Tag Archives: Chris Korabik

He Prefontaine-ed it, as we still like to say


Chris Korabik moves to the lead of the 1600-meter run at the 3A IHSA state meet with just over 400 meters to go. Korabik is about the take the race lead from Patrick Perrier and Zack Smith.  Jake Hoffert, Jessie Reiser, and Ryan Clevenger are in the mix.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

I started my coaching life in what must have been a spring season in the early 1990s when I was an assistant for my daughter’s one season on a tee ball team.  Not long afterwards I began a longer career as an American Youth Soccer Organization coach, rising up the ranks to become a clinic instructor and head of all the coaches for our Region 751 in Hyde Park.

As a tee ball and  soccer coach, I watched one very successful coach for many years.  From his sideline position—and with a loud voice—he carefully directed the actions of his tee ball and soccer players, play by play.  His kids listened carefully and performed well.  They did what he told them to do.

But it never seemed like the right way to teach kids how to play on their own.  It always seemed to me that you have to let kids make some mistakes so that they learn the right way to do things.

We have some rules that we teach our distance runners.  Run in lane one.  Don’t waste energy in a race; sit still if you can.  When you decide to pass someone, do it convincingly—and keep going.  We prefer even pacing—and negative splitting.  It takes a lot of energy to lead a race for a long time; it is better to have the lead at the end.  Make sure you run all the way through the finish line.

We have race plans that we talk about with our boys.  We ask them to participate in making those plans.

But we know that the boys are not going to learn our rules without making mistakes and breaking them.  And we know that on the track, the boys have to learn how to make their own decisions.  They have to be their own race strategists, too.

Our kids are smart.  They learn their lessons—and they run their own races.

On Saturday his coaches sent Wolfpack runner Chris Korabik onto the race track at Eastern Illinois University for the 3A IHSA state championship 1600-meters with three different race plans.  But it was up to Korabik to make his own decisions and execute the race as he thought best.

Korabik was one of just four runners in the race who had not run an earlier race that day—along with York’s Alex Bashqawi, Yorkville’s Jake Hoffert, and Downers Grove North’s Ryan Clevenger.  So race plan number one was to make sure the race was fast enough from the start.  A tactical race would allow the runners doubling back from the 4×800, 3200, or 800 a chance to conserve energy for a big finish—particularly dangerous, it would seem, in the case of Danville’s Johnny Leverenz, who had run 1 minute and 52.0 seconds to win the 800.    Korabik would push on the first turn to put himself in position near the front of the race, and he was prepared to take the lead on the first lap if necessary to make the pace honest.  He would give it up once the race was rolling.

As it turned out, Hoffert seemed to have an even more aggressive race plan—and he took the lead and pushed the pace right away, opening a significant ten-meter gap on the field from the start.  Korabik slid easily into second place at the front of the chasers.  Hoffert reached 200 meters in 28 seconds, with Korabik at 30.4.  In fact, just after the 200, first O’Fallon’s Patrick Perrier and then more aggressively Downers Grove North’s Zack Smith stepped into the space between Korabik and Hoffert—and closed the gap down quickly.  The race, it seemed clear already, would not be slow and tactical.

Smith, in fact, kept running right past Hoffert and into the lead as the runners came past the 400-meter mark.  Korabik, running in lane one, had already slid back to sixth, with 3200-meter winner Jessie Reiser from McHenry  pushing past him in chase of Smith and then Clevenger, too,  passing him outside his shoulder on the straightaway.  Korabik’s split was 62.4.

Korabik never left his position in lane one, and he never accelerated.  He patiently kept his spot in the line.  Around the curve, Reiser pushed back into lane one as Korabik gave way, but Clevenger stayed outside in lane 2.  On the straightaway and then around the turn the group was still in a line behind Smith—Perrier, Hoffert, Reiser, Korabik, with Clevenger still on Korabik’s shoulder outside.  Korabik was 1:33.6 at 600 meters.

Race plan number two was my plan.  It was not going to be a slow tactical race.  But Korabik, we knew, was not the fastest sprint finisher in the field.  In fact, he had been beaten in a sprint finish—off a slow tactical pace—just two weeks before in the Chicago Catholic League championship 1600-meter run by Fenwick’s Sal Flight, who had a personal best almost ten seconds slower.  Korabik knew he would have to run 60-seconds on the final lap of the state race.   But off an honest but not fast pace, he would also have to take the finishing kick out of some of the others—or have a lead he could hold onto.  The plan was the one Hicham El Guerrouj used to beat Bernard Lagat in the 2004 Athens Olympics 1500.  From about 800 meters out, Korabik would take the lead—and then carefully wind up the race.  He would apply more and more pressure at the front of the race, never pushing too far into the red, but never letting anyone pass him, either.  It would be Korabik’s decision, though, to decide if it was developing into a kicker’s race in which he would have to wind up the pace.

Coming into the home straightaway, Korabik positioned himself for a move off the curve.  Then down the straightaway he moved from lane one into lane two and was in position to move all the way around the group now bunching behind Smith.  He went smoothly by Reiser, then Clevenger.  He pulled up along side Hoffert.  Smith and Perrier were side by side in the lead just another step away.

Here was a moment of decision.  Before the race, in the EIU indoor track, we had laid out all Korabik’s options.  He is a 4.0 student at Ignatius.  He is a senior who has run many races.  He could understand complicated options.  With 800 to go, he would have to assess the race.  Was it fast enough?  Who was still in it?  Could he get to the lead efficiently and easily enough without anyone fighting him?  What did he have in his tank?

He had moved to put himself in position to try the El Guerrouj.  But then he made his choice.  He would wait.  His split at 800-meters was 2:06.3.  The race was moving fast enough; the kickers would be tired at the end, too.  He was still close to the front.

Korabik pushed his way back into lane one around the curve, in front of Clevenger and behind Hoffert, in fourth.  Reiser responded by moving around Korabik again on the outside.  Clevenger pulled up on his shoulder again.    At 1000-meters he was in sixth again at 2:38.4.  For a third lap it was still an honest and even fast pace.  He had made a good decision.

Around the curve, Smith was still in the lead, with Perrier on his shoulder.  Then Hoffert held on behind Smith, with Reiser behind him on the outside.  Then Korabik, with Clevenger beside him.

Boxed in with just over 500 meters to go, Korabik patiently waited for his opening on the straightaway--and then he moved to the lead.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Boxed in with just over 500 meters to go, Korabik patiently waited for his opening on the straightaway–and then he moved to the lead. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Plan number three came from our assistant coach Steven Bugarin, with an assist from assistant coach Nate McPherson.  They had worried the El Guerrouj plan would force Korabik to move too early and drain him for the last lap.  He should wait until 500 to go, they thought—and then move to the lead.

As the runners neared the 500-meter mark, we watched carefully, waiting to see what Korabik would do.  There might be a problem.  We weren’t sitting together, but talking after the race, we had all noticed the same thing:  Korabik looked like he was boxed in.

But the other runners no doubt had last lap plans, as well.  Off the main grandstand curve the front group was moving quickly.  Down the straightaway Reiser moved closer to Perrier on the outside.  It was not quite three abreast—Smith, Perrier, Reiser, with Hoffert crowding behind Smith looking for a place to go.

Korabik inched forward as Reiser did so—and Clevenger, perhaps thinking Reiser would move out to Perrier’s shoulder, moved out a bit wider out to lane three.

And then Korabik struck.  He went past Clevenger on the inside, with perhaps a brush of arms between the two.  He moved past Reiser to his inside.  And then he accelerated past Perrier and Smith.

Perrier made his own move a split second later to step ahead of Smith.  The others followed—Hoffert still chasing, then Reiser, then Clevenger, with Conant’s Zach Dale following and Smith fading quickly.

But Korabik had the jump, and he got to the lead and back into lane one all on the straightaway.  He went by 1200 in first at 3:10.4.  Perrier and the others were sorting things out behind him.  Korabik accelerated around the curve.   Perrier still followed closely, but a gap opened behind Perrier back to Hoffert.  Three meters, four meters, five meters—the gap widened as Korabik accelerated, Perrier chasing close and the others falling back.

Later another coach told us that Korabik’s courageous move had brought tears to his eyes.  It was the kind of move coaches want their boys to make–and train them to make.  As we sometimes still say, he was Prefontaine-ing  the race.  He didn’t hold back and try to run for second or third.  He made a move to win the race.  If it cost him in the end, so be it.  He was trying to win the race with a long 400-meter dash to the finish.

Korabik covered the 200 meters in right about 30 seconds.  He had dropped the pack, but he couldn’t drop Perrier.  At the 200 mark, which comes early on the EIU track with another 15 meters to the curve, Perrier accelerated into the lead.

Korabik chases Perrier and leads Dale, Hoffert, and Clevenger in a race to the finish.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Korabik chases Perrier and leads Dale, Hoffert, and Clevenger in a race to the finish. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

But Korabik did not give up.  He doggedly took up the chase.    Around the curve, Perrier’s lead grew to a second step, then a third.  Korabik was losing ground, but he was still moving quickly.  The wheels were still moving.

Behind Korabik, the others had begun to chase.  Conant’s Zach Dale was catching up.  With 90 meters to go, Perrier was well ahead, but Korabik seemed to find another burst of energy.  Perrier was no longer gaining, and Korabik was holding Dale off down the straightaway.  From behind Dale, then, came Clevenger moving faster than all the others.

Perrier won with his arms upraised.  Then the next three reached the finish line almost simultaneously, three across the track.  Korabik leaned in lane one.  Dale was beside him, more upright.  Clevenger actually seemed ready to go by them both, but he eased up at the finish line, standing straight upright.

Clevenger’s leg may have crossed in front of Korabik’s, but with his lean Korabik’s shoulder had beaten Clevenger’s chest to the line.

Officially Perrier was timed in 4:10.34.  Korabik’s time was 4:11.194—more than a three-second personal best–with Clevenger third in 4:11.199.  Dale fourth in 4:11.28, and then Hoffert made it four runners in the 4:11s, 4:11.71.

Korabik’s last lap had been a tick over 60 seconds.  If he had run 59 seconds, he might have been closer to winning the race.  But it had been a really smart final lap—and he won second place by running the fastest last 500 meters of the race.

He had run virtually the entire race in lane one.  He had stayed calm and still in the pack, moving only to take position when he needed to do so.  When he made his move, he did it with conviction and commitment.

He also won second place with his lean.

The night before Korabik and his teammates Chris Hawkins and Conor Dunham visited the O’Brien track dressed in caps and gowns, while junior teammate Andy Weber followed them with an Ipad and a speaker playing the “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation march.  Back in Chicago, their classmates were graduating in the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum.

“They’re up to the P-s,” Dunham informed me, looking at his mobile phone.  Apparently he was getting alert texts from the seniors in Chicago.

The boys took some photos on the awards stand.  They took photos in front of the IHSA banner.  And then they took some photos running in their caps and gowns—finish line photos.

Korabik practices his lean.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Korabik practices his lean. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The evening light was challenging for photographs, and it took several tries for assistant coach and team photographer Bugarin to get a focused version of the group.  Once, twice, three times—the boys ran past the finish line.  You can see one photo on the previous blog post; here’s another.

Korabik leaned every time.

It turned out to be good practice.











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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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Team touch across some generations

The Wolfpack track team takes a team photo on the National Mall in Washington, DC, with guests Tom and Joan O'Hara.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The Wolfpack track team takes a team photo on the National Mall in Washington, DC, with guests Tom and Joan O’Hara. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Tom O'Hara, Track and Field,Before the start of the Jesuit Invite at Georgetown Preparatory School outside of Washington, DC, on Friday, February 21, sophomore Dan Santino approached Saint Ignatius alumnus Tom O’Hara, class of 1960, near the small grandstand beside the main straightaway.  After they had been introduced, Santino politely asked O’Hara a question:  “What did it feel like to set a world record?”

Fifty years ago, almost to the day, O’Hara twice set world indoor track records in the mile run, first running 3 minutes 56.6 seconds in New York on February 13, 1964, and then 3:56.4 on a small 11-laps-to-the-mile track in the Chicago Stadium on March 6.  More than 18,000 spectators were in attendance for the Chicago Daily News Relays, a hometown crowd for Chicagoan Thomas Martin Ignatius O’Hara, who was running for Loyola University in his senior year.  O’Hara, one of the greatest collegiate distance runners in NCAA history, would go on to make the United States Olympic team in the 1500-meters that summer.   Touted as America’s best hope to win a medal in the distance races in Tokyo, his portrait made the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a long profile story of a shy, small, red-headed young man from an Irish Chicago family.  O’Hara was hit with a strength-sapping illness before the games–likely a result of an even heavier training load than what produced the records, O’Hara admits, as he probably overdid it preparing for the big Olympic test.  He reached the Olympic semi-finals, but he didn’t qualify for the final.

In the amateur track days of the 1960s, it was difficult to sustain a running career after college.  After graduating from Loyola, O’Hara went on to become a life insurance salesman, based in Villa Park, IL—and a good one, it seems.  It is an asset to a salesman, I would assume, when people know you as a former world record holder.

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A three-hour delay at O’Hare before flying to DC gave the team plenty of time to take a photograph with the O’Haras.

At Georgetown Prep, O’Hara and his wife, Joan, were guests of the generous benefactor who for the second year had funded the Saint Ignatius track team on its trip to the Jesuit Invite.  They flew with the team from O’Hare, enduring a three-and-a-half hour flight delay and a 1:30 am arrival at the Bethesda Residence Inn.  We had originally planned a tour of the U.S. Capitol the next morning, but we emailed a cancellation to let the boys—and the O’Haras—catch up on their sleep before the big meet that day.

On the night before he flew from Chicago with us, Loyola University honored the 50th anniversary of O’Hara’s 1964 records with a half-time ceremony that included showing the Loyola basketball crowd a video of the Daily News Relays race.  Available on Youtube, it was originally aired live on ABC’s Wide World of Sports television show.  In attendance at the 50th anniversary event were members of the 1963 Loyola NCAA national championship basketball team.  O’Hara himself was an NCAA champion–in the mile and in cross country.

Dan Santino and his Ignatius teammates had watched that Youtube video in a classroom at Ignatius that same week.  Santino’s track fan father, Bill, had also gone on E-Bay to purchase copies of the Sports Illustrated magazine with O’Hara on the cover.  Santino, one of the top runners in Illinois and just a sophomore, would later present O’Hara with the magazines, which O’Hara autographed.

But their first conversation began with that simple question.  “How did it feel to set the world record?”

O’Hara thought a bit before he gave his answer.  Then he looked Santino in the eye and said, very simply, “Well, it felt pretty good.”

Santino’s coach, standing with the pair, sought a more complicated answer:  The first time he set the record, had O’Hara expected to do it?  Did he know he could run that fast?

Once again, the now grey-haired O’Hara gave a simple answer: “I knew that I was running pretty well at the time, yes.  My training was pretty good.”

Tom O’Hara’s two days traveling with Santino and the Ignatius team didn’t really include any profound moments of advice or encouragement.  He talked with the boys simply and directly, answering their questions–and telling some stories.

He struck the boys, most of all, as simply a very nice man, notably modest about his tremendous accomplishments as a runner.  At Jesuit schools we have a mantra that applies to a simple ethical idea:  “Men and women for others.”  Taking a couple days to travel with them, the O’Haras showed the boys what that means.

Two great milers: Ray Mayer, Ignatius class of 1951, and Tom O’Hara, class of 1960.

Most notably, perhaps, the boys watched O’Hara and his wife find small ways to attend and assist another Ignatius alumnus at the meet, Ray Mayer, class of 1951.  Mayer, in fact, was the benefactor for the trip–and it had been his idea to invite the O’Haras along for the ride.  A former Army career officer and then a successful real estate dealer in Northern Virginia, Mayer suffers from Parkinson’s.  O’Hara had recently had his own bout with medical issues; he has recuperated remarkably from a quintuple bypass last October.

The pair had met at a lunch gathering that afternoon, organized by Mayer’s friend and Ignatius teammate Tom Coyne, who had made the drive from Kalamazoo, MI, just for the lunch and the track meet.

Mayer had been a star runner at Ignatius fewer than ten years before O’Hara.

Among other things, of course, Mayer and O’Hara shared the tutelage of famed Ignatius coach Dr. Ralph Mailliard.  Both agreed that while they loved Mailliard like a father, for all his success Mailliard was not an expert coach when it came to the training of distance runners.

As it happened, O’Hara and Mayer had also shared a second coach, Jerry Weiland, at Loyola.  Mayer had gone from Ignatius to Marquette on a track scholarship, but, he said directly, “It didn’t work out there.  I was terribly unhappy.”  So he had transferred to Loyola, where his running still did not develop as well as he hoped under Weiland—although he did run a 4:12 mile.  Like Mailliard, O’Hara and Mayer agreed without any disrespect, Weiland might not have been the most knowledgeable coach for distance runners.

O’Hara had fared better at Loyola, he thought, partly because during his time at Loyola Weiland had taken on an assistant, Don Amidei.   Amidei had been the coach of phenom Tom Sullivan at Evanston’s St. George High School.  Weiland had hired Amidei, it seems, expecting he could recruit Sullivan to Loyola; Sullivan, at the last minute, chose Villanova, instead.  A 4:03.5 miler in high school, the fastest high school miler in history before Jim Ryun broke the 4-minute barrier in 1964, Sullivan never matched that time as a collegian; he did, however, become a doctor, a pediatric neurologist, in fact.  Sullivan’s loss was O’Hara’s gain.  Amidei left Loyola to coach at DePaul after a year, but it was Amidei’s training program, O’Hara said, that he followed through the glory years of his college career, with Weiland holding the watch for the workouts and providing motivation.

(As an aside and to complete the circle, in a way, Amidei went on to be the head track coach at Northwestern.  He was, in fact, my coach there when I ran track and cross country my freshman year.  But Amidei also returned to high school coaching after he left Northwestern, and he coached at Saint Ignatius from 1983 to 1985.  At Saint Ignatius Amidei coached Karamath Khan ’84, father of junior Kallin Khan.)

O’Hara said he really believed that Weiland had developed his own ideas as a track coach from his experience and interest in race horses.  He told a story to prove his point.  When the runners at Loyola complained about shin splints, Weiland showed up at practice one day holding a bottle with a strange chemical name on the label.  “It was horse liniment!” O’Hara laughed.  O’Hara didn’t let the coach anywhere near his legs with his horse liniment wraps.

Mayer, listening intently, didn’t miss a beat.  “Coach,” he whinnied to O’Hara, “we’re running as fast as we can.”

It was an entertaining lunch.

Senior Wil Hughes and sophomore Dan Santino visit with trip benefactor Ray Mayer.

Later, at the meet, Joan O’Hara procured an office chair for Mayer, which she thought would be more comfortable than his combination walker-chair.  O’Hara supplied him with water and candy as they watched the meet together.

The Ignatius boys, when they were not busy with the meet, stopped in for short conversations.

A year ago the Ignatius team had fallen behind early in the meet and then rallied to win at the end.  They had made Mayer very happy when he hoisted their trophy.

The meet features East Coast Jesuit school teams from New York City (Regis, Xavier, and Fordham Prep), Baltimore (Loyola-Blakefield), and the DC-area (Georgetown Prep and Gonzaga).  The New York teams were clearly resting some of their best runners, looking ahead to the big Eastern States meet closer to home in the Armory the following week.

In the 2014 edition of the meet, Ignatius fell behind once again but could not rally all the way to victory, as Fordham tallied 122 points to our 112.  Mayer said he was not disappointed with the outcome.  We noted that we still had a second-place trophy to take home on the plane to Chicago.

We also had some outstanding performances.  Senior Conor Dunham won the 55-meter hurdles in a time of 7.60 seconds, which at the time was the top performance for an Illinois high school runner in 2014; it was also a new meet record for the Jesuit Invite.  Senior Chris Hawkins, close behind Dunham, ran 7.77 seconds, at the time the number two performance for Illinois.  Dunham later won the 300-meter dash in 36.64.  Hawkins won the long jump with a distance of 20 feet and 5.25 inches.

Senior Chris Korabik won the 1600-meter run with a furious finish, as he closed a ten-meter gap with a 62-second final 400 to run 4:23.94.  His time beat the meet record set the previous year by Ignatius’s Jack Keelan.  Korabik now has the number two performance at 1600 meters for an Illinois runner in 2014.

The O’Haras had five children, who did some track and cross country running of their own.  Joan O’Hara described Tom running around the cross country course exhorting the runners—and especially his own kids.  He was more subdued at our meet.

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Junior Kallin Khan and senior Chris Korabik enjoyed playing Frisbee on a sunny 64-degree day on the National Mall after a cold Chicago February.

On Saturday morning, after the Friday night meet, Tom and Joan O’Hara joined the team after we checked out of the Residence Inn in Bethesda and traveled by Metro to the National Mall for some sightseeing.   After the terrible cold of a hard Chicago winter, the boys and the O’Haras all seemed to enjoy the sun and 64-degrees of Washington, DC, as much as they did the Smithsonian museums they visited.  The boys spent more time playing Frisbee near our park bench “baggage camp” than they did sightseeing.  They did manage, however, to take some photos of their trophy in some interesting locations.

At the airport, after passing through the TSA with the trophy, Dan and his teammate brother Brian Santino approached Tom O’Hara with the Sports Illustrated magazines purchased by their father.  O’Hara graciously signed them.

The Santinos then presented one of their magazines to their coach.  O’Hara later told me, “I signed yours in gold.”

His inscription:  “Dear Ed, My best wishes.  Thank you so much for inviting me to the track meet.  I enjoyed it so much.  Tom O’Hara.”

Later, as they left the plane after arrival at O’Hare, O’Hara shook hands with each of the boys.

My friend and colleague Patrick McHugh, track coach and athletic director at North Shore Country Day School, has written in his own blog about an idea that he calls “team touch.”  It is important, he says, for teammates to make physical contact with each other during the day of a big meet—shaking hands, patting each other on the back, team huddles.

For a weekend, Tom O’Hara generously joined our Ignatius team—and touched our team.  We will be a better team because of it.

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Filed under coaching, high school track and field, running

A little bit of vindication at Lake Park


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.


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.


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.


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…


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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.

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