“Whoa, Coach Ernst, what’s up with the blog post?” said senior co-captain Taylor Dugas, more or less right after he had stepped off the elevator into the lobby of the Residence Inn in Bethesda, MD.
An hour earlier Dugas had asked if he and some of his teammates could go to a nearby movie theater to watch “Captain Phillips,” the new Tom Hanks movie about the ship captured by Somali pirates off the East African coast. It was a 9:30 showing, and it was a long movie. The boys would be out late, and there were boys who wanted to attend church in the morning. We also had a team run on the National Mall scheduled–and a plane to catch in the afternoon.
We figured out a plan for the morning that would work–even with the late night. The movie-goers would get a little bit shorter night’s sleep than they might like.
But then when Dugas and his teammates arrived in the hotel lobby to head out, there was a new twist. The girls varsity team was with them.
I am used to seeing these girls in running clothes–or in Ignatius dress code. They looked, well, dressed up–or at least they had done new things with their hair. “Is that Olivia,” I asked Olivia Meyer.
After my “Boys and Girls” post yesterday, which suggested that the two teams were enjoying separate guys-only and girls-only weekends, the honor of the two teams was at stake, it seems.
The evening had started with dinner in the breakfast area of the Residence Inn. Girls assistant coach Rose Paluch had planned the menu with a nearby Italian restaurant, Mamma Lucia’s: penne pasta with white and red sauce, cheese pizza, chicken cacciatore, two different green salads, cake with vanilla frosting, and cannoli.
Our only disappointment of the day had been that our benefactor, Ray Meyer–the generous former city-mile champion from the class of 1951 who had paid for the meal and brought the teams to Washington, DC to run–had tired at the end of the long day at Georgetown Prep and was not able to join us for dinner.
For the record, the boys and girls did sit separately at dinner.
The trip to DC had, in fact, basically amounted to a weekend retreat for each team. After dinner the girls had what sounded like–and the coaches agreed later–one of their best team meetings of the year. The girls and their coaches had reflected on the day’s performance at the Georgetown Prep Classic cross country race that afternoon.
The girls varsity team had finished second in the “seeded varsity” race, beaten only by Centennial High School of Ellicott City, MD. Junior Meyer had been the team’s top finisher in sixth, running 19 minutes and 28 seconds for 5 kilometers. Alexis Jakubowski was eighth in 19:30, Jill Poretta tenth in 19:52, Anastasia Bouchelion 21st in 20:23, and Kirstyn Ruiz 25th in 20:33.
The girls junior varsity team had won easily. The freshmen team also won. Twenty of 24 runners won medals for finishing in the top 25 of their races.
Times were not fast, which we had expected when we had looked at results from previous years. But there had been another twist, as well: On Friday night, soon after we checked into our hotel rooms, we received an email from race director Greg Dunston with the news that three days of rain in DC had made the golf course where the race is usually run un-runnable. He was not going to cancel the race. Instead most of the race would be run on the roads of Georgetown Prep’s campus, but with two swings through a muddy stretch of field.
Girls head coach Matt Haffner, Paluch, and assistant coach Erin Luby had been thrilled with the way their girls had handled the double adversity–a road course, something new for the girls and something which required them to remove spikes from their race shoes, and then sloppy and muddy paths up a number of hilly bumps, something the girls had not encountered before. The road course presented a hill as challenging as any that a city runner finds in Chicago, as well.
The boys did not win as many medals as the girls–a haul of 19 for 24 boys. The varsity boys ran especially well, however, placing four in the top ten–winning four pewter mugs, as well as top-25 medals. Sophomore Dan Santino was third, senior co-captain Chris Korabik eighth, Dugas ninth, junior Andy Weber tenth, senior Patrick Manglano 14th, junior Kallin Khan 16th, and junior Brian Santino 44th. Even with much of the course on the road, the times were a little bit slow because of the terrain and the muddy sections. Santino ran 16 minutes and 14 seconds for 5k. Korabik was 16:29, Dugas 16:31, Weber 16:38, Manglano 16:43, Khan 16:48, and Santino 17:40. The most important news for the team was a 34-second split from our number one to our number six runner.
Two freshman runners won medals: Lyndon Vickrey (14th, 19:23) and Paul Tonner (17th, 19:29). We entered the maximum ten runners in one of two junior varsity races, our juniors and seniors. The team placed second overall to win a plaque. The surprise number one for the team was junior Niko Polite, who ran the best race of his career to finish seventh in 18:11. Junior John Lennon was ninth (18:15), junior Sean Freeman tenth (18:15), senior Andrew Salinas 13th (18:20), senior Paddy McCabe 22nd (18:29) and junior Dante Domenella 25th (18:31).
In a second junior varsity race, with teams assigned randomly, we ran our sophomores. Jack Morgan led the team with his fifth-place finish in 18:43 Andrius Blekys was seventh (18:48), Tony Imburgia 20th (19:45), Seamus Brennan 23rd(19:49), and Colin Hogan 25th (19:55). As a team their score of 69 points won them a third-place plaque.
The meet itself is as much a cross country running festival as it is a race. One of the meet sponsors is the Pacers Running Stores of the DC-area, in combination with New Balance shoe company. Chris Farley from Pacers and Johnny Cakes Auville from the local Sports Junkies radio program manned an announcing booth near the finish line, where they did some race play by play, as well as post-race interviews with the winners. When they heard that our team had come to the race from Chicago–and that we had won the boys seeded team race–they invited us on stage. We told them that we had scouted the original golf-course venue watching Youtube videos of previous years’ races. The boys proudly told them that we had expected to perform well at the meet, even against unknown teams on a mystery course, because we are one of the top-ranked teams in Illinois–and Illinois is a great cross country state. In their interview the boys reiterated their team goals to place high at the Illinois state meet and the Nike NXN event in November. You can hear a podcast of the interview here. And here is a Youtube video version.
Meanwhile the girls gave Mayer lots of attention and thanks.
The Pacers guys weren’t done yet. They announced a dance contest at 4:30 in the New Balance cross country store tent. When one of Haffner’s girls approached him to enter, he simply shook his head. She was warming up for the next race, and she would not be allowed to compete.
Taylor Dugas did compete, and aided by a cheering section from Chicago, he won a pair of New Balance shoes and a new athletic bag. Chicago wins again.
As Ray Mayer joked to different groups of kids, “You won so many prizes. I hope they let you come back next year.”
Whenever he said that, the boys and girls just looked at each other and smiled.