I got an email from Todd Grasley of the Illinois MileSplit web site, which mainly reports on high school track and field and cross country, informing us that they were picking Saint Ignatius senior Jack Keelan as their Athlete of the Week after his win at the Peoria First to the Finish Invitational. Grasley, who edits MileSplit sites for Illinois, Indiana, and Florida from his home base in Florida, asked me a few questions in his email. First I referred him to this blog—and my report on PFTTF in my last post. But then I sent another email with some answers to his questions.
As a journalism teacher, I thought it was an interesting exercise to look at how Grasley used my answers to his questions, picking and choosing to write his article.
So, in need of a blog post, here are Grasley’s questions and my answers. I know that some of this material repeats things that have already appeared in this blog. But it is the best I can do today! You can read his article on Jack at Il.milesplit.com: http://il.milesplit.com/articles/92578-athlete-of-the-week-keelan-ackerman
Todd Grasley’s questions:
What was the game plan for Jack coming into the meet and how do you think he executed it?
He was around 14:50 most of last season, ran 15:30 last week against no competition. Comes out and posts a 14:38 a new PR for 3 miles? What were your overall thoughts?
How do you think the field really pushed him guys like Nykaza, McInerney, Santillo, Brown, etc.?
What are his strengths as a runner?
Alot of people mention those other guys as the tops to beat in Illinois, but now you have to believe Jack is a front runner don’t you think?
How has he really set the tone and example as a senior both on and off the course?
How have you seen him grow over the last three years?
What are your goals for him for the rest of the season?
My email response:
Because of one bad race at the sectional last October–and partly because of really strong individuals at the Niles West Sectional–Jack didn’t qualify for the state meet in cross country last year. But at the NXN regional, he ran with the top finishers at the state meet and finished 15th.
Still, because he wasn’t in the state meet results last year, some people–well, especially MileSplit?–didn’t seem to mention him in terms of cross country in looking ahead to this year. [Actually the national MileSplit site has Jack ranked at number 11 in the country. I think the Illinois MileSplit site had maybe missed him, though, in preseason consideration, as the question above suggests.]
But he ran a season best of 8:55.96 for 3200 and later placed second at the state meet. He ran season best 4:09.64 for 1600 at the Midwest Distance Festival–and placed seventh, on a 100 degree day, at the state meet after the 3200.
In the end, Jack has looked back on his disappointment last fall as something that really taught him how humbling our sport can be. Along with successes come some failures. You have to get over those failures to get better.
Psychologists today are talking a lot about the quality some call “grit.” Well, Jack has showed some grit over the last year.
After his track season, I don’t think it is a big surprise that Jack is competing for the top spot in the state for cross country.
Jack’s plan on Saturday was to sit with Micah Beller and Joey Santillo for the first mile. Then he was going to go.
This was really a variation on the classic Detweiller plan of making a big move on the back triangle. He entered the triangle with them on his back. He came out with a 50 meter lead.
The big change for Jack last spring was that he developed finishing speed. At the CCL indoor championship meet, he ran the anchor for our 4×400 relay in under 53 flat–a big improvement for him. As the outdoor season went on, he found he could finish many races–even races with a fast pace–with a closing 800 under 2:05.
At the Midwest Distance mile, he passed five runners in the final 200 meters to get third place.
Back in cross country the previous fall, he lost several races to strong finishers like Leland Later of New Trier and Todd Ford of Loyola. Of course, Malachy Schrobilgen easily outran Jack to win the 3200 at the state track meet, so there is always room to get better.
In 3A, it seems perfectly fair to rate Alex Riba as the number one guy after finishing second last year–although even his own teammate Patrick Perrier might be another candidate. But I think Jack deserves some votes, even this early in the season.
Jack was a good freshman cross country runner–16:30 or so. But he really had a breakthrough when he ran 9:41 as a freshman for 3200.
Then as a sophomore he emerged as our number one–and had a phenomenal race at the state meet when he placed 12th in 14:36. It was a crazy fast day for a lot of guys, yes. But that was the ninth fastest time ever by a sophomore at Detweiller in the state meet.
Jack didn’t live up to that promise, perhaps, his junior season in cross country. But he did in track.
Jack’s first goal–and the goal for our team–is to bring the team with him to the state meet. Niles West will be a really difficult sectional in which to qualify as a team. But if we can get the team to the state meet out of such a tough sectional, we would have hopes for a high finish.
After that, yes, he wants to try and win the state meet for 3A. And he wants to run a really fast time, assuming conditions help him to do so.
He does, however, also have plans to continue running at Footlocker and NXN.
It is really early in the season. But I think Jack is really happy with his First to the Finish race–and for the team performance there.
The next big event will be Palatine.
Hope this is helpful–
Boys Cross Country Coach
Saint Ignatius College Prep