Last year at the 2012 Palatine Invite cross country meet our Saint Ignatius boys team finished in a tie for sixth out of 28 teams with 230 points—and just one point out of fifth place. When they went to the tie-breaker sixth man, Palatine was given sixth place, and we were relegated to seventh officially. But it was a good performance for us. We had defeated several of the state’s top ranked teams, including Niles North, Maine South, and Lake Zurich.
We did a little bit of congratulatory back slapping and celebrating. We watched the awards ceremony with more interest since we had been close to a top five podium position. It was there that someone noticed that along with individual medals that go to all seven runners of the top five teams, the coach of each top-five team got a special Palatine Invite baseball cap.
I always wear a hat—several different hats, actually, at different times and places and for different occasions. It was one of my few really selfish moments that I can remember as a coach. I really wanted one of those hats last year.
The Palatine Invite, which also goes by a second name, “Meet of Champions,” brings together many of the state’s top teams each year to run on a historic Illinois cross country course in Palatine’s Deer Grove East Forest Preserve. It is a fixture on York High School’s schedule, and the perennial Illinois 3A state champions absorbed one of their few losses of the last year at Palatine, where they were beaten by another nationally-ranked team, St. Xavier from Louisville, KY. This year York showed up prepared for a rematch. Along with York and St. Xavier, other top-ranked Illinois teams at this year’s meet included Hersey, New Trier, Loyola, and Maine South—along with one of the top ranked teams in Missouri, St. Louis University High School. In addition to York, the defending 3A state champions, the defending 2A state champions from Jones College Prep would also compete.
Our Ignatius team got some mentions in the pre-race discussion as a possible contending team, as well. Two weeks ago at the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria we were fourth out of 40 teams, which moved us up close to the top ten in the rankings by Illinois coaches, at Dyestat Illinois, and at Illinois Milesplit.
It was pretty clear almost from the start of the race that York would dominate. Four York “horsemen,” as Dyestat’s Mike Newman dubbed them last week, took up positions early in the race at the back of a front pack of 20 runners—and Nathan Mroz, Alex Bashqawi, Kyle Mattes, and Matt Plowman proceeded after the first mile to move up to the front of the race behind the early leader Jesse Reiser of McHenry. Bashqawi would eventually outkick Reiser in the last 200 meters to win the race in a time of 14 minutes and 43.1 seconds. Mroz was third, Mattes was 6th, Plowman was 14th, and fifth man John May was 25th, for a total of just 49 points.
The St. Xavier team was also clearly running well from the start of the race, finishing with two in the top ten and four in the top 30 to score 107 points for second place. Likewise, Hersey, wearing a neon orange top with a simple H on the chest, had their runners at the front of the race, with five finishing in the top 30 for 112 points and third place.
Meanwhile, our Wolfpack runners did not seem to get a good start–and instead of running in a pack, as they had done successfully at the First to the Finish, they were spread out on their own. Sophomore Dan Santino, who has been our number one all season, was an exception. He settled into the front pack with the leaders. Last spring he had battled Palatine’s then sophomore star Graham Brown in at least two races, beating him over 3200 meters at the Palatine Relays and finishing right behind him at the Midwest Distance Festival . With Brown up among the leaders early in the race, Santino would stay with him, I knew.
Senior Chris Korabik held a good position as our number two runner, settling in at around 35th place by my quick count after the mile mark. Behind him senior Taylor Dugas was about ten spots back, and then it was around ten more spots back to junior Andy Weber. Our important number five runner, senior Patrick Manglano, was back at round 70th place. But that was a good spot for him. Manglano, who has been the surprise of the team this year, has already had several races where he moved up in position as the race progressed.
In the second mile, Santino was clearly settled in at number 10 or 11. But it also became became clear that Dugas, Weber, and Manglano were moving up; Korabik, on the other hand, was fading a little. With about a half mile to go, Dugas had moved up to around 30th, with Weber not too far behind and giving chase. Korabik was right there with them, too, although he was going in the opposite direction. And Manglano was once again moving by runners at the end of the race.
For the first time this year, I brought a bike to help me move around the course. For the last two years at Palatine I had spent the race at the nexus point where the runners pass by at about 800 meters, at one mile, at two miles, and then at 2.5 miles. But I missed the finish 800 meters away.
This year, with a bike, I waited to see Manglano pass by with about 800 meters to go, and then I set off on my bicycle toward the finish. With so many people on the course and in the road, though, I still couldn’t get there. I got held up about 200 meters from the finish by the crowds, and I watched Manglano disappear over the final small hill, running away from me.
When I did finally get close to the finish, I got the first news of the drama.
Taylor Dugas, I was told, had collapsed before the finish line. While worried about Taylor and the heat and humidity, my first question had been, “Did he finish?”
Yes, I was told, but he had fallen twice. First he fell about fifty meters from the finish. Then he got up and fell again just in front of the chip-timing finish mats.
There Dugas had literally crawled his way across the finish line.
I found Dugas with his teammates at the end of the finish chute. Dugas had been placed in the trainer’s golf cart, where his mother was holding a bag of ice on his head, then moving it behind his neck, and then back on top of his head. His heartbeat was elevated, and he was breathing quickly. Reports had already come in that he was not the only runner to struggle with the heat. Several other runners had been pulled off the course when they began to demonstrate what might best be described as a heat exhaustion “wobble.”
I had thought I had a good handle on our results even from my spot 800 meters from the finish. From that point, you figure the team will gain some and lose some—but the race had been pretty much settled. Dugas’s struggles, though, had thrown our results into some doubt. How many places had he lost?
Santino had been 11th, Weber up close to 30th, Korabik around 40th, and Manglano around 60th. But Dugas, in the end, had finished behind Manglano. We would be somewhere around 200 points. Would that be good enough for a top five finish?
It wasn’t long before I bumped into Mike Newman, who had paper copies of the results—and who had already tweeted them out. A quick look confirmed we had had finished fifth. A closer look at Newman’s twitter photo of the results on my Iphone gave us the details: Santino 11th (15:11), Weber 32nd (15:39), Korabik 45th(15:48), Manglano 53rd (15:56)–and Dugas 71st (16:12). With 212 points, we finished behind York (49), St. Xavier (107), Hersey (112), and New Trier (165).
It was good news. Even if Dugas had stayed on his feet, it was clear, we would still have been fifth. But if he hadn’t finished, we would have been seventh again. He really was a hero to have finished at all.
Later, in analysis of the meet results on Tracktalk.net, it was observed the four of the top five Illinois teams at Palatine would be competing in the same Lake Park sectional. Maine South, with 244 points, had finished close behind us. Loyola, another Lake Park sectional team, did not run well at Palatine, finishing 11th with 339 points, but one has to assume that it was just an off day and they will run better. There will be seven or eight solid teams there competing for five spots at the state meet.
For now, though, the good news is that our Ignatius team had been close to New Trier, and we had beaten Maine South and Loyola. In addition, we had beaten Jones College Prep for the first time in two years, avenging a loss last week in our home meet, the Connelly Polka Invitational, where a Jones team missing some of their key seniors had defeated our Ignatius team, missing ACT-takers Dugas and Korabik, 41-43.
The boys varsity awards were the last to be handed out at the end of the meet. The girls’ teams got up and left after the girls’ varsity awards, and that allowed the boys to move forward closer to the microphone and the awards pavilion. Santino got his 11th place individual medal, and then our fifth place team—all seven boys, including juniors Junior Kallin Khan (119th, 16:43.6) and Brian Santino (115th, 17:13.2)—got their team medals. It is the only race that I know of that gives each of the boys a medal for their team finish.
I took a photo or two of the boys with my own Iphone, so that I could tweet out a photo myself. Then assistant coach Steven Bugarin and I joined the boys in line as a couple parents took over the photo duties.
It was at that point that Korabik handed me the Palatine Invite hat. I had completely forgotten about it.
Later I had placed the new Palatine hat on top of my big wide-brimmed sun hat. When I bumped into Chris Quick, the Palatine boys head coach, he offered his congratulations and then asked about Dugas, who was doing fine. Then he gave a double-take look at my hat on top of a hat.
“Nice look,” he joked.