At the Carlin Nalley Invitational on Saturday, after the first week of real spring weather, there were two occasions which reminded and admonished me about my delinquency as a blogger.
The first occasion came in conversation with Chris Quick, the Palatine High School boys cross country and distance coach. Last year Quick published his book, One Way, Uphill Only, which told the year-long story of how the 2011 Palatine cross country team won the IHSA 3A state cross country championship. Quick and I had begun an ongoing sporadic conversation on a number of topics involving coaching and our boys at the Palatine Relays the Saturday before, and we picked up the conversation several times as we hung around the 200 meter mark at the Nalley Invite for various events. That included watching Quick’s boys win the 4×800 in a Palatine High School record time of 7:50.0—also the fastest time in the state this year.
At some point I asked him about his book—and what was the process for writing and publishing it. He had a bit of news, in fact. Originally self-published, the book will soon be released again in a new edition by Breakaway Books, which prints literary and thoughtful writing on sports. Most of the material from the book, he told me, came from hundreds of pages of journal writing. Quick, who teaches high school English, coaches two long seasons, and has a young family, disciplined himself to write for an hour each day over the year-long period covered by the book. “The journal entries weren’t only about coaching,” he explained, “some of them were more philosophical.”
So Quick wrote a book—and for two months I can’t even write a blog post.
The second was an outright notice about my failure to post. “Coach Ernst,” said junior Chris Korabik, after he had won the 1600-meter run in a personal best time of 4 minutes 23.75 seconds, “when are you going to update your blog. I visit it every few days and every time it says, ‘Snow Day.’”
It has been that long. Korabik and I agreed that our team’s performance at the Nalley Invite certainly merited a blog post.
We’ve been going to the Nalley Invite for ten years. It follows on Saturday early in May each year after the Friday night Chicago Catholic League Frosh Soph championship meet—a big meet on our calendar. For most years we have used the meet to give our varsity guys a sharpening race before the varsity Chicago Catholic League meet next Saturday. Our team often depends pretty heavily on the freshman and sophomore runners who fill spots on our best relays—if not in individual events. Those younger team members aren’t available to us at Nalley since they run the night before. We’ve never been able to muster a competitive team effort at Nalley.
The meet is a special treat for the upperclassmen. Most years it takes place at the Illinois Benedictine University facility in Lisle, with a nine-lane, national-class track, a large grandstand, and generally wonderful amenities. The facility itself lifts performances. The meet used FAT long before it became normal for meets to do so. Ken Jakalski, a coach at Lisle High School and the long-time meet director, is also a Saint Ignatius graduate, as we discovered many years ago. He runs the meet as much like a state and sectional meet as he can—good practice for the teams. Jakalski himself mans the microphone for the PA system which introduces most of the athletes as they run, jump, throw, and race. Many, many boys get a mention and a few moments of glory, often just for competing.
This year we brought a competitive team to Nalley, mainly because we finally have a team that depends mostly on our juniors and seniors. We didn’t program the event to win. We entered our top distance runners in just one event, not multiple events like we will likely do at the CCL championship meet next week. We used most of the relays to get as many of our runners as possible into the meet., rather than program the relays to win by using our top runners in all the events.
But our team, as we discovered Saturday, is indeed a strong one. As we have done in some other meets this year, we started slowly. In the first four events, we scored only in the 110-meter high hurdles. But we scored big, as juniors Conor Dunham (15.10 prelims, 15.17 finals) and Chris Hawkins (15.24, 15,23) finished second and third.
Then in the 3200 senior co-capatin Jack Keelan took the lead at the start and never looked back. The plan was to make a good effort, but not to run too fast with big meets ahead at the conference, sectional, and state level in the next three weeks. Keelan was the IHSA 3A cross country champion in the fall, and he set our school record for 3200-meters, 8:50.74, at the Arcadia Invitational in California back in early April. Obviously, that was just one event of several that I failed to blog about this spring.
At Nalley Keelan settled into a steady pace of 71- and 72-second laps for six laps, running easily. Then in lap seven he accelerated to run 65 seconds—and in the final lap, a 64. His final time of 9:19.55 was still among the top five times run this year in Illinois.
Hawkins, between his hurdling efforts, was also doing big things in the triple jump. The night before a text message from Hawkins complained about a sore hip. He is regularly our top points scorer as a hurdler and our number one jumper—and the injury was a concern. When he climbed into the minibus in the morning in uniform, it was almost a surprise. The assessment of our assistant coach and physical therapy student Ike Ofor was that Hawkins had an illiotibial band problem—manageable, if somewhat painful.
Hawkins had performed well in the hurdles. In the triple jump, his first three jumps were the three best jumps of his life, with his best jump of 43 feet and 7 inches almost a foot better than his previous best. That jump stood up as the best of the day, with Hawkins passing in each rotation of the final as the last jumper–and saving his energy and tolerance for a sore hip for the long jump.
A check of the scoring early in the meet put Ignatius in second place with 34 points, behind Lincoln-Way East, who had quickly totaled 54.
In the 800-meter run, announcer Jakalski’s attention and the attention of the crowd was focused on Marist’s Kyle Hauser, as he ran the state’s fastest time of the year, 1:53.8. But the Ignatius attention was on senior Sean Kampe, who started back in the pack. Near the 400 mark he accelerated toward the front of the race, passing the first lap in 56.6 seconds—very fast. Then coming off the third turn he moved again into second place behind Hauser, putting a big gap between the third place place runner. He was 1:26.5 at 600 meters. Kampe slowed slightly on the final straightaway, but finished in 1:57.25, a personal best by over two seconds.
That personal best had, in fact, been a relay leg at the state track meet in May of 2011. Kampe, a soccer player, took last year off to play on a demanding club team which wouldn’t allow him to accommodate both sports. But even as he had taken leave last spring, he told us he would be back to run as a senior. Kampe now has the number one time in the Chicago Catholic League for 800 meters, and he will be the favorite to win next week.
What’s more, he had scored important points for the team.
In the 400-meter dash senior Elliot Gibson ran a personal best of 51.17 seconds for fourth place. Gibson had finished pole vaulting about an hour before. At Nalley, the best pole vaulters go first on the pit in the morning, and then a second group of novice vaulters follow in the afternoon. Gibson had bested the accomplished group, clearing 13 feet and 3 inches, a personal best, and taking the event lead on first clears and misses. But the event would not be final until the novice vaulters finished.
In the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, junior Conor Dunham squared off against Austin Corydon of Lincoln-Way East, winner of the 110 hurdles. Dunham looked to be in the lead over the first hurdles, then fell behind on the big sweeping curve of the Illinois Benedictine track. With three hurdles to go, Dunham seemingly lowered his head into a headwind and accelerated ahead of the others, winning in 39.30 seconds.
Results of the long jump were announced, which we already knew. Hawkins had taken the lead in the preliminaries with a jump of 21 feet and 5 inches. He had again passed in each of the final rounds as the other jumpers failed to match him—although there was a challenge from Parker Westphal of Bolingbrook. Hawkins beat him by an inch and a half in the triple jump—and by an inch in the long jump.
The 1600-meter run turned out to be a little bit of a surprise. We expected junior Chris Korabik to run well and compete for the win. He settled into third for the first couple laps, coming through the 400 in 65 seconds and the 800 in about 2:12. Then he took the lead, with two runners holding on behind him as he ran a 68 second third 400. A challenger closed on him with about 250 meters left, and Korabik accelerated. With 100 meters to go, there was another challenge—and then Korabik hit a finishing gear, kicking strongly to finish in 4:23.75, a personal best by two seconds.
Meanwhile behind Korabik, the real surprise was junior Taylor Dugas. After missing almost a month of running at the end of March and in early April with a sore foot that was finally diagnosed as a nerve problem, Dugas returned to sporadic running three weeks ago. He’s doing his aerobic work on the bicycle and in the pool, and he is running only in our interval workouts on the track. At Nalley the plan was for Dugas to run 70-second laps. The real goal was for him to get in shape to help us with depth for our 4×800 relay in the season’s final weeks. He came through the first 400 in about 68, running in 12th place. He was 2:17 at the 800—but he looked relaxed and strong. He had wanted time splits during the race, hoping he could keep on pace and on plan. Instead I yelled to him, “There are six medals, and six places score. You are in tenth.”
Dugas proceeded over the next two laps to move past four runners to finish sixth, running a personal best of 4:35.69.
Jakalski made an announcement after the 1600 that Saint Ignatius was now winning the meet with 77 points. I pulled out my new Iphone—and tweeted that news. I haven’t been blogging, but in the months since my last blog post we bought an Iphone plan and started a team twitter account: @ernsttracksicp. I have been tweeting from our meets for about a month, including updates all day at Nalley. I typed in the news: “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack in first with 77 points before 4×4.”
But in my excitement after the 1600 success, I had forgotten about the 200-meter final. We had a runner in that final heat, junior Francisco Meraz, but he didn’t score. Lincoln-Way East, however, had two finalists—and they finished first and fourth. My next tweet: “But tied with Lincoln Way East.”
At the start of the 4×400, Elliot Gibson gathered on the line with our strong 4×400 team of senior Andrew Reardon, Dunham, and Kampe—and with the Lincoln-Way East team lining up beside him. We had the top seed in the race after our good effort at the Palatine Relays last week where the same team ran 3:28.30. The team was confident—but the pressure would seemingly be on them to win the meet for us.
Jakalski announced on the PA that the meet was tied, 77 points for Ignatius, 77 points for Lincoln-Way East. The 4×400 would decide the meet, he said, adding, apparently as an aside, that the novice pole vaulters had just finished vaulting and the final pole vault results weren’t included yet in the total.
“How did your team do in the pole vault?” a Lincoln-Way East runner asked Gibson.
Gibson couldn’t help but smile when he told him, “Well, I won the pole vault.”
“That means we lost,” said the disappointed opponent.
The Wolfpack runners ran as if it did still matter. Dunham lead off the 4×400 with a leg of 52.7, about a second faster than he had run the previous week at Palatine, and off the break Kampe stormed down the back straightaway into the lead. His relay split was a personal best of 50.5. Reardon held the lead with a 51.5 leg, and Gibson took the baton with Oswego East chasing him just a step behind—but with a big lead on the rest of the teams, including Lincoln-Way East. Gibson was never really challenged as he ran 50.1 seconds to win.
We had won the meet running away, as well, scoring 97 points total, ahead of Lincoln-Way East’s 79.
My tweet: “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack wins 4×4 3:24.88 and meet. “That’s a dirty time,” says Taylor Dugas. #clutch.” Coach Ofor supplied the hashtag.
We have had great success as a team this year, and the boys knew the drill. We took some team photos. The Nalley meet is the only one all year that we designate as a “run and go” meet. It comes as many of our upperclass boys are preparing for the start of AP exams next week, and the demands of other schoolwork are pressing as the year draws to a close. It is also just a long day in the sun, with the first events starting at 9:15 and the 4×400 finishing at around 4:15. We sent many of our boys home early, and we had only a crew of 11 boys for the team photo.
Jakalski then descended from the press box with his camera, after announcing that he needed photos of the winning teams from the meet’s 1A and 2A/3A divisions for the cover of next year’s program. We took a photo with the winning team’s plaque. Jakalski insisted we take it out of the box and plastic wrap for the photo.
I tweeted a team photo—and then a photo of the plaque—and then we packed up our tent and headed back to Chicago in our mini-bus.
We have high hopes for the Chicago Catholic League Championship meet next week. At Nalley we posted our best times of the year in virtually every event that we targeted to do so. We have three weeks left in a season of more than 20 weeks—and our team seems ready to run its best when it counts the most.