Our strong race at the Palatine Invite on Saturday marks the end of the first half of the season for our Saint Ignatius boys cross country team. We’ve had more success than we probably expected–with some of that success attributed to the surprising performance of a freshman, Daniel Santino. Now we will have a few weeks with a less competitive focus, really, as we race and train but do so looking ahead to the championship meets at the end of the season.
In other words, we will take the foot off the gas pedal for a few weeks.
There is a little bit less pressure, now. It was never a goal for senior Jack Keelan to be undefeated during this cross country season; not even a word was spoken about this, even in passing, over the last weeks. It did occur to me last week that if he won and got past the Palatine Invite, it would be something we would at least have to talk about.
But after losing to Beecher senior Grant Nykaza in the final meters at Palatine, an undefeated season is no longer something to worry about—and looking on the positive side, that’s one less thing, as Forrest Gump would say.
Keelan, who had run 14:35 last year on the same Palatine course when he finished third, finished in 14:37 for second place behind Nykaza’s 14:36. After the race, Keelan told Mike Newman of Illinois Prep Harrier and DyeTrack that he was disappointed a little bit but working to keep all things in perspective: “This is different than last year, where I am using the races this year as learning experiences and having a feel of running a good cross country race.”
Looking at the race results once they were posted, one of our team members puzzled that Keelan’s scoring place was still listed as number one. Nykaza had run at Palatine without his team.
Those team results, perhaps, also made up for a little bit of Keelan’s disappointment finishing behind Nykaza. St. Xavier of Louisville, KY, won the meet with 84 points over York (96), Jones (97), and Barrington (165). But our Wolfpack team finished seventh out of 28 teams—tied, in fact, with the defending state champion and meet host Palatine for sixth with 230 points, but placed behind Palatine when the sixth runner tie-breaker was applied. What’s more, the team was just one point behind fifth place Hilliard Davidson of Ohio. We finished in front of three teams who will battle us for state spots at the Niles West Sectional at the end of October—New Trier, Niles North, and Maine South [corrected thanks to good eye of Ray Lewis].
Keelan’s low number helped that result–and a good performance from the team returned the favor. Freshman Dan Santino , finishing 35th in 15:32, was the top freshman in the race. Junior Chris Korabik finished strongly over the last half mile to finish 37th in 15:34. Sophomore Andy Weber was 55th in 15:48, a remarkable result, really, considering he had scrapes on his left shoulder after hitting a tree—and a cut hand from grabbing a course flag that got in his way. Junior Taylor Dugas ran a good enough race as our final scorer, 16:15 for 106th place. Our sixth and seventh runners were seniors Neil Browne (149th, 16:58) and Tim Hatzopolous (159th, 17:17).
We’re happy with the results of our top five runners—although having only five when five score makes us a little bit nervous. Dugas has struggled a little bit with an illness a few weeks ago and now some nagging injury problems that have interrupted some training; he is soldiering on, and we still expect better from him in the coming weeks. Keelan, Santino, Korabik, and Weber have been training at a really high level for several weeks—with hard workouts this week on Monday of 6 x1000 meters at race pace and then on Wednesday 5×1 miles at tempo pace. This is our hardest training of the year. But even with the heavy training load, our runners have maintained the same strong level of race performance—with a little bit of improvement, even. People rate the Palatine course as a little bit slower than Detweiller, and our runners matched their Detweiller times.
In a few weeks, we will adjust and shift to a different combination of speed and endurance as we prepare for the final championship meets of the season. We will hope for another jump in performance level at that time.
Our varsity team won’t be running at full strength in the next couple of meets. In part because a couple team members will be absent, we will break the team up and allow Santino to run with his freshmen teammates and Weber to run with the sophomores at the Pat Savage Niles West Invitational this Saturday. We run at the Wheeling High School Wildcat Invite the next week, and Jack Keelan will miss the meet to take the SAT test that morning.
At the Chicago Catholic League championship, we will likely be the favorites to win, as it looks right now. But we will have to put our best team on the line. Being the favorite means that other teams will really want to beat us. We were fourth at our IHSA regional last year—not an important meet beyond qualifying for the sectional, but it is a meet that awards a championship; we will run to win this race.
But our real focus will be on the IHSA Sectional meet to be held at Niles West on October 27. Last year the meet took place on the same day as Halloween trick or treating—and last year’s race was a horror show for our team. There are rankings that suggest we will be one of the favorites to qualify for the state meet; those spots go to the top five teams in the race. After last year, however, we will take nothing for granted.