As the race developed from the mile to the two mile mark at the Chicago Catholic League championships two weeks ago, it looked like our Saint Ignatius team had victory safely in our hands. Then we lost, as at least one of our key runners struggled home to the finish and Loyola’s runners came roaring back in the last mile to win, 31-35.
So when our Saint Ignatius team seemed to be sitting at 100 points just past the midpoint of the three mile race at the Lake Park Sectional on Saturday, we were confident about placing high enough to qualify for the state meet—but we still kept our fingers crossed. Almost without fail at our annual sectional, the magic number for qualification in the fifth spot is about 150.
In the end we finished third with 127 points. So in fact we were safe—but once again we also did not finish as strongly as we wanted to finish.
The dissection of number one ranked York’s improbable loss at the Lake Park Sectional continues in various online locations with a couple common themes. York got off to a bad start. Coach Joe Newton didn’t like the barriers at the start, and he seemed to say that his team got boxed in at the top of the hill on the first turn. Because of the bad start, they couldn’t get their pack together until later in the race. Then it seemed that their pack didn’t move up as easily through what was arguably a tougher field than they have been used to running against earlier in the season.
When we got our box assignment for the Lake Park sectional last week, we noticed right away that next to the Saint Ignatius box number 8 would be York in box number 7. Coaches from the Fenwick Regional–where York had dominated– assured us that York’s strategy in the sectional would be similarly aggressive. They would race from the front. Our race strategy seemed pretty obvious—follow the York frontrunners.
When York didn’t get out aggressively with their pack, however, it created a little bit of a problem for our team, as well.
We had done some research on the course, including a visit on Wednesday before the two days of rain came, and we got helpful advice from Matt Haffner, whose Ignatius girls team runs Lake Park’s Harvey Braus Invite each year. Get to the outside of the race mob on the first turn, we told our boys. That would also help them get into position to run at the top of the hill on the ridge after the turn, where it would be drier after the rain. The boys themselves had also given some careful thought to the 150 meters or so of pavement on the course; most of our boys put shorter spikes in their shoes so they would have the option of running on the pavement, instead of on the narrow paths on either side.
Mike Newman’s Dyestatil.com videos document Saturday’s race at several key points as it developed—at the start, at .75 miles or so, right before the mile, then at 1.25 miles. Then he catches the runners again at 1.75 before the two mile and at 2.25 miles–and finally the finish.
His start video suggests that our boys did a mixed job with those instructions, as they coped with York’s similarly mixed results at the start. Senior co-captain Chris Korabik moved aggressively to the front of the race and made the turn easily among the first 20 or so runners. Running unimpeded on the outside of the pack, sophomore Dan Santino is about even with Korabik. Then senior co-captain Taylor Dugas and junior Andy Weber flash by, also on the outside as planned, well positioned, it would seem, for the race ahead. On the other hand, junior Kallin Khan got caught inside toward the back half of the pack, probably around 90th place at the turn. And at the very back of the pack, at what must have been around 135th place in a race with 140 runners, ran senior Patrick Manglano and junior Brian Santino.
A few moments further into the race, at about the quarter mile mark, I learned later, our assistant coach Nate McPherson had yelled at Khan to get farther toward the front of the race.
I was near Newman at the .75 mile mark, and I remember being pretty happy as the runners approached. Among other things, Khan was now among the top 25 or so runners in the race—and he was still moving forward. He must have passed 50 runners in two minutes to get there. Korabik and Santino were just off the lead in the front pack. Dugas was around 30th, with Weber not far behind in the top 40, chasing hard.
When we asked him later how he managed to move so quickly through the packed crowd of runners, Khan’s answer was simple. “I ran on the pavement,” he said. “It was pretty clear because everyone else was on the grass.”
At 1.25 miles, the video shows the race taking much clearer shape. For our Wolfpack, Santino was sixth, Korabik tenth, Kahn 18th, Dugas 25th, Weber 35th—with Manglano now moving up to 80th place or so.
The overall team race was clearer, too.
York had moved into position. The race at that point didn’t match the way York’s four horsemen ran away at the Fenwick Regional last week, running a 15:04 that some people called a tempo run. But they now had three runners up at the front of the race.
Nathan Mroz from York had taken a ten meter lead on the field, with Matt Plowman of York in the front of the chase pack among Santino, Chase Silverman of New Trier, Jack Carpenter of Maine South, and David O’Gara (running as an individual for Glenbrook South); Jonathan Vara of Lane Tech was up front, as well, with teammate Pavlo Hutsalyuk. Kyle Mattes of York was at the back of that front pack. And in fact the other top six York runners—Alex Bashqawi, Max Denning, and John May– had managed to find each other, as well. But they were back at about 30th place. Still, York looked to be winning the race after the mile with around 80 points.
In terms of the other key teams in the race, a second tier of runners included three from Loyola—Christian Swenson, Teddy Brombach, and Jack Carroll—with Henry Mierzwa from Maine South and Kallin Khan from Ignatius. A group from New Trier also lurked just behind the front chase pack, with Peter Cotsirilos, Tarek Afifi, and Austin Santacruz. Taylor Dugas from Ignatius was in this mix, but a bit farther back, with Andy Weber from Ignatius chasing from behind the York runners.
We got our next look at the runners just after the halfway mark. Newman marks his video as 1.75 miles. Mroz was still firmly in charge. Most of the runners were in the same place.
At 2.25 miles, Mroz had pulled away for a ten second lead on the front. O’Gara had separated himself in second place from a smaller chase group of Silverman, Carpenter, and Santino. Our Ignatius team looked to be in good shape, with Korabik in tenth and Kallin Khan now running steady at 17th–right behind New Trier’s chasers: Cotsirilos, Afifi, and Santacruz. But Dugas had begun to fade, falling just behind teammate Andy Weber in 35th and 38th. Loyola still had Carroll running with Korabik, and Brombach up front in the teens, but Swenson had begun to fade.
It was clear at this point of the race that York was in trouble. Mattes was running around tenth, but Plowman had suddenly fallen all the way back to the York group of Denning, May, and Bashqawi, still running around 30th.
The team score, with less than a mile to go, appeared to be something like this: New Trier 95, York 100, Ignatius 105, and Loyola 110. It was really still anyone’s race from this point to the finish.
New Trier, of course, would close the race out with the best finishing charge—and a total of 79 points. Silverman would challenge O’Gara, then finish third. Cotsirilos surged in the last half mile all the way to fifth. Afifi would finish 18th, Santacruz 23rd, and Om Kanwar 30th. For York, Mroz took the win, with Mattes 10th; then Basqawi, Denning, and May would finish together in 27th, 28th, and 29th. York’s total was 95.
Ignatius and Loyola struggled to the finish—each losing a large number of spots from key performers.
Dugas was already fading, all the way back to into the 40s, as he took the hard u-turn with 350 meters to go in order to enter the stadium space; crossing a patch of grass, the runners jump onto the track for 300 meters to the finish. On that grass patch, Dugas slipped and fell on the turn, partly, it would seem, out of exhaustion; he had run the race too aggressively up front.
But almost magically, just as Dugas fell, Manglano appeared behind him. He had moved steadily through the race from the very back at the start. But even at the 2.25 mile mark, he had been around 70th. Noting Dugas’s fade at that point, I had yelled to Manglano that the team would need him to finish strongly. He obviously did so.
As he entered the track to discover Dugas on the ground, Manglano seemed to pause for a moment, reaching down almost to touch his teammate on the shoulder—and then he charged forward after the runners ahead of him. He would finish 53rd in the team scoring. Dugas would get to his feet and struggle home in 80th place overall, losing 40 points in the last half mile.
Meanwhile, with about a quarter mile left in the race, Teddy Brombach of Loyola was running just outside of the top ten. Then he inexplicably slowed to a jog; later it was said he had some kind of cramp. He finished just ahead of Manglano, in 48th.
But our drama at number five could not overshadow—or detract from—our strong team performance at the front of the race.
Santino ran what was arguably the best race of his young career, as he held on to fourth place in 15:03, close to a personal best. Korabik was 11th in 15:13, his best race of the year. Khan, after his remarkable charge in the first mile, faded a little bit in the last mile to 25th, but it was his fifth personal best time in five weeks as he ran 15:24. Weber had moved slowly forward throughout the race to finish 34th (15:33), showing he had recovered from illness and depletion that slowed him two weeks ago at the CCL championship race.
The moments after the sectional race are a nervous vigil, as teams try to calculate their results—and those of their opponents. I initially gave my group inaccurate information, telling them we had safely scored around 100 points, our number earlier in the race. I hadn’t quite figured in our fade at the finish.
I’ve been through this post-race moment meaningfully three times now. In 2010, I had been measuring our team during the entire race against Loyola’s runners, whom I had figured as our competition for the sectional’s fifth spot. We had clearly been beaten in that race duel—and as we walked from the Niles West stadium to the field house, I had begun to prepare my team for bad news. What I had not noticed was a subpar performance that day by Maine South, who had entered the race, we thought, a better team than ours. It turned out to be good news when the results were posted; we had scored 152 points for fifth place. It was that experience, in fact, that gave me the “150 points to qualify” benchmark.
Last year we entered the sectional ranked as high as second in the pre-race speculation. But we had had some adversity during the week entering the race; we were not 100 percent. In the end, we just ran badly that day. Even with Jack Keelan’s individual race win, I knew our score was well over 150 points after the finish, with our fifth and sixth runners—Manglano and Dugas–far back in the 80s. But two of our runners up front—Santino and Weber—had underperformed, as well. When the results were posted, there was a surprise. Improbably the results on the wall said we had finished fifth with 183 points. We celebrated wildly, no doubt because of the big surprise. We had been prepared for bad news. We took celebratory photographs with the team gathered around 1980 state champion and 1981Ignatius graduate Mike Patton, who had come to watch the race.
Then came the bad news. Because of a chip scoring error, the results were missing a runner from Lane Tech. When the runner was added to the race rank after a video review, we were relegated to sixth place. As I noted in a blog post at the time, boys do cry.
There wasn’t much drama this year for our team, even with Dugas’s fall. We had entered the race nervous but confident in ourselves. We had run well, if not spectacularly. We had a score safely under 150—maybe 110, maybe 120?
But as carefully as teams had tried to calculate their scores and those of their close opponents during the race, there was clear confusion among coaches after the race about the results. Tony Jones of Lane Tech was running through his finish line video on his Ipad. He called me over to identify our runners. Jones was talking positively about his runners at the front of the race, but then he was clearly worried to discover that both his fourth and fifth runners had apparently finished well back in the pack—48th and 63rd.
Meanwhile Loyola worried about Brombach’s puzzling finish, which gave them, like Lane Tech, fourth and fifth runners who finished back in the neighborhood of 50th place. Their counters, it seemed, didn’t succeed in getting a good read on the race. Assistant Coach Dave Behof had some information from New Trier’s coaches. New Trier thought they had won the race, ahead of York. Behof told me we were likely third, and he was hopeful that Loyola was fourth. Fifth, for some reason, remained a mystery.
Our team was not celebrating, but it was clear that a weight had been lifted from their shoulders once the race was over, and our fate, if not certain, seemed pretty sure. Maybe the pain of the previous year hung over our heads a little bit; there would be no premature celebration. Of course, when we were told we had qualified last year, we had been told those results were official. We had not been premature then, either.
In fact, once we did get the official news at Lake Park, there wasn’t much celebrating from our team, anyway. All we did was take a few photographs.
As an aside, it is also possible that the boys were subdued because there had been bad news for our girls team. Running without their number two runner, who had been injured the week before, the team had finished one point out of fifth place behind Loyola, 205-206. It had been so close that the race was decided by the fifth runners for each team. Of course, any of the top five Ignatius runners felt they could have scored the one missing point. The only consolation was that junior Alexis Jakubowski had finished 14th and qualified as an individual to run in Peoria next week. Our boys knew first hand the kind of disappointment the girls were feeling.
The official boys results gave New Trier their surprising victory with 79 points, with York at 95. We scored 127, with Loyola Academy fourth at 144–and Lane Tech fifth (163). Pre-race speculation said that six ranked teams were fighting for five spots. Maine South with 170 points was the team left out in the cold. Glenbard West (178) and Lake Park (182) had been surprisingly close to qualifying.
We had beaten three teams that had beaten us in head to head races the previous two weeks. Loyola had won at the Chicago Catholic League meet; we had been third behind champion Lane Tech and Maine South at the regional the week before. We had beaten teams that were ranked ahead of us, as well.
But we were the small news of the day. The big news had been York’s defeat. It threw the larger state picture into disarray leading into the state meet. York had defeated the major contenders—Hinsdale Central and Hersey, and O’Fallon, most notably—head to head during the season. York had been the unanimous number one choice in the season’s final coaches poll from the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association. But all those teams, plus New Trier, seemed to have come on strong in the post-season, winning their sectionals. In addition, the fifth sectional winner, Wheaton Warrenville South, appeared to have developed into a trophy-possible team.
There were two clerical matters to attend to before we left Lake Park. First, I collected the state championship parking pass for the third place team finisher—the only tangible acknowledgement of our finish, other than the awards announcement. It struck us a little bit funny that the previous year we had received two permits, one for each of individual qualifiers last year, Keelan and Korabik.
But the awards announcement in the stadium had also strangely announced Brian Santino, older brother to Dan, as the fourth place finisher in the race. When we handed out the chips before the race, I had remarked to the brothers that it seemed odd that the list assigning the chips put Dan before Brian on the list. Alphabetically, they should be reversed. Well, apparently the chips as assigned in the computer had been assigned alphabetically. As I accepted our parking pass and thanked race director Peter Schauer, the Lake Park athletics director, for his work as host, I made arrangements to correct the results and put the brothers in their right order.
After our experience of the previous year, I also wanted him to know that the chip error had not been ours.
Looking ahead to next week, I am not much of a state cross country historian. In my eleven years as a coach at Saint Ignatius, even, I have probably not attended half of the state meets during that time. Palatine, it was interesting to notice, has qualified for the meet all of those eleven years! So has York, of course. There might be others.
Our 2013 team, for the record, is the fourth Ignatius team ever to qualify for the state meet. In 1981 the team was 13th, in 1982 2nd, and in 2010 20th.
But for the first time that I can remember, the race on Saturday will be wide open–much more so, even, than in 2010. York and the five sectional winners are not the only teams who think they are in the mix.