Tag Archives: Chris Hawkins

Photo finishing high school


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.



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A meet to remember—and forget

Conor Dunham was third and Chris Hawkins second behind Eric Walker of St. Rita in the 55-meter high hurdles, as the Wolfpack moved out to an early lead at the Chicago Catholic League Indoor Championships.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Conor Dunham was third and Chris Hawkins second behind Eric Walker of St. Rita in the 55-meter high hurdles, as the Wolfpack moved out to an early lead at the Chicago Catholic League Indoor Championships. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Less than an hour after leaving the University of Chicago’s Henry Crown Field House following the Chicago Catholic League Indoor Track and Field Championship meet, my family was on its way over the Skyway and the interstate to a Florida spring break road trip. The prospect of 18 hours of driving with two 7-year-olds supplied plenty of necessary distraction.

It was probably also just a good thing to leave the meet in the rear view mirror.

Our Saint Ignatius Wolfpack boys track team  competed well at the 2014 CCL Indoor meet, but the result was disappointing as our team came up just short in defending its 2013 title, finishing second to Loyola Academy, 121 points to 112.

For the second time this 2013-14 school year, our Saint Ignatius boys had the early lead in a  contest only to have Loyola’s team close with a rush for the win.  Back in October our cross country boys had a lead going into the last mile before losing 31-35 (low score wins).  At the CCL indoor meet on Saturday, March 22, as I tweeted after six events, it was Ignatius 57 and Loyola 49.  But Loyola took a lead 73-70 after the ninth event, and then pulled out to a bigger 19-point lead before the 1600-meter run.

Chris Korabik finished second in the 800-meter run, and then won the 1600-meters for the Wolfpack.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Chris Korabik finished second in the 800-meter run, and then won the 1600-meters for the Wolfpack. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Seniors Chris Korabik and Taylor Dugas then stepped onto the track and executed a perfect race plan, with Korabik setting a strong pace up front and Dugas biding his team behind the chasers, which included Loyola’s Matt Randolph and Christian Swenson, along with Fenwick’s Sal Flight.  All the runners had competed in earlier events.  Korabik (2:01.49) and Dugas (2:03.81) had finished second and third in the 800, as Flight (2:01.46) nipped Korabik at the tape for first.  But in the 1600 Korabik was in the lead almost wire to wire, winning in 4:27.83—and Dugas made a strong move in the second half-mile to take second in 4:30.61, a personal best on a big meet stage.  But Loyola still scored important points as Randolph and Swenson held on behind them for fourth and fifth place.  That left the Wolfpack ten points behind.

Meanwhile results came in from the triple jump, as well, in the Wolfpack’s favor.  Early in the event senior Sheldon Pierce matched his personal best from last year’s outdoor season with a jump of 44 feet and 7 inches, which would hold up for the win.  But our second 44-foot jumper, senior Chris Hawkins, who had earlier finished second in the 55-meter hurdles, was struggling with a hip flexor injury that had begun bothering him in the long jump.  Hawkins managed one legal jump at 40-01.00 for fifth place.  Loyola’s Josh Word finished two inches and one place in front of him.

Going into the 200 meters, with two events left, the Wolfpack was two points behind.  But it was advantage Loyola.

In the 200, senior Conor Dunham, who had climbed out of a sick bed this week to finish third (6.87) in the 55-meter hurdles earlier in the meet, gutted out a fast closing race to finish in a virtual tie with Loyola’s John Miller in 23.54.  But the Fully Automated Timing system photo gave the literal photo finish to Word in fourth.  Dunham got fifth place points—and Loyola’s Javier Shelly finished seventh.

With only the 4×400 relay left, Loyola had a five point lead.  The Wolfpack would have to win the 4×400—and Loyola would have to finish fifth.  Dan Santino, who earlier had finished second in the 3200-meter (9:40.07) behind Swenson (9:33.04), went to the start line for Ignatius, with senior Nick Beltran, Dugas, and Korabik to follow.  It was a team that we figured, on their best day, each athlete could run 54-second 400s and finish as fast as 3:36—and it turned out not to be their best day as they ran 3:41.44 for third place.  Loyola countered with a team that included Josh Word, second- place finisher in the individual 400.  The race was over after the first leg, as Loyola moved out to a big lead right away, going on to win in 3:34..67.

In the end, Loyola had simply had more scoring athletes than our Ignatius team, which had depended upon scoring big points from fewer athletes—Pierce, Hawkins, Dunham, Dugas, Korabik, all seniors, most notably.  They had indeed scored big points—but not quite big enough.   The distance runners scored 43 points against a maximum possible 54 points—a strong effort.  There had been a few other good efforts.  Senior Mickey Smith cleared a personal best of 12 feet and 6 inches in the pole vault for second place, with junior Josiah Simmons, who had not had a chance to vault in a pit all season, in seventh place after clearing 9-06.  Junior Andy Weber was fourth in the 3200-meter in a strong time of 9:47.72.  The 4×800 relay team of juniors Kallin Khan, Sean Freeman, John Lennon, and Brian Santino finished second in 8:37.95.

But Loyola’s larger team effort had made the difference, with wins in all three relays—4×800, 4×200, and 4×400.  Loyola’s individual sprinters Word, Miller, and Shelly had scored important points in the 400 and 200, placing two in each event.

Our very realistic pre-meet calculations had scored Ignatius with 113 points, and we scored 112—so we weren’t really very far off our game.  We competed hard in the face of some adversity.

But Loyola simply outscored its seeded projections—outscoring even optimistic projections, perhaps.  To win we would have had to do that, as well.  Injuries and illness probably made our efforts realistic , as opposed to outstanding.

It has been a long indoor season—made longer by the snow which has only this week melted from our outdoor track.  We are used to practicing on the outdoor track sporadically all winter in recent years, and even in “bad” winters we have usually been able to practice on a clear track at least by early March.  We have been afflicted with the track and field version of “cabin fever” as we watched the snow continue to pile up in early March when it should have been melting.

Our team will have to improve—and get healthy—if we want to defend our CCL outdoor and IHSA sectional titles at the end of May.  Without the 20 points that Jack Keelan scored for us last year at the state meet, it will be hard to match our fourth place finish and 28 points there.  But our team still has a chance to do so.  We return Conor Dunham as the top returning finisher in the 300-meter hurdles, and Pierce, Hawkins, Korabik, and even Santino and Dugas are potential state meet points scorers, as well.

As disappointing as it was to lose the indoor CCL meet, we will hope to be at our best at the end of May, as opposed to the middle of March.  The next two and a half months will tell a different story, we hope.

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A new season of fits and starts

The 2014 track season begins with a winter warm-up run for Saint Ignatius sprinters and jumpers, a one-mile "Halsted loop" on some snowy University of Illinois-Chicago sidewalks.

The 2014 track season begins with a winter warm-up run for Saint Ignatius sprinters and jumpers, a one-mile “Halsted loop” on some snowy University of Illinois-Chicago sidewalks.

Track season started at Saint Ignatius last Tuesday, with a team meeting and our first practice.  It will end, we hope, on Saturday, May 31, in Charleston, IL, at the IHSA state track meet.

The first week of indoor track is always a challenging one.  We have to deal with the vexing problem of paperwork as boys who did not compete in fall sports turn in IHSA physical forms—or quickly schedule exams so that they can get the forms completed and get back to practice.   They have had almost six months of the school year to complete that paperwork, but they wait until the day practice starts to remember it.  Our rules require that we turn them away from practice until the paperwork is complete.

Just finding a place to practice is always a challenge in the winter.  Our winter practice facilities have never been good, and it is always a battle to re-claim a few previously open spaces around the school—on the edge of the wrestling gym, in stair wells, and in school lobby areas—from the other teams that have been using them.  As an in-season team, we get dibs on the space, now, but last week other teams who are out of season but doing conditioning—lacrosse, soccer, and football, for example—were using those spaces.  We sometimes literally have to move them out.  There are other headaches:  Our athletes also do not have lockers, yet, and so we have to find secure places for their backpacks, coats, and bags.

Our practice space challenges this year were complicated by another factor.  Our distance runners generally run outside every day, but they need space to meet and stretch before running, and to meet and do core work afterwards.  Our sprinters generally warm up with a run outdoors, but then they need indoor space to drill and condition.  For ten years our boys and girls track teams have used a wide hallway in our oldest classroom building as a practice space.  This year that space got new plush carpeting—and we got the order to stay away.  Our initial consternation has ended with smiling faces.  The practice space emergency prompted our athletic director to request the use of some space over at the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago Physical Education Building (PEB); settled into our old routines, we had not even considered that option for many years.  We will actually have use of the indoor jogging track there now for a short period each day—but valuable time for us.  In addition, we are making arrangements to rent some space at the Mercy Home indoor soccer facility, about a mile from Ignatius, for three days a week.

We have never actually had an indoor practice space where our sprinters can run even a 30-meter fly in the winter.   We have always done our conditioning running up stairs—and then drilling in the short school hallway space.  Now our boys will be able to sprint before we get to the first meet.  Access to the PEB jogging track means we  also have a place where our distance runners can get in some miles when the weather won’t allow them to run.  Our policy is to start exercising some caution when the temperature dips below 20 degrees, especially when combined with wind chill.  At that point we keep the boys nearer to school, running loops close to campus around city blocks; the University of Illinois-Chicago usually does a pretty good job of snow removal on its sidewalks around campus.   On alternate days we have some treadmills we share with our girls team.   Now in a snow or cold emergency we can at least get 40 minutes of running done indoors on the PEB track.

All things considered, last week was a pretty good start for the first days of practice.  We had a large turn-out of over 60 boys.  After four days during the week, we had a smaller turn-out for an 8:00 AM Saturday morning practice when we had access to gym space—something we never get during the school week in the winter, when basketball teams take all the gyms.  Butwith in the first week of practice, on Saturday morning,  we taught all our new sprinter boys how to use starting blocks, we got new and old boys over some hurdles, and we’ve already got some routines and basic programs established for our sprinters, our distance boys, and our throwers.

That productive first week was, of course, too good to be true.  I’m writing on a Tuesday morning while comfortable at home, because we have had two days of frigid cold temperatures which cancelled school.  No school, no practice.  Assuming we have school tomorrow, it will likely be a little bit like starting over again—but without having to send boys away because they don’t have their paperwork complete.

Missing two days shouldn’t really be a big problem.  We have always conceived of our winter track season as a preparation season for the spring competitions, when things get really serious.  Our distance runners are generally doing base training in the winter, putting in lots of miles and slogging along in the snow-covered city.   Our weekend indoor races give them a little bit of opportunity to run harder and faster—and keep them interested.  We will do a little bit of up-tempo training, “Phase two” work in our Daniels-based program, in early March before our indoor conference championship meet.  Our sprinters spend a lot of their time running up what we call the “Iron Stairs,” doing basic conditioning that will be their base for more speed training once we get outside in the spring.

But last year we added an event in February that kind of jump-started our competition season a little bit earlier than in past years.  A benefactor named Ray Meyer, Ignatius class of 1951, offered to fly the team to Washington, D.C., so that we could compete at the Jesuit Invitational track meet which brings East Coast Jesuit schools from New York City, Baltimore, and the D.C. area together at Georgetown Prep, located in North Bethesda, Maryland.    We had six weeks of practice, and three weeks of early season meets to get ready—and we were just barely ready.  Falling behind early in the meet, we stormed back by piling up points in the distance events to narrowly win the meet, 101.5 points to 97, over second place Fordham Prep from New York City.

This year we will make the trip again, February 20-22.  The second time around the task of booking flights and hotels, as well as planning local transportation and meals in a distant city, was a lot easier.   We’ve made a few improvements in our planning.  As a special treat, we will be travelling with a special guest.  At Ray Meyer’s suggestion, we invited former Olympian and indoor world record holder for the mile, Tom O’Hara, Ignatius class of 1960, to join us on the trip.  O’Hara and his wife, Joan, will help chaperone and squire our 25 boys on United airlines and around D.C.

But we will make the trip this year with only five weeks of practice preparation–and with just two meets under our belts.   Now, because of the current Arctic blast,  that will be five weeks minus these two missed school days and practices.

We have been excited for the season to get underway.  More than other years, it seems, I have been perusing indoor track results—at the pro, college, and high school levels.   The Nike Oregon Project team have been featured on Flotrack the last two weekends, as Galen Rupp and Mary Cain took aim on records.    On the East Coast, the high school winter track season starts in December.  Our competitors at the Jesuit Invitational have been competing in earnest already, while we don’t start until February 8.  Last week Fordham Prep and Xavier posted two of the fastest 4×800 relay times in the country (7:57.79 and 7:57.89) while running in a qualifying meet for the New York Roadrunner Club’s Millrose Games.  I actually watched that race live on the internet.

Senior hurdlers Chris Hawkins and Conor Dunham, state qualifiers in the 110 high hurdles last year, return to lead the Wolfpack track team in 2014.  Dunham won 3rd place in the IHSA state meet in the 300-meter hurdles, and Hawkins also qualified in the long jump, narrolwy missing in the triple jump, as well.  Photo by Steven Burgarin.

Seniors Chris Hawkins and Conor Dunham, state qualifiers in the 110 high hurdles last year, return to lead the Wolfpack track team in 2014. Dunham won 3rd place in the IHSA state meet in the 300-meter hurdles, and Hawkins also qualified in the long jump, narrowly missing in the triple jump, as well. Photo by Steven Burgarin.

Our team will be a good one, after a historic  2013 season in which we won the Chicago Catholic League championship for the first time since 1991, repeated as IHSA sectional champion, and then finished fourth in the IHSA 3A (big school) state championship meet.  We will lose our big point scorer at that meet, Jack Keelan, state champion in the 3200- and 1600-meter runs.  But we return the 3rd place finisher in the 300-meter hurdles, now senior Conor Dunham.  We think we have some state-level  talented boys on the team who might be able to make up at least some of Keelan’s lost 20 points from last year—senior jumper/hurdler Chris Hawkins, senior jumper Sheldon Pierce, senior distance runners Chris Korabik and Taylor Dugas, and sophomore distance runner Dan Santino.   We surprised people last year with our strong performance at the state meet; we surprised many people again last fall with our state-qualifying cross country team.  We think we can do it again.

Let’s hope that we have school tomorrow so that we can practice.

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Early morning in Charleston at the state meet

It was among the slowest of my early morning runs at the IHSA state meet—and one of the coldest.  The dorm rooms at Eastern Illinois were freezing last night, as well.

When I came back from my run, one of the EIU staff girls manning the front door desk sat with a blanket around her.

It has been pretty standard for all the ten years of my Ignatius coaching career at the state meet that I go for a morning run.  That routine probably goes back before my Ignatius years, even, when I coached at Francis Parker and University High.  My wife, Peggy, and I were running on our state meet trips back then.

When Peggy was coaching at University High, we made this trip together several times.  This morning we just sent a few 6:00 AM texts back and forth.  Luc and Maisie, our six-year-olds, are still sleeping.  Peggy will drive down later in the day to Champaign where she will stay overnight with her brother’s family.  Tomorrow she’ll come down here for the meet–and leave the kids with a baby-sitter neice, Kate Doyle, for the day.

The morning run at state routine has always included a lap or two on the blue EIU track.  This year the gates were closed.  There were other changes, resulting perhaps from the reconstruction and resurfacing of the track and stadium facilities.  The entrance for the check in tent, for example, has been moved north away from the new javelin runway—and away from the tree where runners have always congregated as they wait for their events to be called.

I suspect they will still wait by the tree, and we will just get them the information when it is time to go into the tent.

It was always interesting in the past to see that some coaches had their athletes out on the track at 6:30 AM preparing for the day.  Today, with the track locked down already, the only athletes I saw at the track were the Lyons Township boys out for a run with their coaches.  Lyons, as I recall, also has cross country camp in the summer that begins each morning at a 6:00 AM or so.

Since I didn’t get the chance to survey the inside of the track facility, my attention went other directions.  The ponds around EIU are full this year—even the one at Carmen Hall.  Just off the jogging trail by the pond near the stadium, there was a family of fluffy geese—with big geese stationed on the trail nearby.  I gave them a wide berth.  I also gave a quick though to my American Studies literature students who would have their last class today without me.  My history teacher partner Josh Morrow will hold down the fort as the students present “monument projects,” produced out of shoe boxes and celebrating something we studied this past year.  The geese, my students would be happy to know, reminded me briefly of the ducks in Catcher in the Rye.

Our boys are still sleeping.  The underclassmen left Chicago yesterday at 11:00 AM, and they were in their dorm rooms by 3:30.  They had an early dinner at Paggliaci’s in Matoon, a family-style restaurant with big tables and cheap pasta.  Then they had an evening practice on the track.

Assistant coaches Ike Ofor and Steven Bugarin commanded that trip.  Ofor reports positively on the new jump facility—especially the soft sand.  He was happy that our long jumper Chris Hawkins was finally executing the landing they had been working on all season.  The soft sand was the key, Ofor said.  Hurdlers Hawkins and Conor Dunham got in starts for their 110 hurdles, and Dunham got to run some intermediate hurdles in lane 4, where he will race today.

I got that report after midnight last night.  I drove the second bus with our seniors.  Last night was our Baccalaureate Mass for the seniors.  I think there was a time when the Ignatius graduation ceremony took place at church, even at the downtown Holy Name Cathedral.  But now we have a separate final mass for the seniors and their families in Holy Family Church next to our school, and then a graduation ceremony at the University of Illinois-Chicago forum building down the street on Roosevelt Road.

We got on the road from Chicago just before 9:00 PM.  The three-hour drive at night after a long day of work is not fun; I could not be a truck driver.  Two years ago I had to drive the seniors to Charleston on Thursday night after graduation.  We got a later start that night, I remembered, because after graduation the first thing the boys said was that they were hungry.  We had to make a Subway stop on Taylor Street before we even got underway.

This year I got their orders ahead of time, and the sandwiches were ready at Subway when we stopped there on our way to the Dan Ryan.  I simply jumped out of the minibus, signed the credit card slip, and brought the sandwiches to the boys in the bus.  Senior co-captain Jack Keelan was impressed that the sandwiches even had their names on them.  I had faxed the order for eight sandwiches before the mass this way:

“Reardon:  BMT footlong Italian Herb and cheese bread.  Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, green pepper, onions, sweet onion sauce.

Gibson:  Tuna on white footlong. Lettuce, pickles, olives.

Simba:  Turkey on wheat with pepperjack cheese, lettuce, oil and vinegar.

Keelan:  Meatball on Italian with mozzarella.”

As Keelan suggested, “This is really pretty organized.”

The midnight arrival to the dorm in Charleston is not ideal.  We got the boys to bed by 12:30.  Bugarin had the room keys ready for us.  I got a report on the day.

It is approaching 8:00 AM now, and we are obviously sharing the floor in Carmen Hall with a 2A team who have been stirring for about an hour already.

We’re going to give our seniors eight hours of sleep and so wake them at 8:30.  We’ll try to be out to breakfast at What’s Cookin in downtown Charleston by 9:00.

Senior Elliot Gibson has pole vault check-in at 11:30, and Hawkins begins warm ups in the long jump pit at 11:45.  The track events start at 12:55 with the 4×800 relay.  We’re in heat 1, position 1-3.

Let the games begin!


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Ready to rumble at the Nalley Invite

Junior Conor Dunham prepares to lead off the Wolfpack 4x400 with the score tied 77-77 at the end of the Nalley Invite.

Junior Conor Dunham prepares to lead off the Wolfpack 4×400 with the score tied 77-77 at the end of the Nalley Invite.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

At the Carlin Nalley Invitational on Saturday, after the first week of real spring weather, there were two occasions which reminded and admonished me about my delinquency as a blogger.

The first occasion came in conversation with Chris Quick, the Palatine High School boys cross country and distance coach.  Last year Quick published his book, One Way, Uphill Only, which told the year-long story of how the 2011 Palatine cross country team won the IHSA 3A state cross country championship.  Quick and I had begun an ongoing sporadic conversation on a number of topics involving coaching and our boys at the Palatine Relays the Saturday before, and we picked up the conversation several times as we hung around the 200 meter mark at the Nalley Invite for various events.   That included watching Quick’s boys win the 4×800 in a Palatine High School record time of 7:50.0—also the fastest time in the state this year.

At some point I asked him about his book—and what was the process for writing and publishing it.  He had a bit of news, in fact.  Originally self-published, the book will soon be released again in a new edition by Breakaway Books, which prints literary and thoughtful writing on sports.   Most of the material from the book, he told me, came from hundreds of pages of journal writing.  Quick, who teaches high school English, coaches two long seasons, and has a young family, disciplined himself to write for an hour each day over the year-long period covered by the book.  “The journal entries weren’t only about coaching,” he explained, “some of them were more philosophical.”

So Quick wrote a book—and for two months I can’t even write a blog post.

The second was an outright notice about my failure to post.  “Coach Ernst,” said junior Chris Korabik, after he had won the 1600-meter run in a personal best time of 4 minutes 23.75 seconds, “when are you going to update your blog.  I visit it every few days and every time it says, ‘Snow Day.’”

It has been that long.  Korabik and I agreed that our team’s performance at the Nalley Invite certainly merited a blog post.

We’ve been going to the Nalley Invite for ten years.  It follows on Saturday early in May each year after the Friday night Chicago Catholic League Frosh Soph championship meet—a big meet on our calendar.  For most years we have used the meet to give our varsity guys a sharpening race before the varsity Chicago Catholic League meet next Saturday.  Our team often depends pretty heavily on the freshman and sophomore runners who fill spots on our best relays—if not in individual events.  Those younger team members aren’t available to us at Nalley since they run the night before.  We’ve never been able to muster a competitive team effort at Nalley.

The meet is a special treat for the upperclassmen.  Most years it takes place at the Illinois Benedictine University facility in Lisle, with a nine-lane, national-class track, a large grandstand, and generally wonderful amenities.  The facility itself lifts performances.  The meet used FAT long before it became normal for meets to do so.  Ken Jakalski, a coach at Lisle High School and the long-time meet director, is also a Saint Ignatius graduate, as we discovered many years ago.  He runs the meet as much like a state and sectional meet as he can—good practice for the teams.  Jakalski himself mans the microphone for the PA system which introduces most of the athletes as they run, jump, throw, and race.  Many, many boys get a mention and a few moments of glory, often just for competing.

This year we brought a competitive team to Nalley, mainly because we finally have a team that depends mostly on our juniors and seniors.  We didn’t program the event to win.  We entered our top distance runners in just one event, not multiple events like we will likely do at the CCL championship meet next week.  We used most of the relays to get as many of our runners as possible into the meet., rather than program the relays to win by using our top runners in all the events.

But our team, as we discovered Saturday, is indeed a strong one.  As we have done in some other meets this year, we started slowly.  In the first four events, we scored only in the 110-meter high hurdles.  But we scored big, as juniors Conor Dunham (15.10 prelims, 15.17 finals) and Chris Hawkins (15.24, 15,23) finished second and third.

Then in the 3200 senior co-capatin Jack Keelan took the lead at the start and never looked back.  The plan was to make a good effort, but not to run too fast with big meets ahead at the conference, sectional, and state level in the next three weeks.  Keelan was the IHSA 3A cross country champion in the fall, and he set our school record for 3200-meters, 8:50.74, at the Arcadia Invitational in California back in early April.  Obviously, that was just one event of several that I failed to blog about this spring.

At Nalley Keelan  settled into a steady pace of 71- and 72-second laps for six laps, running easily.  Then in lap seven he accelerated to run 65 seconds—and in the final lap, a 64.  His final time of 9:19.55 was still among the top five times run this year in Illinois.

Junior Chris Hawkins jumps personal bests of 43-7 and 21-5 to win the triple jump and the long jump. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Junior Chris Hawkins jumps personal bests of 43-7 and 21-5 to win the triple jump and the long jump. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Hawkins, between his hurdling efforts, was also doing big things in the triple jump.  The night before a text message from Hawkins complained about a sore hip.  He is regularly our top points scorer as a hurdler and our number one jumper—and the injury was a concern.  When he climbed into the minibus in the morning in uniform, it was almost a surprise.  The assessment of our assistant coach and physical therapy student Ike Ofor was that Hawkins had an illiotibial band problem—manageable, if somewhat painful.

Hawkins had performed well in the hurdles.  In the triple jump, his first three jumps were the three best jumps of his life, with his best jump of 43 feet and 7 inches almost a foot better than his previous best.  That jump stood up as the best of the day, with Hawkins passing in each rotation of the final as the last jumper–and saving his energy and tolerance for a sore hip for the long jump.

A check of the scoring early in the meet put Ignatius in second place with 34 points, behind Lincoln-Way East, who had quickly totaled 54.

In the 800-meter run, announcer Jakalski’s attention and the attention of the crowd was focused on Marist’s Kyle Hauser, as he ran the state’s fastest time of the year, 1:53.8.  But the Ignatius attention was on senior Sean Kampe, who started back in the pack.  Near the 400 mark he accelerated toward the front of the race, passing the first lap in 56.6 seconds—very fast.  Then coming off the third turn he moved again into second place behind Hauser, putting a big gap between the third place place runner.  He was 1:26.5 at 600 meters.  Kampe slowed slightly on the final straightaway, but finished in 1:57.25, a personal best by over two seconds.

That personal best had, in fact, been a relay leg at the state track meet in May of 2011.  Kampe, a soccer player, took last year off to play on a demanding club team which wouldn’t allow him to accommodate both sports.  But even as he had taken leave last spring, he told us he would be back to run as a senior.  Kampe now has the number one time in the Chicago Catholic League for 800 meters, and he will be the favorite to win next week.

What’s more, he had scored important points for the team.

In the 400-meter dash senior Elliot Gibson ran a personal best of 51.17 seconds for fourth place.  Gibson had finished pole vaulting about an hour before.  At Nalley, the best pole vaulters go first on the pit in the morning, and then a second group of novice vaulters follow in the afternoon.  Gibson had bested the accomplished group, clearing 13 feet and 3 inches, a personal best, and taking the event lead on first clears and misses.  But the event would not be final until the novice vaulters finished.

In the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, junior Conor Dunham squared off against Austin Corydon of Lincoln-Way East, winner of the 110 hurdles.  Dunham looked to be in the lead over the first hurdles, then fell behind on the big sweeping curve of the Illinois Benedictine track.  With three hurdles to go, Dunham seemingly lowered his head into a headwind and accelerated ahead of the others, winning in 39.30 seconds.

Results of the long jump were announced, which we already knew.  Hawkins had taken the lead in the preliminaries with a jump of 21 feet and 5 inches.  He had again passed in each of the final rounds as the other jumpers failed to match him—although there was a challenge from Parker Westphal of Bolingbrook.  Hawkins beat him by an inch and a half in the triple jump—and by an inch in the long jump.

The 1600-meter run turned out to be a little bit of a surprise.  We expected junior Chris Korabik to run well and compete for the win.  He settled into third for the first couple laps, coming through the 400 in 65 seconds and the 800 in about 2:12.  Then he took the lead, with two runners holding on behind him as he ran a 68 second third 400.  A challenger closed on him with about 250 meters left, and Korabik accelerated.  With 100 meters to go, there was another challenge—and then Korabik hit a finishing gear, kicking strongly to finish in 4:23.75, a personal best by two seconds.

Junior Chris Korabik wins the 1600 in a personal best time of 4:23.75.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Junior Chris Korabik wins the 1600 in a personal best time of 4:23.75. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Meanwhile behind Korabik, the real surprise was junior Taylor Dugas.  After missing almost a month of running at the end of March and in early April with a sore foot that was finally diagnosed as a nerve problem, Dugas returned to sporadic running three weeks ago.  He’s doing his aerobic work on the bicycle and in the pool, and he is running only in our interval workouts on the track.  At Nalley the plan was for Dugas to run 70-second laps.  The real goal was for him to get in shape to help us with depth for our 4×800 relay in the season’s final weeks.  He came through the first 400 in about 68, running in 12th place.  He was 2:17 at the 800—but he looked relaxed and strong.  He had wanted time splits during the race, hoping he could keep on pace and on plan.  Instead I yelled to him, “There are six medals, and six places score.  You are in tenth.”

Dugas proceeded over the next two laps to move past four runners to finish sixth, running a personal best of 4:35.69.

Jakalski made an announcement after the 1600 that Saint Ignatius was now winning the meet with 77 points.  I pulled out my new Iphone—and tweeted that news.  I haven’t been blogging, but in the months since my last blog post we bought an Iphone plan and started a team twitter account:  @ernsttracksicp.  I have been tweeting from our meets for about a month, including updates all day at Nalley.  I typed in the news:  “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack in first with 77 points before 4×4.”

But in my excitement after the 1600 success, I had forgotten about the 200-meter final.  We had a runner in that final heat, junior Francisco Meraz, but he didn’t score.  Lincoln-Way East, however, had two finalists—and they finished first and fourth.  My next tweet:  “But tied with Lincoln Way East.”

At the start of the 4×400, Elliot Gibson gathered on the line with our strong 4×400 team of senior Andrew Reardon, Dunham, and Kampe—and with the Lincoln-Way East team lining up beside him.  We had the top seed in the race after our good effort at the Palatine Relays last week where the same team ran 3:28.30.  The team was confident—but the pressure would seemingly be on them to win the meet for us.

Jakalski announced on the PA that the meet was tied, 77 points for Ignatius, 77 points for Lincoln-Way East.  The 4×400 would decide the meet, he said, adding, apparently as an aside, that the novice pole vaulters had just finished vaulting and the final pole vault results weren’t included yet in the total.

“How did your team do in the pole vault?” a Lincoln-Way East runner asked Gibson.

Gibson couldn’t help but smile when he told him, “Well, I won the pole vault.”

“That means we lost,” said the disappointed opponent.

Senior Elliot Gibson takes baton from senior Andrew Reardon for the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay at the Nalley Invite.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Senior Elliot Gibson takes baton from senior Andrew Reardon for the anchor leg of the 4×400 relay at the Nalley Invite. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The Wolfpack runners ran as if it did still matter.  Dunham lead off the 4×400 with a leg of 52.7, about a second faster than he had run the previous week at Palatine, and off the break Kampe stormed down the back straightaway into the lead.  His relay split was a personal best of 50.5.  Reardon held the lead with a 51.5 leg, and Gibson took the baton with Oswego East chasing him just a step behind—but with a big lead on the rest of the teams, including Lincoln-Way East.  Gibson was never really challenged as he ran 50.1 seconds to win.

We had won the meet running away, as well, scoring 97 points total, ahead of Lincoln-Way East’s 79.

My tweet:  “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack wins 4×4 3:24.88 and meet. “That’s a dirty time,” says Taylor Dugas. #clutch.”  Coach Ofor supplied the hashtag.

We have had great success as a team this year, and the boys knew the drill.  We took some team photos.  The Nalley meet is the only one all year that we designate as a “run and go” meet.  It comes as many of our upperclass boys are preparing for the start of AP exams next week, and the demands of other schoolwork are pressing as the year draws to a close.  It is also just a long day in the sun, with the first events starting at 9:15 and the 4×400 finishing at around 4:15.  We sent many of our boys home early, and we had only a crew of 11 boys for the team photo.

Jakalski then descended from the press box with his camera, after announcing that he needed photos of the winning teams from the meet’s 1A and 2A/3A divisions for the cover of next year’s program.  We took a photo with the winning team’s plaque.  Jakalski insisted we take it out of the box and plastic wrap for the photo.

I tweeted a team photo—and then a photo of the plaque—and then we packed up our tent and headed back to Chicago in our mini-bus.

We have high hopes for the Chicago Catholic League Championship meet next week.  At Nalley we posted our best times of the year in virtually every event that we targeted to do so.  We have three weeks left in a season of more than 20 weeks—and our team seems ready to run its best when it counts the most.

The caption on Twitter @ernsttracksicp:  "At Nalley Invite Wolfpack win. pic.twitter.com/g39pK7qj7o"

The caption on Twitter @ernsttracksicp: “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack win. pic.twitter.com/g39pK7qj7o”


Filed under coaching, high school track and field

“Will they let us take the trophy on the plane?”


Junior Chris Korabik holds the first place trophy from the Georgetown Prep Jesuit Invite aboard United flight 557 from DC to Chicago.

It wasn’t long after the announcement that our Saint Ignatius boys track team had won the Georgetown Preparatory School’s Jesuit Invite that someone asked the fun question.

“Will they let us take the trophy on the plane?”

Don’t worry.  The boys carried the trophy onto the plane without difficulty when we traveled home to Chicago on Saturday afternoon.  It passed the TSA inspection.  I didn’t get a story yet from the boy who actually carried the trophy into the TSA security gate.  But I am sure it will be a good one.

It was a surprising win for the team.  On Thursday night as we traveled by bus and plane from school to our hotel in Gaithersburg, MD, and on Friday before the meet as we traveled around the DC area by bus and Metro, I had delivered an honest assessment to the team.  The entries and performance list for the meet listed four 40-plus-foot shot putters for Fordham Prep High School from New York City–along with two 14-foot pole vaulters and two more over 12 feet.  There were no shot putters from any other teams to challenge the Fordham shot putters, and our three pole vaulters–a 13-footer, and two 11-footers–were the only other contestents.  It was quite likely that after just two events, Fordham would hold a lead of about 50 points.

And when the meet actually started, it went a little bit worse for us.  Running different events with a different meet order from what we were used to, we thought we had made an intelligent meet lineup and plan.  But we had made a few mistakes with calculations and strategy, especially concerning the time between events for some of the boys.  The meet moved a lot quicker than we were used to in Illinois.  The first event started at 4:30, and we were eating dinner in a nearby room in Georgetown Prep’s Hanley Center at 7:15.  That’s a fast track meet.

Our pole vaulters had a special challenge.  We had decided to borrow poles in DC, not ship our own.  We had also entered our vaulters in other events, and they were answering calls for those events as they tried to vault.  Whatever the reason, our dependable number one vaulter, Elliot Gibson, no heighted for the first time ever.  He had cleared his first height 11-feet-6 easily twice, only to fail in throwing his pole both times, and the pole knocked down the bar.  Fordham Prep ultimately went 1,2,3, and 4 in both the pole vault and shot put, as our vaulters Emmett Boyle and Mickey Smith split points for fifth and sixth in a tie at 10 feet and 6 inches, with similar misses.  We were down 56 to 3 after two events.

We didn’t make up any ground in the other early field events.  In the long jump, our Chris Hawkins had finished third with a jump of 19 feet and 10.5 inches; Fordham was sixth—a small gain.  In the high jump, Fordham was fourth, and Smith tied for sixth—so we lost a little ground.

Our overall strategy for the meet was to put our strongest runners in the individual events, where they could score maximum points.  We scheduled our second tier of runners—good runners, just not our best, and often our younger boys–in the relays, hoping they could pick up a few points, even if they might not get top points.  In the 4×800 early in the meet, this worked more or less as planned as Kallin Khan, Sean Stevens, Mickey Smith, and Patrick Manglano finished sixth for one point in 9:07; they ran well, with close to personal best efforts for all four.

But combined with the early field event results, the 4×800 results stretched the Fordham lead.  They had been more aggressive with their relay, aiming to win.  They were second, but they scored 8 points.  So after five events, the score was 71 to 10.

I am going to take some credit for having prepared the boys.  We knew we would start slow.  They had understood our plan.  They seemed unfazed–and all they could really do was give their best efforts and go to work event by event chopping down the big lead.

Fordham Prep’s Christian Doherty won the 55 meter hurdles in 7.95–but he just barely edged our Chris Hawkins who ran a personal best 7.97.  Conor Dunham was fourth in 8.03; Fordham scored 10, but we scored 12.  In the 55 meter dash, our Andrew Eady ran 7.02 for two fifth place points; Fordham scored none.  So after nine of the 15 events, it was still 81 to 24.

To be honest, we were only vaguely aware of the score and the big deficit.  The meet moved much faster than we expected, in an unfamiliar venue with unfamiliar events.  We got very busy making sure boys made it to the event check-in and the starting line on time.  At some meets we track the score—and at some meets, they announce the score as the meet progresses, sometimes simply posting the accrued score on the meet results as they post them on the wall.  At Georgetown we didn’t keep score—and they didn’t announce it.  We just knew we were going to start way, way behind and then we would try to catch up.

When we realized before the meet that we would face that large gap, we had debated whether to be more aggressive with the relays.  We did not do so with the 4×800, but we did with the 4×200–and it was a decision that paid off.  We entered our best team.  Eady, Zeb McLaurin, Hawkins, and Dunham ran 1:35.81 for 8 second place points.  Fordham scored 2 in fifth place.

In the East Coast indoor order of events, unlike in Illinois, the 1600–the old one mile race–comes relatively early in the meet.  That was good for us, because we needed a big momentum changer.  Our number one runner, Jack Keelan, who has a personal best of 4:09 in this event, sat in the pack and came through the half mile in about 2:15.  It was a strategic move to help our other miler, Chris Korabik, stay comfortably in the race against some runners from the other schools who had entered with faster seed times.  We didn’t want Keelan possibly helping other runners to run away from Korabik.  Keelan aggressively moved out to a lead in the third quarter mile, at a point when no one else would be able to follow, and won in a new meet record of 4:25.05.  The plan worked well as Korabik concentrated on beating the remaining runers to finish second in 4:30.52.  That one-two finish scored 18 points; Fordham scored 1.

We lost ground in the 500-meters.  Fordham Prep was third; we scored none.

But when Eliot Kaufmann of New York City’s Xavier High School won the 1000 meters, we finished strong behind him.  Taylor Dugas had challenged Kaufman in the last lap and finished second (2:38.31), Andrew Reardon was third (2:40.64), and Korabik, running with just a short rest, was fourth (2:41.28).  Fordham scored 2 points; Ignatius scored 18.

Eady scored two more points with a fifth place finish in the 300-meters (38.38).

Our original hope had been that we could keep the meet close until the 3200-meter.  We would run Keelan again–and we had kept two strong, younger runners in reserve to join him, freshman Dan Santino and sophomore Andy Weber.  Keelan had felt good in the 1600, and he had really held back, he said.    Before the 3200 he said he wanted to do something special–and he targeted 9:20 as a goal.  Santino and Weber would run together as a team; Keelan would run solo.

Some aggressive early running from Tyler Spear of Baltimore’s Loyola Blakefield School worked fine for Keelan.  Spear raced through the first few laps in first place, running fast splits–31 for 200, 65 for 400.  Then Keelan took over, and he proceeded to run laps of 34 and 35 seconds like clockwork.  That stretched the field out, as a group of four runners gamely chased Keelan.  Santino and Weber, meanwhile, settled into the middle of a second pack, running their own race.

At 1600, Spear and Chris Hoyle from Gonzaga were still holding on as Keelan came through in 4:38.  But then Keelan kept up the steady pace—34 seconds one lap, 35 seconds the next.  He pulled out to a bigger and bigger lead, and then finished with a 31 second last 200, running 4:33 for the second mile for a final time of 9:11.48.

Jack Keelan runs 9:11 for 3200 at the Georgetown Prep Jesuit Invite.  Behind him Dan Santino and Andy Weber are on their way to 9:56 and 9:57 personal bests.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Jack Keelan has one lap to go as he runs 9:11 for 3200 at the Georgetown Prep Jesuit Invite. Behind him Dan Santino and Andy Weber are on their way to 9:56 and 9:57 personal bests. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Meanwhile, behind him, Santino and Weber were running their own clockwork-like race, knocking off laps of 37 and 38 seconds.  They were 4:56 at the mile, back in seventh and eighth place.  But in the second mile they maintained that same pace, running in tandem, and as some of the runners who had chased Keelan fell off the pace, Santino and Weber moved up to finish fourth and fifth in 9:56.76 and 9:57.59.  It was the first time under 10:00 for both of them.

Fordham did not score in the 3200; Ignatius scored 16.

While we didn’t know at the time, we did figure out later that the 60 point gap had narrowed a lot at that point.  In fact, with two events left, unknown to us, the score stood Fordham 96, Ignatius 86.

Georgetown Prep had clearly targeted the 4×400, no doubt wanting to win the last event in their own meet, and they used their star sprinter Ron Busby on the anchor to win in 3:33.14.  Korabik, in his third race of the day, ran the first leg for us.  He settled into the back of the lead pack of six, and then tried to move up on the second lap; his split of 55.5 seconds had us in fifth, but still close to the lead.  Dugas ran the second leg in 54.0, moving us up a place, and then Reardon ran the third leg in 53.8, aggressively moving us up to third but close to the lead.  Conor Dunham got the baton and rocketed into second over the first 100 meters.  He was racing against Busby, the winner of the 500-meter, and Kaufmann of Xavier, winner of the 1000-meter.  Busby wasn’t going to be caught. Kaufmann passed Dunham back in the next 200 meters, and although he made another run, Dunham couldn’t pass him back.  His split of 52.9 gave the team third place in a season best time of 3:36.28.

Fordham, meanwhile, had finished sixth.  It was a five point swing for us.

The 4×400 is always intended to be the final event of the meet.  But often, instead, it turns out to be the triple jump.  The meet ran so quickly on the track that the jumpers were still finishing—and, as it turns out, they were deciding the meet.

Junior Chris Hawkins scored the second place points in the triple jump (41-08)  that completed the Wolfpack's come from behind win at the Jesuit Invite in the meet's final event.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Junior Chris Hawkins scored the second place points in the triple jump (41-08) that completed the Wolfpack’s come from behind win at the Jesuit Invite in the meet’s final event. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Hawkins was second with a season best jump of 41 feet and 8 inches—and Kyle Robinson was sixth (38-9.75), another point for Ignatius.

As the triple jump was finishing, our Ignatius team assembled on the meet bleachers for a team photo.  It was an important photo for us.

Our special trip to the Jesuit Invite came as a gift from an Ignatius track alumnus, Ray Mayer.  Mayer, from the class of 1951 and now a resident of Fairfax, Virginia, had been a star runner at Ignatius.  Another Ignatius alumnus, Paul O’Shea, was a classmate with Mayer, and he also lives nearby in Fairfax.  O’Shea is a track afficianado and a contributing writer to the Cross Country Journal.  A third member of the class of 1951, Tom Coyne, had begun following our team in the fall, attending the Chicago Catholic League cross country championship meet.  Coyne, who lives in Kalamazoo, MI, scheduled a trip to Maryland to coincide with the Jesuit Invite.

The three knowledgeable track men had watched the meet carefully, with a supportive but also educated and critical eye.  Although I had tried to warn them, I am pretty sure that they were underwhelmed by our slow start in the meet.  I had, in fact, told Mayer back in the fall as he was writing his check to cover the expenses that we had a good chance to win the meet.  At the completion of the 4×800, as gamely as our young boys had run against the top runners from the other schools, Mayer had rightly noted, “We weren’t very competitive in that race.”

We had promised that we would do better as the meet progressed.  And all three men seemed more satisfied with the good results that followed.

All three benefactors took a seat on the bench with the team as we took photographs—and then waited for an announcement of the final team results, which at that point were still a mystery.  The boys had already noted that there were two team trophies available.  “Second place is still a trophy,” I reminded them.  “I think the announcer just took the results from the computer guy.”

It is pretty clear to me that they wanted the final score to carry some suspense.  He announced the score from seventh place down.  “With 12 points in seventh place, Regis.  In sixth place, with 42 points, Loyola Blakefield.”  Xavier scored 50 for fifth.  Gonzaga fourth with 55.  Georgetown Prep third with 74.

“The outcome of the meet came down to the last event,” said the announcer.  “With 97 points, in second place, Fordham Prep.”

I am pretty sure none of the boys heard the rest of the announcement.  It was Ignatius with 101.5 points for the win.

As the boys piled out of the bleachers jumping up and down, Ray Mayer got to feel like a full member of the team when one of the boys accidentally knocked him in the head.  He just smiled at the jubilation around him.

After some celebration on the track, we reassembled the group again in the bleachers and took some more photos, this time with the trophy.

And the next day, on the plane ride home, we took photos of the trophy in the hotel, on the metro, in the airport, and on the plane.

IMG_1596 (2)


Filed under coaching, high school track and field, teaching