A year ago, plus a few weeks, we were here at the Embassy Suites in the early, early morning waiting for the IHSA 3A state cross country championships to begin later in the afternoon. I was up early for a run, and then I had time for a blog post before breakfast.
I’m not up as early today, and there was no run.
That visit to Peoria ended with an individual 3A state championship for senior Saint Ignatius runner Jack Keelan. Our second qualifying runner, junior Chris Korabik, also ran well—15:08 for three miles on the historic Detweiller Course for 57th place overall. Korabik’s run, we believe, made him the number three runner in our team’s history at Detweiller, behind Keelan and 1981 state champion Mike Patton.
We’re here today for a regular season race—the First to the Finish Invitational, formerly the Woodruff Invitational. It is the first of three big high school invitationals here in Peoria this fall.
Keelan won this race a year ago, too—and our team finished a surprising fifth overall out of forty or so teams. Our team race strategy had been one built of necessity. The lowest number possible for Keelan; then we had a strong pack of three runners, Korabik, freshman Dan Santino, and sophomore Andy Weber. The goal was to place them all better than 40th. And it worked; all three ran under 15:40 and placed 30th, 35th, and 38th. Finally, our fifth scoring runner for most of our races last season, junior Taylor Dugas, would do what he could. Last year the FTTF turned out to be his best race of the year and a personal best for three miles, 16:15, good for 164th place.
This would be our basic team strategy as the year went on, but it was really four runners and a shoestring–with little margin for error if any of our top guys faltered. Dugas suffered a number of freak injuries—two twisted ankles before the season was out for the ex-basketball player—and he was never able to put in the training to improve enough to close the gap with our pack of three. Junior Patrick Manglano had actually supplanted Dugas as the number five by the end of the season at the sectional race.
Although we won the Chicago Catholic League championship to meet one season goal, the IHSA sectional race at Niles West last year ended the season badly for us. We had been ranked as high as second in the sectional, but we placed 6th in the race, in difficult circumstances, and did not qualify as a team for the state meet. Keelan and Korabik raced as individuals in the 3A state meet.
Dugas, among others, was on a mission this summer, and he has come back this season in the best running shape of his life. Last week he finished second for us in our opening meet at the ICOPS Invitational, running a personal best time of 16:11 in a low-key meet on what we think was a slightly long course. Weber, now a junior, also put in a strong summer of training—and he continues to get better, finishing close to Dugas a ICOPS.
Finally, Santino was arguably the best freshman in the state last year in cross country and track, where he ran 9:28 for 3200-meters in June. He, too, had a good summer of training.
Korabik, unfortunately, suffered a non-running related summer foot injury that has set him back a few weeks as the season begins. But he is running without pain, now, and his mileage and training is building.
Finally, Manglano, now a more mature and much stronger senior, did some summer running for the first time in his career. At the ICOPS meet a week ago, Manglano improved his time from the previous year almost two full minutes, running a person best of 16:39. In addition, the team has picked up an additional runner, junior Kallin Khan, who left the soccer team to join us–and has been running more or less as an everyday runner since the end of his soccer season in fall of 2012. He finished a little bit behind Korabik and Manglano, who ran together, in his first three-mile race at ICOPS last week. Junior Brian Santino, older brother of Dan and young brother of our former captain Patrick Santino, is our number seven; Brian Santino ran 10:18 for 3200-meters last winter.
We are actually a much better team than a year ago.
Perhaps other teams have improved as much we think we have improved. Losing Keelan seems like it could hurt our chances in big races because we lose his low number. But early season rankings put us quite a bit below where they ranked us last year.
We go to the First to the Finish today expecting to surprise people. Santino’s name did not appear in any of the pre-meet speculation for who would run in the front pack. Two years ago in 2011 a small front running group of four or so pulled away from the race—with then junior Keelan in it—and there was a big gap back to the rest of the runners. It seems possible that this will happen again today.
Santino will have to make the decision of whether to go with such a group, or whether to race to be the best of the rest.
Korabik thinks he’s ready to return to run with Dugas and Weber. Manglano and Khan will be tested for the first time to see how fast they can go.
Last year our goal was to place four in the top 40 and hope for the best. This year our goal is to put six in the top 40—and that would put us high up in the race rankings. Instead of a two-minute split off of Keelan’s front running, our team will need a 45 second split off of Santino’s still very good front running for us.
We will find out what kind of team we have today!