loyola University in his senior year.  O’Hara, one of the greatest collegiate distance runners in NCAA history, would go on to make the United States Olympic team in the 1500-meters that summer.   Touted as America’s best hope to win a medal in the distance races in Tokyo, his portrait made the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a long profile story of a shy, small, red-headed young man from an Irish Chicago family.  O’Hara was hit with a strength-sapping illness before the games–likely a result of an even heavier training load than what produced the records, O’Hara admits, as he probably overdid it preparing for the big Olympic test.  He reached the Olympic semi-finals, but he didn’t qualify for the final.

In the amateur track days of the 1960s, it was difficult to sustain a running career after college.  After graduating from Loyola, O’Hara went on to become a life insurance salesman, based in Villa Park, IL—and a good one, it seems.  It is an asset to a salesman, I would assume, when people know you as a former world record holder.

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A three-hour delay at O’Hare before flying to DC gave the team plenty of time to take a photograph with the O’Haras.

At Georgetown Prep, O’Hara and his wife, Joan, were guests of the generous benefactor who for the second year had funded the Saint Ignatius track team on its trip to the Jesuit Invite.  They flew with the team from O’Hare, enduring a three-and-a-half hour flight delay and a 1:30 am arrival at the Bethesda Residence Inn.  We had originally planned a tour of the U.S. Capitol the next morning, but we emailed a cancellation to let the boys—and the O’Haras—catch up on their sleep before the big meet that day.

On the night before he flew from Chicago with us, Loyola University honored the 50th anniversary of O’Hara’s 1964 records with a half-time ceremony that included showing the Loyola basketball crowd a video of the Daily News Relays race.  Available on Youtube, it was originally aired live on ABC’s Wide World of Sports television show.  In attendance at the 50th anniversary event were members of the 1963 Loyola NCAA national championship basketball team.  O’Hara himself was an NCAA champion–in the mile and in cross country.

Dan Santino and his Ignatius teammates had watched that Youtube video in a classroom at Ignatius that same week.  Santino’s track fan father, Bill, had also gone on E-Bay to purchase copies of the Sports Illustrated magazine with O’Hara on the cover.  Santino, one of the top runners in Illinois and just a sophomore, would later present O’Hara with the magazines, which O’Hara autographed.

But their first conversation began with that simple question.  “How did it feel to set the world record?”

O’Hara thought a bit before he gave his answer.  Then he looked Santino in the eye and said, very simply, “Well, it felt pretty good.”

Santino’s coach, standing with the pair, sought a more complicated answer:  The first time he set the record, had O’Hara expected to do it?  Did he know he could run that fast?

Once again, the now grey-haired O’Hara gave a simple answer: “I knew that I was running pretty well at the time, yes.  My training was pretty good.”

Tom O’Hara’s two days traveling with Santino and the Ignatius team didn’t really include any profound moments of advice or encouragement.  He talked with the boys simply and directly, answering their questions–and telling some stories.

He struck the boys, most of all, as simply a very nice man, notably modest about his tremendous accomplishments as a runner.  At Jesuit schools we have a mantra that applies to a simple ethical idea:  “Men and women for others.”  Taking a couple days to travel with them, the O’Haras showed the boys what that means.

Two great milers: Ray Mayer, Ignatius class of 1951, and Tom O’Hara, class of 1960.

Most notably, perhaps, the boys watched O’Hara and his wife find small ways to attend and assist another Ignatius alumnus at the meet, Ray Mayer, class of 1951.  Mayer, in fact, was the benefactor for the trip–and it had been his idea to invite the O’Haras along for the ride.  A former Army career officer and then a successful real estate dealer in Northern Virginia, Mayer suffers from Parkinson’s.  O’Hara had recently had his own bout with medical issues; he has recuperated remarkably from a quintuple bypass last October.

The pair had met at a lunch gathering that afternoon, organized by Mayer’s friend and Ignatius teammate Tom Coyne, who had made the drive from Kalamazoo, MI, just for the lunch and the track meet.

Mayer had been a star runner at Ignatius fewer than ten years before O’Hara.

Among other things, of course, Mayer and O’Hara shared the tutelage of famed Ignatius coach Dr. Ralph Mailliard.  Both agreed that while they loved Mailliard like a father, for all his success Mailliard was not an expert coach when it came to the training of distance runners.

As it happened, O’Hara and Mayer had also shared a second coach, Jerry Weiland, at Loyola.  Mayer had gone from Ignatius to Marquette on a track scholarship, but, he said directly, “It didn’t work out there.  I was terribly unhappy.”  So he had transferred to Loyola, where his running still did not develop as well as he hoped under Weiland—although he did run a 4:12 mile.  Like Mailliard, O’Hara and Mayer agreed without any disrespect, Weiland might not have been the most knowledgeable coach for distance runners.

O’Hara had fared better at Loyola, he thought, partly because during his time at Loyola Weiland had taken on an assistant, Don Amidei.   Amidei had been the coach of phenom Tom Sullivan at Evanston’s St. George High School.  Weiland had hired Amidei, it seems, expecting he could recruit Sullivan to Loyola; Sullivan, at the last minute, chose Villanova, instead.  A 4:03.5 miler in high school, the fastest high school miler in history before Jim Ryun broke the 4-minute barrier in 1964, Sullivan never matched that time as a collegian; he did, however, become a doctor, a pediatric neurologist, in fact.  Sullivan’s loss was O’Hara’s gain.  Amidei left Loyola to coach at DePaul after a year, but it was Amidei’s training program, O’Hara said, that he followed through the glory years of his college career, with Weiland holding the watch for the workouts and providing motivation.

(As an aside and to complete the circle, in a way, Amidei went on to be the head track coach at Northwestern.  He was, in fact, my coach there when I ran track and cross country my freshman year.  But Amidei also returned to high school coaching after he left Northwestern, and he coached at Saint Ignatius from 1983 to 1985.  At Saint Ignatius Amidei coached Karamath Khan ’84, father of junior Kallin Khan.)

O’Hara said he really believed that Weiland had developed his own ideas as a track coach from his experience and interest in race horses.  He told a story to prove his point.  When the runners at Loyola complained about shin splints, Weiland showed up at practice one day holding a bottle with a strange chemical name on the label.  “It was horse liniment!” O’Hara laughed.  O’Hara didn’t let the coach anywhere near his legs with his horse liniment wraps.

Mayer, listening intently, didn’t miss a beat.  “Coach,” he whinnied to O’Hara, “we’re running as fast as we can.”

It was an entertaining lunch.

Senior Wil Hughes and sophomore Dan Santino visit with trip benefactor Ray Mayer.

Later, at the meet, Joan O’Hara procured an office chair for Mayer, which she thought would be more comfortable than his combination walker-chair.  O’Hara supplied him with water and candy as they watched the meet together.

The Ignatius boys, when they were not busy with the meet, stopped in for short conversations.

A year ago the Ignatius team had fallen behind early in the meet and then rallied to win at the end.  They had made Mayer very happy when he hoisted their trophy.

The meet features East Coast Jesuit school teams from New York City (Regis, Xavier, and Fordham Prep), Baltimore (Loyola-Blakefield), and the DC-area (Georgetown Prep and Gonzaga).  The New York teams were clearly resting some of their best runners, looking ahead to the big Eastern States meet closer to home in the Armory the following week.

In the 2014 edition of the meet, Ignatius fell behind once again but could not rally all the way to victory, as Fordham tallied 122 points to our 112.  Mayer said he was not disappointed with the outcome.  We noted that we still had a second-place trophy to take home on the plane to Chicago.

We also had some outstanding performances.  Senior Conor Dunham won the 55-meter hurdles in a time of 7.60 seconds, which at the time was the top performance for an Illinois high school runner in 2014; it was also a new meet record for the Jesuit Invite.  Senior Chris Hawkins, close behind Dunham, ran 7.77 seconds, at the time the number two performance for Illinois.  Dunham later won the 300-meter dash in 36.64.  Hawkins won the long jump with a distance of 20 feet and 5.25 inches.

Senior Chris Korabik won the 1600-meter run with a furious finish, as he closed a ten-meter gap with a 62-second final 400 to run 4:23.94.  His time beat the meet record set the previous year by Ignatius’s Jack Keelan.  Korabik now has the number two performance at 1600 meters for an Illinois runner in 2014.

The O’Haras had five children, who did some track and cross country running of their own.  Joan O’Hara described Tom running around the cross country course exhorting the runners—and especially his own kids.  He was more subdued at our meet.

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Junior Kallin Khan and senior Chris Korabik enjoyed playing Frisbee on a sunny 64-degree day on the National Mall after a cold Chicago February.

On Saturday morning, after the Friday night meet, Tom and Joan O’Hara joined the team after we checked out of the Residence Inn in Bethesda and traveled by Metro to the National Mall for some sightseeing.   After the terrible cold of a hard Chicago winter, the boys and the O’Haras all seemed to enjoy the sun and 64-degrees of Washington, DC, as much as they did the Smithsonian museums they visited.  The boys spent more time playing Frisbee near our park bench “baggage camp” than they did sightseeing.  They did manage, however, to take some photos of their trophy in some interesting locations.

At the airport, after passing through the TSA with the trophy, Dan and his teammate brother Brian Santino approached Tom O’Hara with the Sports Illustrated magazines purchased by their father.  O’Hara graciously signed them.

The Santinos then presented one of their magazines to their coach.  O’Hara later told me, “I signed yours in gold.”

His inscription:  “Dear Ed, My best wishes.  Thank you so much for inviting me to the track meet.  I enjoyed it so much.  Tom O’Hara.”

Later, as they left the plane after arrival at O’Hare, O’Hara shook hands with each of the boys.

My friend and colleague Patrick McHugh, track coach and athletic director at North Shore Country Day School, has written in his own blog about an idea that he calls “team touch.”  It is important, he says, for teammates to make physical contact with each other during the day of a big meet—shaking hands, patting each other on the back, team huddles.

For a weekend, Tom O’Hara generously joined our Ignatius team—and touched our team.  We will be a better team because of it.

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A Day Off–With a Showbie Homework Assignment

We had a teacher in-service today at Saint Ignatius, with a day off from school for the students.  On the day before our first meet of the indoor season tomorrow, we gave the boys a day off from coming to practice at Ignatius.  For many boys, it would have meant an hour commute each way for a two-hour practice.

But we still expected them to run.  Coach Nate McPherson gave his distance boys a homework assignment:  Take a selfie after or during a run today, and submit it on Showbie, the homework application site.
Yes, it was a cold day to run.  Some of the boys found treadmills or health clubs.

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February 7, 2014 · 8:03 pm

A new season of fits and starts

The 2014 track season begins with a winter warm-up run for Saint Ignatius sprinters and jumpers, a one-mile "Halsted loop" on some snowy University of Illinois-Chicago sidewalks.

The 2014 track season begins with a winter warm-up run for Saint Ignatius sprinters and jumpers, a one-mile “Halsted loop” on some snowy University of Illinois-Chicago sidewalks.

Track season started at Saint Ignatius last Tuesday, with a team meeting and our first practice.  It will end, we hope, on Saturday, May 31, in Charleston, IL, at the IHSA state track meet.

The first week of indoor track is always a challenging one.  We have to deal with the vexing problem of paperwork as boys who did not compete in fall sports turn in IHSA physical forms—or quickly schedule exams so that they can get the forms completed and get back to practice.   They have had almost six months of the school year to complete that paperwork, but they wait until the day practice starts to remember it.  Our rules require that we turn them away from practice until the paperwork is complete.

Just finding a place to practice is always a challenge in the winter.  Our winter practice facilities have never been good, and it is always a battle to re-claim a few previously open spaces around the school—on the edge of the wrestling gym, in stair wells, and in school lobby areas—from the other teams that have been using them.  As an in-season team, we get dibs on the space, now, but last week other teams who are out of season but doing conditioning—lacrosse, soccer, and football, for example—were using those spaces.  We sometimes literally have to move them out.  There are other headaches:  Our athletes also do not have lockers, yet, and so we have to find secure places for their backpacks, coats, and bags.

Our practice space challenges this year were complicated by another factor.  Our distance runners generally run outside every day, but they need space to meet and stretch before running, and to meet and do core work afterwards.  Our sprinters generally warm up with a run outdoors, but then they need indoor space to drill and condition.  For ten years our boys and girls track teams have used a wide hallway in our oldest classroom building as a practice space.  This year that space got new plush carpeting—and we got the order to stay away.  Our initial consternation has ended with smiling faces.  The practice space emergency prompted our athletic director to request the use of some space over at the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago Physical Education Building (PEB); settled into our old routines, we had not even considered that option for many years.  We will actually have use of the indoor jogging track there now for a short period each day—but valuable time for us.  In addition, we are making arrangements to rent some space at the Mercy Home indoor soccer facility, about a mile from Ignatius, for three days a week.

We have never actually had an indoor practice space where our sprinters can run even a 30-meter fly in the winter.   We have always done our conditioning running up stairs—and then drilling in the short school hallway space.  Now our boys will be able to sprint before we get to the first meet.  Access to the PEB jogging track means we  also have a place where our distance runners can get in some miles when the weather won’t allow them to run.  Our policy is to start exercising some caution when the temperature dips below 20 degrees, especially when combined with wind chill.  At that point we keep the boys nearer to school, running loops close to campus around city blocks; the University of Illinois-Chicago usually does a pretty good job of snow removal on its sidewalks around campus.   On alternate days we have some treadmills we share with our girls team.   Now in a snow or cold emergency we can at least get 40 minutes of running done indoors on the PEB track.

All things considered, last week was a pretty good start for the first days of practice.  We had a large turn-out of over 60 boys.  After four days during the week, we had a smaller turn-out for an 8:00 AM Saturday morning practice when we had access to gym space—something we never get during the school week in the winter, when basketball teams take all the gyms.  Butwith in the first week of practice, on Saturday morning,  we taught all our new sprinter boys how to use starting blocks, we got new and old boys over some hurdles, and we’ve already got some routines and basic programs established for our sprinters, our distance boys, and our throwers.

That productive first week was, of course, too good to be true.  I’m writing on a Tuesday morning while comfortable at home, because we have had two days of frigid cold temperatures which cancelled school.  No school, no practice.  Assuming we have school tomorrow, it will likely be a little bit like starting over again—but without having to send boys away because they don’t have their paperwork complete.

Missing two days shouldn’t really be a big problem.  We have always conceived of our winter track season as a preparation season for the spring competitions, when things get really serious.  Our distance runners are generally doing base training in the winter, putting in lots of miles and slogging along in the snow-covered city.   Our weekend indoor races give them a little bit of opportunity to run harder and faster—and keep them interested.  We will do a little bit of up-tempo training, “Phase two” work in our Daniels-based program, in early March before our indoor conference championship meet.  Our sprinters spend a lot of their time running up what we call the “Iron Stairs,” doing basic conditioning that will be their base for more speed training once we get outside in the spring.

But last year we added an event in February that kind of jump-started our competition season a little bit earlier than in past years.  A benefactor named Ray Meyer, Ignatius class of 1951, offered to fly the team to Washington, D.C., so that we could compete at the Jesuit Invitational track meet which brings East Coast Jesuit schools from New York City, Baltimore, and the D.C. area together at Georgetown Prep, located in North Bethesda, Maryland.    We had six weeks of practice, and three weeks of early season meets to get ready—and we were just barely ready.  Falling behind early in the meet, we stormed back by piling up points in the distance events to narrowly win the meet, 101.5 points to 97, over second place Fordham Prep from New York City.

This year we will make the trip again, February 20-22.  The second time around the task of booking flights and hotels, as well as planning local transportation and meals in a distant city, was a lot easier.   We’ve made a few improvements in our planning.  As a special treat, we will be travelling with a special guest.  At Ray Meyer’s suggestion, we invited former Olympian and indoor world record holder for the mile, Tom O’Hara, Ignatius class of 1960, to join us on the trip.  O’Hara and his wife, Joan, will help chaperone and squire our 25 boys on United airlines and around D.C.

But we will make the trip this year with only five weeks of practice preparation–and with just two meets under our belts.   Now, because of the current Arctic blast,  that will be five weeks minus these two missed school days and practices.

We have been excited for the season to get underway.  More than other years, it seems, I have been perusing indoor track results—at the pro, college, and high school levels.   The Nike Oregon Project team have been featured on Flotrack the last two weekends, as Galen Rupp and Mary Cain took aim on records.    On the East Coast, the high school winter track season starts in December.  Our competitors at the Jesuit Invitational have been competing in earnest already, while we don’t start until February 8.  Last week Fordham Prep and Xavier posted two of the fastest 4×800 relay times in the country (7:57.79 and 7:57.89) while running in a qualifying meet for the New York Roadrunner Club’s Millrose Games.  I actually watched that race live on the internet.

Senior hurdlers Chris Hawkins and Conor Dunham, state qualifiers in the 110 high hurdles last year, return to lead the Wolfpack track team in 2014.  Dunham won 3rd place in the IHSA state meet in the 300-meter hurdles, and Hawkins also qualified in the long jump, narrolwy missing in the triple jump, as well.  Photo by Steven Burgarin.

Seniors Chris Hawkins and Conor Dunham, state qualifiers in the 110 high hurdles last year, return to lead the Wolfpack track team in 2014. Dunham won 3rd place in the IHSA state meet in the 300-meter hurdles, and Hawkins also qualified in the long jump, narrowly missing in the triple jump, as well. Photo by Steven Burgarin.

Our team will be a good one, after a historic  2013 season in which we won the Chicago Catholic League championship for the first time since 1991, repeated as IHSA sectional champion, and then finished fourth in the IHSA 3A (big school) state championship meet.  We will lose our big point scorer at that meet, Jack Keelan, state champion in the 3200- and 1600-meter runs.  But we return the 3rd place finisher in the 300-meter hurdles, now senior Conor Dunham.  We think we have some state-level  talented boys on the team who might be able to make up at least some of Keelan’s lost 20 points from last year—senior jumper/hurdler Chris Hawkins, senior jumper Sheldon Pierce, senior distance runners Chris Korabik and Taylor Dugas, and sophomore distance runner Dan Santino.   We surprised people last year with our strong performance at the state meet; we surprised many people again last fall with our state-qualifying cross country team.  We think we can do it again.

Let’s hope that we have school tomorrow so that we can practice.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Summing it up


Senior Patrick Manglano leads the team in one final prayer before the state meet. Yes, the boys cut their hair crew cut Marine-style for their last race. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

This week the Ignatius athletics department was host for the 2013 fall sports banquet, which gave our fall sports athletes and their parents a great meal catered by DiLeo’s restaurant of Elmhurst.  The program then brings all the teams and parents together for 30-minutes of team by team highlights, followed by a separate celebration for each team.  Our team celebration concluded with a wonderful video produced by Caroline Vickrey, mother of freshman Lyndon Vickrey, which you can watch on Vimeo here.

I have not managed to conclude the cross country blog season with anything thoughtful.  But my head coach remarks at the fall awards assembly, for the entire sports community, should at least sum up the season for the record.

The Wolfpack 2013 boys cross country completed an historic season in November–but it was also a season of near misses.

In September the team opened the season sweeping the varsity, the junior varsity, and the frosh soph races at the ICOPS Invitational.  The team entered the state top 20 rankings for 3A teams with strong performances at two invitationals.  At the First to the Finish Invite on the state championship course at Detweiller Park in Peoria, the Wolfpack finished a best-ever 4th out of 40 teams.  At the Palatine Invite, the Wolfpack finished 5th against another group of the state’s top teams.

Then in October the team traveled to Washington, DC, where the varsity won the Georgetown Prep Classic and the junior varsity and freshman also brought home medals and trophy plaques.

But at the Patrick Savage Invite at Niles West the Wolfpack lost by one point to archrival Loyola.

The toughest near miss was a close second place finish—once again to Loyola–at the Chicago Catholic League Championships.  Winning at the two-mile mark, the Wolfpack could not hold off a strong finish by the Ramblers and lost, 35-38.  (Remember, the low score wins in cross country.)  Sophomore Dan Santino won the invididual championship, running an outstanding time of 15 minutes and 4 seconds on the three-mile course at Turtlehead Lake in Orland Park.   Senior co-captain Chris Korabik earned the Lawless Award as the top CCL senior with his third-place finish in 15:20.  Six Ignatius runners earned All Catholic League Conference honors:  Santino, Korabik, senior co-captain Taylor Dugas (7th), junor Kallin Khan (13th), senior Patrick Manglano (14th), and junior Andy Weber (19th).

In the post season, the team finished third at the IHSA 3A Lake Park Sectional to become just the fourth Ignatius team ever to qualify for the state finals.

At the state championships the Wolfpack finished in 16th place.  The near miss in Peoria:  Korabik finished in 27th place (15:03), just two spots out of the top 25 all-state list.

We should offer a thank you to all of our parents for their support—and for their pasta parties.

The team needs to offer a special thank you to assistant coach Steven Bugarin and to first-year coach Nate McPherson.

And finally, congratulations to team captains Taylor Dugas and Chris Korabik for leading one of the best teams in Ignatius history.

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Learning curve

Three years ago, in November of 2010, we brought our Saint Ignatius boys cross country team here to Peoria for the Illinois High School Association state cross country championships.  Driving our team van, I got really, really lost trying to find Avanti’s on Washington Street outside of East Peoria.  The thought struck me at that time that the coaches who bring their teams here every year have a significant advantage over those who don’t, even in terms of knowing their way around the neighborhood.

We have added a trip to the First to the Finish meet as a regular part of our schedule.  We have many of the logistics for the Peoria trip worked out now.  We know our hotel preference, the Embassy Suites in East Peoria, and I had reservations made in the summer for November.

But we did not qualify anyone on our team for the 2011 championships.  Last year we missed an opportunity to qualify our team, but we did come to Peoria with two qualifiers, one who was the state champion that day.

Bringing a team is different, though.

This year we are here with a team.  It has gone pretty well.  But as a coach, I still feel behind on the learning curve.

We do have some routines, and we have made some logistical improvements.  When our Ignatius soccer team moved on to the semi-final of the 2A state tournament with a morning game scheduled for Friday, our principal Brianna Latko decided to give the whole school the day off so students could attend the game.

It helped us to get on the road a little bit earlier then we might have if the boys had attended a couple classes on Friday.  Getting on the road early got us to Peoria early.  We were on the course at 1:00.  I attended the mandatory coaches information meeting at 2:00.  We were at the hotel by 3:00.  At 4:45 we were on our way to Avanti’s—and I knew the directions.  The boys were hungry early—we had a late breakfast but skipped lunch—and after a visit to Walmart, we were back at the hotel around 7:00.  Most of this could not have gone better than the script.  There are a few things we need to do better.

We have other routines here at the state meet.  It is Saturday morning at 6:30 AM—and I am writing a blog post.  As the state track meet and at the state cross country meet it is my habit to wake up early, as I normally do, and then go for a run—which is not a regular part of my daily schedule at home.  It has also become a routine to write the early morning blog post.

We have some time on this morning because as a 3A boys team, we do not run until 2:00 PM.  We discussed taking a shakeout run this morning with the boys, but they didn’t like the idea.   “What did Keelan do last year?“ they asked.  Our senior co-captain Chris Korabik, who made this trip and ran with Jack Keelan last year, told us there had been no shakeout run.

There will be no shake out run this year.

Breakfast will be at 8:00.  We expect the boys will be hungry after the early dinner.  I’m not sure we have reported this anywhere, but last year, after his championship run, Keelan had suddenly depleted in the half hour after his race.  It was bad enough that he wasn’t sure he could handle the awards ceremony and photo session.  He had eaten only a small breakfast, it turns out; the 2:00 race does not make eating lunch possible.  He was much better after eating a banana.

We have talked to the boys already about the importance of eating a good breakfast.  We have energy bar supplies to feed them something before the race.

There have been a few more lessons already this year.  It is too early, however, to start looking at next year.

We have a race to run today.  We have a plan.  We would like to become one of those teams that surprises people in Peoria.  We hope that we have learned how to do that.

And we want to be a team that comes here every year.


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