Tag Archives: Andy Weber

We did what you are supposed to do:  We tried to win.

Kallin Khan, Dan Santino, Andy Weber, and John Lennon put themselves in the lead pack at the Niles West sectional and tried to win the race.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Kallin Khan, Dan Santino, Andy Weber, and John Lennon put themselves in the lead pack at the Niles West sectional and tried to win the race. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

I am sitting in the Embassy Suites hotel in East Peoria, in the early morning before the IHSA state cross country championships.  Our Saint Ignatius boys’ cross country team races at 2:00 today.

We almost didn’t make it here.

Last Saturday our team qualified—just barely—for the IHSA 3A state meet for the second consecutive year, finishing in a tie for fifth place (140 points) with York High School at the Niles West sectional.

York qualified for the state meet for the 50th consecutive year.  They have won 31 sectional titles–and 27 state titles.

Our Saint Ignatius boys have never won a sectional title.  We thought the 2014 Niles West Sectional was our chance to do so.

The close call in our favor was a welcome reprieve.  Niles West has some ghosts for us.

It could have been three times in a row.  Two years ago, results were posted at the Niles West sectional that placed us in the fifth qualifying position.  We had not run as well as we hoped that day, but it appeared that we had qualified.  Our team celebrated somewhat raucously.  Then rumors circulated that there had been an error in those results, and the rumors were confirmed when a frustrated Niles West meet worker tore the posted results off the wall.  Officials had not reviewed the full video of the finish.  A Lane Tech runner had not been scored because of a chip error.  When he was reinserted into the results, we were relegated to sixth.  Our only consolation was that Jack Keelan and Chris Korabik advanced as individual qualifiers, and Keelan went on to win the state individual championship in Peoria.

This year, interestingly, our team was subdued, even almost seemingly disappointed, when the news came that we had finished in a tie for fifth, even though we had survived and advanced through the sectional.  Perhaps they were just relieved.

The good news came first in a Dyestat Illinois tweet.

The good news came first in a Dyestat Illinois tweet.

We got the news first when someone read a tweet from Dyestat Illinois listing the top six finishers as qualifiers.  There was some nervousness from those who were not sure that both teams would advance from a sectional when there is a tie for fifth; according to the tie-breaker, we were actually sixth.  Some of those nervous people had been there in 2012.

When we saw official results on the Edgetiming.com web site, by mobile phone, there were a few questions about whether those results could still change.  Then they went up on the wall of the Niles West field house.

When it was clear we had advanced, there was no celebration.  We went to the awards ceremony.  Dan Santino got his medal for tenth place.  When they announced the team awards, New Trier got a first-place plaque.  It is almost amusing that at the sectional meet the other qualifying teams—Glenbard West, Loyola, Maine South, and York–simply get parking passes for the state meet.  There were only five of them, as it turned out.  As the sixth place team, technically, we were told we would have to email Ron McGraw at the IHSA office to get ours.

Our only celebration, really, was to take some photographs of the group.  We even had to remind them to smile.

We had not run our best rest.  We had, in fact, wanted to win the race.  We thought we would win the race.

We had raced to win.  Our plan was to be aggressive from the start, putting our top four runners in the lead pack.  Assuming the pace was reasonable, not too fast and not too slow, our guys would try to move and push the pace just after the mile when the runners turned south in the long corridor from one end of the Niles West athletic field to the other.  From that point they would try to make it hard.  We wanted to put our team at the front of the race with a dwindling number of competitors.  If we could execute the race this way, we thought, it would mean low numbers for our top four runners—and a low team score.

Our team had been lurking at the front of some of the top Illinois meets through the fall.  We were fifth at First to the Finish, just behind New Trier, and at Palatine we were sixth, behind New Trier, once again, but just twenty points from winning.  At the Chicago Catholic League meet we had tied Loyola, 29-29, and then lost on the sixth-runner tie breaker.  It was time for us to cross the gap between being a good team and being a team that should try to win a big race.

The early part of the race seemed to go the way we had hoped.  From box position number two on the far outside of the starting line, we moved through open ground at one end of the starting line to the front of the race before the sweeping first turn to the left 300 or so meters from the start.  It was important to get to the front of the race at Niles West because at 500 meters the race moves through a narrowing gate which takes the runners to a small wooded area and a narrow trail.  Going through that gate the first time, our top four were up towards the front of the race and moved through easily.  I saw our second group of three runners get through, also, well toward the front of the race.

At the half-mile mark outside the return gate to the field, where I was watching, the race leader was Irwin Loud of Oak Park-River Forest in about 2:22.  Our top four—Dan Santino, Kallin Khan, John Lennon, and Andy Weber—trailed him in a big pack of 20 to 30 runners.  They were not running together, really, but were kind of strung one behind the other, with Santino leading in around 2:25.  Our second group of runners—Vince Lewis, Patrick Hogan, and Brian Santino—would be important for us, too, of course, because from among them would come our fifth scoring runner.  Santino and Lewis came through the half-mile in around 2:32, with Hogan right behind them.

The lead group ran away from me at my position on the south end of the Niles West field, but I’m told at the mile Loud went through in 4:52 and the lead group was at 4:55.  When they returned to my end of the field our guys had not taken the race lead, but they were in good position.  Our four—Santino, Khan, Lennon, and Weber–were very close to the front in the top 15.   At the half-way mark of the race, as Santino and Khan passed together with Weber and Lennon just behind, I yelled out 7:35.  Then I continued to count back to our number five.  Lewis was now 64th at the half-way mark.  That was a concern.  Our plan for winning, targeting around 90 points, probably required Lewis to finish at around 50th.

The race ran south again.  Loud continued to lead all the way to the two-mile mark, I am told, which they passed in 10:10.  In video before the 2-mile that I viewed after the race, Lennon had fallen back out of the lead pack.  Weber was holding on at the back.  But Khan and Santino were still way up front.

After the 2-mile mark, as the runners prepared to go through the gate for a third time, the attackers had begun to amass behind Loud—including Khan and Santino.  But that lead group clearly did not include Andy Weber, who had faded to 19th, and John Lennon, who had fallen back to around 30th.  Lewis went by in about the same spot, as well, in 64th.

With 1000 meters to go, Khan pushed to the lead, with Santino following.  But going into the back wooded loop through the gate, our team fortunes were declining.

Coming out of that loop Santino pushed into the lead, and Khan got swallowed up by a group of trailers that included members of teams that we were racing for the team win and for the top five team places to go to the state meet.  From New Trier there was Josh Rosenkrantz, from Glenbard West Chris Buechner and Eric Neumann, from York Charlie Kern, and from Maine South Henry Mierzwa.  Following that group of ten or so, loping by five meters behind, was Loyola’s Jack Carroll.  Carroll had run by Santino in the final 200 meters at the Chicago Catholic League meet for the win, after Santino had opened up a ten meter gap.  That one point swing had given Loyola its tie—and then its win on the sixth-runner tiebreaker.

With 400 meters or so to go, the chasers were going by Santino.  Carroll quickly took the race lead at about the same time.  He did it convincingly, with only York’s freshmen Charlie Kern able to challenge him.  The race ended at the end of the Niles West stadium on the track after running the full straightaway.  Carroll was the winner, with Kern second, and then Buechner third.

Santino would fade all the way to tenth.  Khan was chasing him to the finish, but he was passed by two runners in the last meters to finish 13th.  Lennon caught Weber, who had continued to fade, to finish 28th, with Weber right behind in 29th.  As Weber crossed the line, two more runners flashed past him.  If there had been two more meters  in the race, Weber would have been 31st.    Lewis finished in 63rd overall, but three individuals without teams were ahead of him to make him 60th in the team race.

After the race, Weber was disoriented—and probably dehydrated.  Santino was frustrated to have had the lead and then get passed by nine runners.  None of our runners seemed happy.  But six out of the seven—Weber had most notably struggled just to finish—ran faster times in the sectional than they had run in the Pat Savage Invitational four weeks before on the same course.

We wouldn’t know for another hour or so how close we were to not even qualifying for the state meet.  But we had, in fact, simply tried to win the race—like you are supposed to do.

The final standings gave New Trier the victory with 81 points, Glenbard West second with 88, Loyola third with 103, a surprising Maine South with 138, and then York and Ignatius with 140.  Like they say about the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, “survive and move on.”

Today at the IHSA state championship, our team is no longer in the conversation really as one of the top teams competing for a trophy.  There are no polls or rankings this week, but we would undoubtedly have fallen from our perch as number five in the Milesplit rankings and our number seven in the Dyestat Illinois rankings and the ITCCCA coaches’ poll.   We probably would have fallen right out of the top ten.

But today there are no polls—just head to head racing.  It is a different kind of race, and probably not a race that we can win.  Our strategy will be a little bit different—but also the same.

Our top four runners need to finish the race with as low a number as possible—with perhaps all four in the top 30.  We think Weber, Khan, and Santino can compete for all-state honors, and Lennon could be close behind.  Our number five runner—either Lewis, Hogan (just a freshman), or Brian Santino—must finish no lower than 70th.

In 1982 York won the state championship with 79 points.  But with 167 points, the highest points total ever in the state meet for second place, Saint Ignatius was second, the only trophy in our team’s history.

Carl Sandburg High School looks like the front runner today, with the defending champion Hinsdale Central chasing them.  Perennial state meet trophy hunter Neuqua Valley is chasing them, along with last year’s fourth place team Lyons Township and last year’s second place team Downers Grove North.  Then there are the four top finishers from our sectional—along with York, whom many had written off earlier in the season as unlikely even to qualify for the state meet.  There are strong teams from the other sectionals, as well.

Mike Newman from Dyestat Illinois yesterday told me that he expected there could be a high points total in the race—especially for the second and third place trophy positions.  The higher the totals for all the teams, the better our chances might be, like in 1982.

We ran the Niles West sectional expecting it to be our breakthrough race for the year—and for our program.  It didn’t happen.

We’ll run the state meet hoping for the same thing to happen.  We still think the big race is in us.  We just have to run it.

It was a nail-biter, but the Wolfpack qualified to run the IHSA state meet with a fifth plae tie finish.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

It was a nail-biter, but the Wolfpack qualified to run the IHSA state meet with a fifth- place-tie finish. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under coaching, cross country running, IHSA, running

Photo finishing high school

Image

Photo by Steven Bugarin

I prepared this for our news people back at Ignatius, a recap of our first day at the state track meet.  And I owe Chris Korabik (@Cknation29), on the left above, a thank you for the tag line!

On the second day of the IHSA Boys Track and Field Championships today, four Ignatius athletes will compete for medals and team points.  In the preliminaries yesterday, the Wolfpack moved into serious contention  for four events.

In the 110 meter hurdles, senior Conor Dunham won his heat to advance to the finals in a time of 14.49 seconds; it is the second fastest time in school history, behind only Dunham’s own 14.15 mark in the sectional meet last week.  Senior Chris Hawkins also competed in 110s, running 14.79, but he did not qualify for the final.  He did, however, finish sixth and win his flight in the preliminaries of the triple jump, where he leaped 44 feet and 11.5 inches; that jump leaves him just two inches from third place.  He gets three jumps today to close the gap.  Dunham returned to the track in the 300 intermediate hurdles, where he battled long-time rival Imani Payton of North Lawndale College Prep in his qualifying heat.  Payton won by a step in 37.85 seconds, with Dunham at 38.14, but they were the fastest of the nine qualifiers for today’s final.  Finally, senior Chris Korabik finished second in his heat of the 1600-meter run to advance to the final, running 4 minutes and 14.80 seconds, second fastest of the rounds.

Junior Andy Weber will also compete today in the 3200-meter run, which has no preliminary race.  Senior Emmett Boyle competed in the pole vault on Friday, as well, but he did not advance.

To attend the state meet, Dunham, Korabik, and Hawkins had to miss graduation back in Chicago on Friday night.  Instead they made a cap and gown visit to the track in the evening during the open track meet there.  They marched around the infield as Weber carried a music player blaring Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”—and they took a few pictures.

“Our seniors made some sacrifices to be here,” said Coach Ed Ernst.  “We have a chance to score some points tomorrow.”

The Wolfpack finished fourth at the state meet last year.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under high school track and field, IHSA, running, Uncategorized

A little bit of vindication at Lake Park

Image

The start of the Lake Park sectional. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

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.

imageWe 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.

Taylor Dugas and Andy Weber found their way to the outside of the starting mob.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Taylor Dugas and Andy Weber found their way to the outside of the starting mob. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

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.

Kallin Khan found a clear path to run on the pavement.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Kallin Khan found a clear path to run on the pavement. Halfway through the race the Wolfpack had three runners in the top 15, with two more trailing at around 30th–for a total under 100.   It was a virtual dead heat with New Trier and York–with Loyola close behind.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

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.

With Nathan Mroz in front and David O'Gara in second, Dan Santino of Ignatius battled for third.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

With Nathan Mroz in front and David O’Gara in second, Dan Santino of Ignatius battled for third. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

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.

IMG_0049

Patrick Manglano started 135th out of 140–and he finished 53rd. His slow start, he said later, “was on purpose.” Photo by Steven Bugarin.

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?

Tony Jones from Lane Tech asked me to help him identify runners  in his Ipad video of the finish, with the meet results still in doubt among the coaches.  Photo by Ilona Koziel.

Tony Jones from Lane Tech asked me to help him identify runners in his Ipad video of the finish, with the meet results still in doubt among the coaches. Photo by Ilona Koziel.

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.

Image

The Saint Ignatius boys cross country team finished third at the Illinois High School Association 3A Lake Park Sectional on Saturday, November 2, to earn a coveted spot at the IHSA state championship race in Peoria next week. From left: Coach Ed Ernst, Assistant Coach Steven Bugarin, co-captain Chris Korabik, Brian Santino, Dan Santino, Patrick Manglano, co-captain Taylor Dugas, Andy Weber, Kallin Khan, Assistant Coach Nate McPherson.

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.

3 Comments

Filed under coaching, cross country running

Almost but not quite déjà vu all over again

Dan Santino of Ignatius and Christian Swenson of Loyola battled at the front of the Chicago Catholic League Championship.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Dan Santino of Ignatius and Christian Swenson of Loyola battled for three miles at the front of the Chicago Catholic League Championship–with Chris Korabik of Ignatius and Sal Flight of Fenwick in pursuit. But the outcome of the team championship would be decided behind them.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

To get a full understanding of the almost cosmic drama at the 2013 Chicago Catholic League Cross Country Championship at Turtlehead Lake on Saturday, October 12, you probably have to look back at the last few previous championships.  Only the coaches and the seniors at the race—and a few parents—could have those memories.

In October of 2010 at the Chicago Catholic League cross country championships, Loyola Academy and Saint Ignatius came to the meet at Schiller Woods with what appeared to be evenly matched teams.  Loyola had narrowly beaten Ignatius at the CCL North division meet three weeks before.   Ignatius had not won the CCL meet since 1991 [Correction: since 1994] ; Loyola had won in 2008 and 2009–and five times total since 2000.

The Wolfpack CCL cross country championship in 2010 was the first since 1991.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The Wolfpack CCL cross country championship in 2010 was the first since 1991. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The 2010 CCL race probably meant a whole lot more to our Ignatius team.  Among other things our boys had become used to watching dominant Loyola teams win championships, while we had not even been able to compete.  Now we seemed to have a realistic chance to win.

At the front of the race in the first mile then sophomore Jack Keelan and senior co-captain Jack Cross from Ignatius locked horns with junior William Hague from Loyola.  But missing from that mix was a second top runner from Loyola, senior Mac Ford, who was struggling back in the pack.  We would later learn that Ford and his brother Todd had been suffering with illness all week.

As the race developed, Keelan pulled away for a ten-second win over Hague, running 14 minutes and 57 seconds to break 15:00 for the first time in his career, and Fenwick’s Steve Blazer moved up for third.   But in the pack as they approached the finish Ignatius had moved forward to take control of the race.

In 2010 Patrick Santino raced into fourth place--but then collapsed 50 meters in front of the finish line.  He crawled to the finish as other runners passed him--and finished eighth overall.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

In 2010 Patrick Santino raced into fourth place–but then collapsed 50 meters in front of the finish line. He crawled to the finish as other runners passed him–and still finished eighth overall to help Ignatius to the team win. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Junior Patrick Santino had charged into fourth, a surprising turn in our favor—and perhaps a potentially deciding blow.  But then 50 meters from the finish line, he collapsed.  He got up, but he collapsed again ten yards from the finish.  He began to crawl toward the line.  Senior Tom Beddome from Loyola passed him to finish fourth, then Cross went by for fifth.  Senior Ian Barnett of Fenwick went by, then senior Tom Condreva of Brother Rice.  Santino crawled across the line just in front of junior Ryan Clardy of Fenwick for eighth place.

With the race still in some doubt, seniors Jack Doyle and Peter Devitt from Ignatius crossed in 12th and 13th to seal the win for Ignatius with 35 points.  Mac Ford, Loyola’s best runner for much of the 2010 season, would finish 16th as their fourth finisher, and his junior brother Todd finished 26th.  Loyola’s total was 55 points.

A year later a much improved Todd Ford would get his revenge, winning the CCL meet at Midlothian Meadows by outkicking Keelan, and Loyola would win the 2011 team title, 35-63.  Then in 2012 Keelan and Ignatius won convincingly, as Keelan set an amazing course record at Turtlehead Lake (14:29), and Ignatius finished 1st, 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 20th to score 35 points, once again, to Loyola’s 53.

The 2013 CCL championship shaped up a lot like the 2010 race.  Dyestatil.com ranked Loyola 11th in the state and Ignatius 12th.  The Wolfpack defeated the Ramblers convincingly at the Palatine Invite at the end of September, but Loyola won the Pat Savage Niles West Invite in October– by just a point.

The race started somewhat slowly, with a large pack that included six Ignatius runners, five Loyola runners, three Fenwick runners, and a few single runners–senior Steve Sismelich from Providence Catholic, Dan O’Keefe from Mt. Carmel, and James Durkin from Brother Rice.  At the mile mark, Fenwick senior Brixton Rill had moved out to a ten-meter or so lead going just under 5:00, with the pack just a little bit over that.

As the runners headed up the hill north of the Turtlehead Lake, the pack seemed to break up a little bit—and Rill’s lead disappeared.  Ignatius sophomore Dan Santino, brother of Patrick Santino, and Loyola junior Christian Swenson moved toward the lead with Sal Flight of Fenwick in tow.  As the pack strung out, it seemed that the four remaining Ignatius runners were taking  positions among three  Loyola runners, with the sixth Ignatius runner also in front of Loyola’s fifth.  This seemed like good news for the Wolfpack.

As the runners completed their first swing around the lake and headed toward the two mile mark north of the lake again, the race had taken even clearer shape.  Santino and Swenson were on the lead, with Sal Flight of Fenwick running with them.  Ignatius senior co-captain Chris Korabik was chasing in fourth.  Then three more Ignatius runners—senior co-captain Taylor Dugas, junior Andy Weber, and junior Kallin Khan–had taken positions in a chase pack with two Loyola runners, junior Spencer Kelly and senior Teddy Brombach.  Trailing that pack were Loyola’s senior Matt Randolph and junior Jack Carroll, along with Sismelich, Rill, and Durkin.  Ignatius senior Patrick Manglano and O’Keefe, trailed that group.

Turtlehead Lake course map for the 2013 Chicago Catholic League Championships.

Turtlehead Lake course map for the 2013 Chicago Catholic League Championships.

The race leaders went into a narrower path that goes around a small pond on higher ground north of Turtlehead Lake itself, then it finished the hill, going across a ridge—the highest point of the course.  It was on that hill, about a half mile from the finish, it seems, that the race began to change.

First Khan, who was running faster than he had ever run, and then Weber, who had missed school and practice during the week with flu-like symptoms, dropped from the first chase pack.  Meanwhile Randolph and Carroll, Loyola’s fourth and fifth runners, began to move up.  Behind them Manglano was closing hard for Ignatius, as well—but he was chasing from farther behind.

With about a half-mile left in the race, Swenson took the lead at the front of the race in front of Santino.  Flight was in third, but Korabik was close in fourth.  Dugas was matched up with Brombach and Kelly—with Durkin and Sismelich racing them as outsiders to the team drama, but still a factor in determining the important place points.  It was a pretty even race, three on three for Ignatius and Loyola.

Behind that group, Loyola’s Randolph and Carroll were racing Khan, Weber, and Manglano from Ignatius to decide the team race—three on two.  It seemed to be advantage Ignatius.

And then with about a half-mile to go, Weber waved Khan and then Manglano ahead of him.

Junior Andy Weber was running with the chase pack as an important scoring runner until he began to fade with a half mile left in the race.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Junior Andy Weber was running with the chase pack as an important scoring runner until he began to fade with a half mile left in the race.  He would collapse in sight of the finish line and crawl across the line–but the race outcome was already decided in Loyola’s favor.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Over the final half-mile of the race, Weber would slow dramatically, then begin to wobble, and then, with 100 meters to go, collapse.  He would get up and try to run, and then crumble again—twice—before crawling over the finish line.  Our second runner in September when he ran a personal best of 15:20 at Detweiller, Weber would finish the race a minute slower and was a non-factor in the team scoring in 19th place.  He was probably dehydrated from his week of using Sudafed to handle his flu symptoms—and he had run himself into exhaustion.  As a precaution his parents took him to Northwestern’s emergency room, where an IV helped revive his physical body—although he would then face disappointment about the race outcome when his father finally gave him the news.

At the front of the race things had gone well for Ignatius.  Santino was behind Swenson by a few meters with just 300 meters left in the race—but then he surged and ran past him for a four-second win in 15:04.  Korabik, running his best race of the year, outkicked Flight for third in 15:20.  Korabik would later be awarded the CCL’s Lawless Award as the top senior finisher.

But then Kelly and Brombach finished fifth and sixth, both outkicking Dugas in seventh—although at that point the score was still Ignatius 11 and Loyola 13.  The race was decided by the chasers at numbers four and five for both teams.  After Brother Rice’s Durkin in eighth, Loyola’s Carroll finished ninth, putting Sismelich from Providence and Rill from Fenwick behind him–and in front of his Ignatius chasers.   Loyola’s Randolph then finished 12th in 15:43, just a second in front of Khan in 13th and Manglano 14th.

There were definitely some elements of déjà vu all over again from 2010—with some key changes in Loyola’s favor this time—as Loyola pulled out a close 31-35 win.

The teams will meet again at the Illinois High School Association’s 3A Lake Park sectional this coming Saturday.  In 2010, after Ignatius won the CCL meet, Loyola placed fourth to defeat fifth-place Ignatius at the Niles West Sectional, but both teams qualified for the state meet.  There Loyola finished 13th and Ignatius 20th.

Let’s hope that the cosmic tumblers repeat themselves this year—and Ignatius can turn the tables at the end of season races at Lake Park and Peoria.

The first step, of course, will be for both teams to qualify for the state meet again this coming Saturday.  It will be a battle.  York would seem to be a lock for the first spot as the state’s number one ranked team.  But Mike Newman’s final Dyestatil.com season rankings put sectional competitors Lane Tech 8th, New Trier 9th, Ignatius 11th, Maine South 12th, and Loyola 13th.  Five pretty equal teams will race for four spots.

It is a lot like 2010, actually…

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Dinner, a movie, and a cross country race

Winners of the 2013 Seeded Varsity race at the Goergetown Prep Classic, the Saint Ignatius Wolfpack, with benefactor Ray Mayer of the class of 1951.

Winners of the 2013 Seeded Varsity race at the Goergetown Prep Classic, the Saint Ignatius Wolfpack, with benefactor Ray Mayer of the class of 1951.

“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.

Seniors Taylor Dugas, Patrick Manglano, Chris Korabik, and Cara Zadeik make plans for a team outing to the movies.

Seniors Taylor Dugas, Patrick Manglano, Chris Korabik, and Cara Zadeik make plans for a team outing to the movies.

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.

It was.

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.

imageThe varsity boys and girls had organized what amounted to a team date. The sign out sheet listed nine boys and six girls.

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.

Dan Santino follows race leader Chase Weavrling from Poolesville, who would go on to win.

Dan Santino follows race leader Chase Weaverling from Poolesville.

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.

On the announcer's stage , Wolfpack winners do the post-race interview.  Photo/video by Mary Weber.

On the announcer’s stage , Wolfpack winners do the post-race interview. Photo/video by Mary Weber.

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.

IMG_6465Sitting in front of the stage during the interview, our benefactor Ray Mayer accepted public thank you-s from the Pacers Stores master of ceremonies–and from the boys.

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.

Senior co-captain Taylor Dugas won the dance contest.

Senior co-captain Taylor Dugas won the dance contest.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under coaching, cross country running

A little bit of drama for the Wolfpack at the Palatine Invite—and a new hero

Image

The Saint Ignatius Wolfpack boys varsity cross country team finishes fifth at the Palatine Invite to win team medals–and a new hat for the coach.  Left to right:  Assistant coach Steven Bugarin, Patrick Manglano, Brian Santino, Taylor Dugas, Kallin Khan, Dan Santino, Chris Korabik, Andy Weber, Coach Ed Ernst.

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.

Taylor Dugas was struggling with 400 meters to the finish--and then he collapsed 50 meters from the line.  He got up, collapsed again, and then crawled across the finish line in 71st place.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Taylor Dugas was struggling with 400 meters to the finish–and then he collapsed 50 meters from the line. He got up, collapsed again, and then crawled across the finish line in 71st place. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

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.”

The next day a video of the finish would circulate showing Dugas’s remarkable resolve to finish the race.  He did indeed crawl over the finish line.

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.

IMG_1194

2 Comments

Filed under coaching, cross country running

Too much to think about on this snow day

No school today means no practice.  Should a coach be worried?

No school today means no practice. Should a coach be worried?

Virtually every other year that I can remember in my ten years as a coach at Saint Ignatius College Prep, the news of a snow day at this time of year—while attractive as a day off from school—would pose problems for us.

We are in the closing weeks of our indoor season, preparing for the Chicago Catholic League Indoor Track Championships that are less than two weeks away.

Snow means our outdoor track is covered and unusable at a time of year when we have hopes that it could be available for practicing hurdles, baton passing, and jumps.  Snow means neither our sprinters nor our distance runners can do track workouts on the snowy track, something we like to do in preparation for our most important indoor meet.

Snow means we miss a day of school and therefore a day of practice when we need to practice.

But this year, when our principal announced over the PA system at the close of school yesterday that an approaching March snow storm would mean no school today, I just smiled and cheered with the students.

Our team is really running and competing right now as well as we could ever hope.  Snow on our track and a missed day of practice for us probably means similar problems for our competitors.  They are trying to catch us right now; they probably need the practice more than we do in order to do so.  I also know that most of our boys will be out running in the snow on their own today; I suspect that not all coaches have that confidence.

Senior co-captain Jack Keelan ran 4:16.29, a new meet record and the top time in Illinois this year, to win the 1600 at St. Patrick High School's ICOPS Invitational on Sunday, March 3 on a new surface at Lewis University.  Behind him, freshman Dan Santino ran 4:29.61 for third place--and the fastest time for a freshman in Illinois so far this year.  Is this too much too soon for our team?

Senior co-captain Jack Keelan ran 4:16.29, a new meet record and the top time in Illinois this year, to win the 1600 at St. Patrick High School’s ICOPS Invitational on Sunday, March 3 on a new surface at Lewis University. Behind him, freshman Dan Santino ran 4:29.61 for third place–and the fastest time for a freshman in Illinois so far this year. Is this too much too soon for our team?  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

What our boys have accomplished so far this season is unprecedented for us.  On Sunday our team produced a surprisingly dominating performance at the ICOPS Invitational.  It is probably true that it was a slightly weaker meet in terms of overall depth than it has been in some years—especially in the distance events.  The relay events were a little bit weaker, too, perhaps.  There were some quirks and luck involved in a few events for us.

But our Saint Ignatius boys scored 120 points, the highest point total that I can find for this meet, which I have attended for ten years as a coach.  The second place team, our CCL rival Providence Catholic, scored 61 points, with other CCL teams trailing them:  De La Salle, 57.5, Brother Rice 43, Mt. Carmel 31, Loyola 29.

Overconfidence is not a problem that our Ignatius boys know at all well; we are used to being the chasers, not the front runners.  Last year we were second in this same meet to Providence, but that strong performance gave us some clues that we had a chance against Providence in the CCL meet.  In a surprise come from behind performance, we won the CCL indoor meet as an underdog.

This year we are now the overdog.  And we could shoot ourselves in the foot with some overconfidence, perhaps.  Managing success is a new skill for me to learn as a coach.

The margin of our ICOPS victory, in a meet when we ran some of our best runners in only one event, suggests we have some options that we usually would not have.  In the outdoor season, our conference holds its frosh soph championships and its varsity championships on different days—so the younger boys get to compete in both meets if they are varsity-caliber.  But in the winter indoor meet, both the frosh soph and the varsity championship meets will take place on Sunday, March 17, with events alternating between varsity and frosh-soph races.  Boys can only run in one meet or the other.

We keep separate records for the frosh soph and varsity meets, as well.  So even if you are a sophomore, you can’t set a frosh-soph record running in the varsity meet.

Junior Chris Korabik runs a personal best 9:53.78 to win the 3200 at ICOPS, with sophomore Andy Weber second in 9:58.86--just off the PR he set last week.

Junior Chris Korabik runs a personal best 9:53.78 to win the 3200 at ICOPS, with sophomore Andy Weber second in 9:58.86–just off the PR he set last week.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

We have two young runners who have a chance to set indoor frosh soph conference records—if they run the frosh soph meet.  At ICOPS, they were big point scorers for our varsity team.  Sophomore Andrew Weber ran 9:58.86 for 3200 meters to finish second; freshman Dan Santino ran 4:29.61 for third in the 1600.  The Frosh Soph conference mark for 3200 is 9:56.97, set by William Hague of Loyola in 2010; the 1600 mark is 4:39.90 by Rob Glavas of Brother Rice in 2006.

Are we confident enough to weaken our varsity team and enter our two strong younger runners in the frosh soph meet to give them a shot at those records?  This was not a problem that we expected to have to consider before last Sunday.

Our early success, especially the great performances of our distance runners, raises another issue.  Are we running too fast too soon?

We have a long track season that stretches from January to May, when the really important meets loom—our outdoor CCL championships on Saturday, May 11, and then two state series meets: a sectional qualifying meet on Thursday, May 16, and the state meet in Charleston on Friday and Saturday, May 24-25.  We want to be at our best in May, not in March.

We have a pretty standard plan that we follow year after year in our training for the long season.   We are following our normal plan; our boys have not been doing anything differently this season.  But our results have been better than other years by a large margin.

As a bench mark, we expect boys to begin our indoor season running better than they ran during the previous indoor season—but still well behind what they had run at the end of the previous outdoor season.  We don’t expect new PRs during the indoor season, and we don’t train to accomplish that.

This year, our boys are basically beginning in the indoor season right where they left off last year at the end of the outdoor season.  When Dyestat.com went live this week, we discovered many of our early season efforts put us at or near the top of the Illinois leader boards.  The Illinois Prep Top Times site has another set of leaderboards populated with a large number of meets; we sit near the top of many events on those boards, as well.

We are hoping, of course, that this just means they are way better than they were last year.  We have reason to think this is true.  We know we should have finished our cross country season a little bit better than we did as a team.  Our current results are in line with what we thought we should have accomplished in the fall.  Our boys also, apparently, did a great job of preparation for the current track season in the months of November, December, and January between cross country and track.  They did this work, incidentally, on their own; I had barely a word with them during these months.

Our trip to the Jesuit Invite in Washington, DC, perhaps, injected a new level of incentive at an earlier point in the season—the end of February—than in past years.  The ICOPS meet in March, in past years, has been the first meet in which we tested ourselves.  We were obviously ready for that test this year.

Like many other coaches, I can insist that we really haven’t begun our hard training yet—the training that is supposed to produce fast times at the end of the year.  We did some tempo running once a week in the first month of practice, along with our long runs; our weekly totals hover around 50 miles in the winter for our top boys, sometimes a little bit more for the boys who get a long, long run in on Sundays.  A couple weeks ago we started phase two of the five-phase season plan, adding some faster running once a week—llike 12×400 at about 3200 goal pace, with a pretty long recovery jog, for example.  Our races amount to a second workout on the track at this point of the season.  When we don’t race, we might add a second workout.

But it isn’t just a matter of workouts, perhaps.  There is a mental aspect to “too much too soon.”

Our boys, to be sure, are a little bit giddy with their success this season—no different than their coaches, perhaps.  But senior co-captain Jack Keelan took a moment in a team meeting on Monday to remind everyone of the big goals.  “The real goals are at the end of the season,” he reminded us.  “We have won some meets and that’s great.  But we haven’t really accomplished anything yet this season when we look at the big goals we still have ahead of us.”

Keelan, incidentally, doesn’t even look at the leader boards.  He just shrugs when we report to him about those rankings.  His message to his teammates is clear:  Rankings are fine, but you have to do it on the track.

We have things that we do to protect against too much too soon.  As a pretty hard and fast rule, we do not compete in the Illinois Prep Top Times meet, often recognized as the “unofficial state indoor championship,” at the end of March after our CCL championship meet.  Many of our boys will qualify for this meet—especially this year.  But the CCL meet is about as high as we want our boys to be in March.  We don’t want another big effort that early in the season.

We actually take a three-week break from competition from mid-March to early-April when we begin competing outdoors.  We will, however, train hard during those weeks.  It is our way of taking a step back physically and mentally in order to prepare for a big second push.

We will find out in a few months if we have been running too well too soon.  What we hope lies ahead of us is some new territory.  Our early results suggest that our team should be competing in May for points at the state meet in a number of events.  In my ten years at Ignatius, we have never had more than one athlete score in the state meet in any year.

The snow is getting harder outside.  I should be grading papers on this gift of a snow day that allows me some catch up time.  I have some results work to catch up on, as well, for our track team.

Instead, this snow day gives me too much time to think about problems that, in fact, are the results of another wonderful gift:  our great results so far this season.

Sometimes we get too many gifts.

2 Comments

Filed under coaching, high school track and field, running, teaching