Tag Archives: Kallin Khan

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

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

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

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

We almost didn’t make it here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good news came first in a Dyestat Illinois tweet.

The good news came first in a Dyestat Illinois tweet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Not quite a time trial—and not quite a city championship

The Wolfpack Howl kicks off the cross country season for four Chicago city teams.

Defending Chicago Catholic League champion Dan Santino was the obvious first choice when the captains drafted their teams for the 2014 Wolfpack Howl.  But who would go number two?

Defending Chicago Catholic League champion Dan Santino was the obvious first choice when the captains drafted their teams for the 2014 Wolfpack Howl. But who would go number two?  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Last year, in preparation for our start-of-the-season practice meet, we did not let the boys draft their own teams for our annual Wolfpack Howl.  It was simply an oversight—and we ran short of time with our preparations.

This year senior Kallin Khan sent us an email fully two weeks before the event as a reminder.  The opportunity to pick their own teams, Khan was suggesting politely as a senior leader, is an important part of the event for the athletes.  Lesson learned.

We begin our season with a practice meet we call the Wolfpack Howl.  We break our boys up into color teams, White, Black, Gold, and Maroon, our Saint Ignatius College Prep school colors.  Initially we ran this meet on our own.  But when the Illinois High School Association added a week to the beginning of the interscholastic competition season a number of years ago, we invited a few other schools to join us.  This year Jones College Prep, University High, and St. Patrick’s came along.   We ask them to do the same—break their teams up into intersquad teams– but only Jones has the numbers to do so.

We gather in Chicago’s South Side Washington Park, which would have been the location for the Olympic Stadium in the city’s ill-fated bid to be the 2016 host.   It’s probably not a cross country race proper because while we run on the grass for some of the race, most of the race follows the 1.4 mile crushed limestone jogging path around the northern side of the park.  That way, we figure, no one can get lost.  As a starter race—and to help make sure no one takes it too seriously—we only run two miles.

But we do have a cross country-style start across an open field.  We do have a finish chute to teach the newcomers to keep moving after they finish—and to collect finish cards at the end of the chute.

We do have results, which we compile old-style with envelopes.  We give them to the team captains of the color teams from each school, and we stick a golf pencil in the envelope and ask them to record the names and finish places for their teams on the envelopes.   It’s a way to be sure all the athletes understand how to score a cross country race—and that all the members of the team are important.

The color team captains collect finish cards and write the names on the envelopes, to compile the results old school.

The color team captains collect finish cards and write the names on the envelopes to compile the results old school.

As a concession to modernity, the watch is a Nielsen-Kellerman Interval 2000xc.  We record all the times on one watch, which we give to a parent to click at the finish line.  Then we import the times from the watch directly into the computer.

We made an attempt this year to collect team rosters at Athletic.net so that we could use our Hytek.  It didn’t really work.  So when it came time for results, like other years we just copied the names off the envelopes and typed them into Excel.

We pointedly do not share our official unofficial results with Dyestat or Milesplit.

We call it a two-mile race, and we compare results for our boys year-to-year.  But we’re never quite sure of the course, as simple as we try to be by using the jogging path.  Some years we have arrived in the park to discover the Universal Soul Circus has set up in the park, blocking part of the jogging trail.  This year I checked the schedule for the Soul Circus, and they aren’t coming until October.  But on Friday night when I visited the park it was the African Festival of the Arts blocking the path with an enclosed chain link fence.  So we improvised the course, cutting through the grassy outfield of some softball diamonds.  A quick bike tour with the Garmin GPS showed the course to be a little bit short, so we extended  the start to the edge of the field and then we moved the finish line back.

Even the start , approximately 400 meters across the grassy park, can be tricky.  We negotiate with the University of Chicago Ultimate Frisbee team and ask them to stop their practice for 30 seconds each time for our two races as we run through the cones that mark their field.  We also had to run around two cricket circles this year.

The grass is long and unmowed.  The field, if it has been raining, can be a little bit sloppy in spots.

We moved the race schedule up 15 minutes or so at the last minute when Jones College Prep told us that they had some kids who had to get to a school concert performance later in the morning .  We aimed for 9:30, and we were more or less on time.

But at 9:15, as our assistant coach Nate McPherson told the story, he looked up where the finish chute was supposed to be—and there was no finish chute.

It was ready in plenty of time by 9:25.  We sprayed a 15 foot long white line at the front of the chute, and stuck some soccer corner flags into the ground.  We ran 30 feet of yellow caution tape down each row of poles to make the chute.

Gun violence is a terrible problem in Chicago, especially on the South Side.  As a gesture of understanding, we started the race with a whistle.

We paint a line for the start—and we even have some boxes, which the runners basically ignore.  We run girls from University High and Jones as teams with the frosh-soph boy runners.    There were a lot of runners in this group who had never run a race.  I gave clear instructions:  “I will blow the whistle three times to get you ready.  Then I will blow it once a long time to start.”

I paused and moved into position.  One whistle—half the 70 runners started off the line.  I blew the whistle a bunch of times and told everyone to stop.

“Let’s try that again.  I will blow the whistle three times to get you ready.  Then I will blow it one a long time to start.”

The second time it worked.  Only one or two stepped forward on the first whistle, and we let them step back quickly before we started the race.

The only other mishap in the frosh soph race occurred when the race leader, our sophomore Lyndon Vickrey, ran off what we thought was a very simple course.  He was following a bike ridden by assistant coach Steven Bugarin, but Bugarin had stopped to close the gate of a giant dumpster which had opened and was a little bit of a hazard on the course.  Vickrey ran right by him toward the chain link fence blocking the path instead of turning across the ball fields.  Bugarin quickly called him back and he had such a big lead no one else really followed him or lost much time.  And Vickrey won going away, anyway.  We probably should have put him in the varsity race.

When the varsity boys started, there was no problem at the start or on the course.  As low key as we try to make it, they still take it pretty seriously.

Jones and Ignatius have become pretty serious rivals in recent years, competing with only Lane Tech, perhaps, for the title of the best team in the city of Chicago.

Our Saint Ignatius students are drawn from all over the Chicago metropolitan area, including near and distant suburbs, but about half come from the city itself.  Both teams train on the Chicago lake front, and our staging areas are a block apart on either side of the Grant Monument on the top of the hill at the south end of Grant Park along Michigan Ave.  We both run across the same bridge and through the same tunnels to get to the Lakefront running and biking path.  Last week they practiced on Bobsled Hill near Soldier Field on Tuesday.  We were there on Wednesday.

When our groups pass each other on the path coming and going, we nod politely.

As it happens, this year the teams will actually race six times—maybe seven if both teams qualify for the state meet.  Jones moved into a new building last year and enrollment will double in the next few years from 900 to 1800.  We sit at about 1400.  Jones was state champion in the 2A state division in 2012, but the increase in enrollment has moved them into the large school 3A division with us now.  We will fight each other in the same sectional for one of five team state qualifying spots in early November.

Apparently unable to get enough of a good thing, Jones coach Andrew Adelmann this summer proposed that we race each other in a late season old-fashioned dual meet.  Both of us withdrew from our invitationals the weekend of October 11 to make it happen.  We don’t have a site yet, but we have a date:  Thursday, October 9.

So the race at the Wolfpack Howl was like a good preview for a season of drama ahead.

Our official but unofficial results score the meet as a multi-team meet between the color teams.  On those results, two Jones teams—the Jones White and Jones Blue teams—battled for the win, with the White team scoring 81 to the Blue’s 85.  Our Ignatius Black team was third with 90 points—and all they really cared about was winning the Ignatius color team battle.  The Black team earned a visit to our team treasure chest with their win.

It wasn’t hard to notice with just a glance, however, the outcome of this first Jones versus Ignatius meeting, even if it was just a skirmish.  Junior Dan Santino, the 2013 Chicago Catholic League champion, won the race, with two more Ignatius seniors—Andy Weber and Kallin Khan—close behind.  Mark Protsiv of Jones was fourth, with Jacob Meyer of University High fifth.  But then Ignatius senior John Lennon was sixth, junior Vince Lewis was 10th, and freshman Patrick Hogan came close behind in 13th , with another freshman Brett Haffner 15th–for an even more unofficial score of 22 for the Wolfpack.  Jones scored 38.

But no one was keeping score, of course.

The Ignatius color teams did, in fact, care mainly about their own competition and their own teams.  Each color team came up with their own uniforms.  They warmed up together,  and they made their own team strategies.

The teams had been created in a draft.  On Tuesday before the Saturday race, after a workout run on the lakefront, the four junior captains, who had been chosen by their coach, gathered on the picnic tables near the Saint Ignatius track.  We had given them a team roster of juniors and seniors, plus the names of a few sophomores and freshmen.  The list, in fact, ranked the runners in roughly rank order in terms of expected performance.

Chris Jeske went first, and he made the obvious choice—Dan Santino.  Then it was Andrius Blekys’s turn.

“I pick Vince,” he said.  And everyone laughed.  Vince Lewis was a new runner on the cross country team, coming over from soccer.  He ran track as a freshmen and sophomore and has lots of potential.  But he was not the runner anyone expected to go number two in the draft.

Jack Morgan quickly picked Kallin Khan.  Then Colin Hogan took Andy Weber.  In the snake draft order the boys had established, Hogan chose again and grabbed John Lennon as the fourth pick.  Morgan took senior Brian Santino at five.

Then it was Blekys’s turn again: He took Dante Domenella—another surprising choice.  On his next turn, he chose AnthonyImburgia, once again, probably not the runner you would choose if you were picking according to the rank order.

What had become clear to everyone was that Blekys wasn’t picking runners by their abilities.  He was choosing friends that he wanted on his team.

Blekys, as it turned out, was not able to run in the race when Saturday came around.  He was shut down from running by our trainers, because of severe shin splints with point tenderness, sometimes a precursor for stress fracture.  The White team finished fourth among the four Wolfpack teams.  Even with Blekys in the lineup, they probably would have been fourth.

Interestingly, Vince Lewis had one of the best runs on the team, finishing as number five for Ignatius.  The confidence of his friend and captain Andrius Blekys maybe helped to spur him on.  He ran like a number one pick.

And perhaps the White team were the real winners, just because they seemed to have the most fun.

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A little bit of vindication at Lake Park

Image

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

As the race developed from the mile to the two mile mark at the Chicago Catholic League championships two weeks ago, it looked like our Saint Ignatius team had victory safely in our hands.  Then we lost, as at least one of our key runners struggled home to the finish and Loyola’s runners came roaring back in the last mile to win, 31-35.

So when our Saint Ignatius team seemed to be sitting at 100 points just past the midpoint of the three mile race at the Lake Park Sectional on Saturday, we were confident about placing high enough to qualify for the state meet—but we still kept our fingers crossed.  Almost without fail at our annual sectional, the magic number for qualification in the fifth spot is about 150.

In the end we finished third with 127 points.  So in fact we were safe—but once again we also did not finish as strongly as we wanted to finish.

The dissection of number one ranked York’s improbable loss at the Lake Park Sectional continues in various online locations with a couple common themes.    York got off to a bad start.  Coach Joe Newton didn’t like the barriers at the start, and he seemed to say that his team got boxed in at the top of the hill on the first turn.  Because of the bad start, they couldn’t get their pack together until later in the race.  Then it seemed that their pack didn’t move up as easily through what was arguably a tougher field than they have been used to running against earlier in the season.

When we got our box assignment for the Lake Park sectional last week, we noticed right away that next to the Saint Ignatius box number 8 would be York in box number 7.  Coaches from the Fenwick Regional–where York had dominated– assured us that York’s strategy in the sectional would be similarly aggressive.  They would race from the front.  Our race strategy seemed pretty obvious—follow the York frontrunners.

When York didn’t get out aggressively with their pack, however, it created a little bit of a problem for our team, as well.

imageWe had done some research on the course, including a visit on Wednesday before the two days of rain came, and we got helpful advice from Matt Haffner, whose Ignatius girls team runs Lake Park’s Harvey Braus Invite each year.  Get to the outside of the race mob on the first turn, we told our boys.  That would also help them get into position to run at the top of the hill on the ridge after the turn, where it would be drier after the rain.  The boys themselves had also given some careful thought to the 150 meters or so of pavement on the course; most of our boys put shorter spikes in their shoes so they would have the option of running on the pavement, instead of on the narrow paths on either side.

Mike Newman’s Dyestatil.com videos document Saturday’s race at several key points as it developed—at the start, at .75 miles or so, right before the mile, then at 1.25 miles.  Then he catches the runners again at 1.75 before the two mile and at 2.25 miles–and finally the finish.

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

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

His start video suggests that our boys did a mixed job with those instructions, as they coped with York’s similarly mixed results at the start.  Senior co-captain Chris Korabik moved aggressively to the front of the race and made the turn easily among the first 20 or so runners.  Running unimpeded on the outside of the pack, sophomore Dan Santino is about even with Korabik.  Then senior co-captain Taylor Dugas and junior Andy Weber flash by, also on the outside as planned, well positioned, it would seem, for the race ahead.   On the other hand, junior Kallin Khan got caught inside toward the back half of the pack, probably around 90th place at the turn.  And at the very back of the pack, at what must have been around 135th place in a race with 140 runners, ran senior Patrick Manglano and junior Brian Santino.

A few moments further into the race, at about the quarter mile mark, I learned later, our assistant coach Nate McPherson had yelled at Khan to get farther toward the front of the race.

I was near Newman at the .75 mile mark, and I remember being pretty happy as the runners approached.    Among other things, Khan was now among the top 25 or so runners in the race—and he was still moving forward.  He must have passed 50 runners in two minutes to get there.  Korabik and Santino were just off the lead in the front pack.  Dugas was around 30th, with Weber not far behind in the top 40, chasing hard.

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

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

When we asked him later how he managed to move so quickly through the packed crowd of runners, Khan’s answer was simple.  “I ran on the pavement,” he said.  “It was pretty clear because everyone else was on the grass.”

At 1.25 miles, the video shows the race taking much clearer shape.   For our Wolfpack, Santino was sixth, Korabik tenth, Kahn 18th, Dugas 25th, Weber 35th—with Manglano now moving up to 80th place or so.

The overall team race was clearer, too.

York had moved into position.  The race at that point didn’t match the way York’s four horsemen ran away at the Fenwick Regional last week, running a 15:04 that some people called a tempo run.  But they now had three runners up at the front of the race.

Nathan Mroz from York had taken a ten meter lead on the field, with Matt Plowman of York in the front of the chase pack among Santino, Chase Silverman of New Trier, Jack Carpenter of Maine South, and David O’Gara (running as an individual for Glenbrook South); Jonathan Vara of Lane Tech was up front,  as well, with teammate Pavlo Hutsalyuk.  Kyle Mattes of York was at the back of that front pack.  And in fact the other top six York runners—Alex Bashqawi, Max Denning, and John May– had managed to find each other, as well.  But they were back at about 30th place.  Still, York looked to be winning the race after the mile with around 80 points.

In terms of the other key teams in the race, a second tier of runners included three from Loyola—Christian Swenson, Teddy Brombach, and Jack Carroll—with Henry Mierzwa from Maine South and Kallin Khan from Ignatius.  A group from New Trier also lurked just behind the front chase pack, with Peter Cotsirilos, Tarek Afifi, and Austin Santacruz.  Taylor Dugas from Ignatius was in this mix, but a bit farther back, with Andy Weber from Ignatius chasing from behind the York runners.

We got our next look at the runners just after the halfway mark.  Newman marks his video as 1.75 miles.  Mroz was still firmly in charge.  Most of the runners were in the same place.

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

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

At 2.25 miles, Mroz had pulled away for a ten second lead on the front.  O’Gara had separated himself in second place from a smaller chase group of Silverman, Carpenter, and Santino.   Our Ignatius team looked to be in good shape, with Korabik in tenth and Kallin Khan now running steady at 17th–right behind New Trier’s chasers: Cotsirilos, Afifi, and Santacruz.   But Dugas had begun to fade, falling just behind teammate Andy Weber in 35th and 38th.  Loyola still had Carroll running with Korabik, and Brombach up front in the teens, but Swenson had begun to fade.

It was clear at this point of the race that York was in trouble.   Mattes was running around tenth, but Plowman had suddenly fallen all the way back to the York group of Denning, May, and Bashqawi, still running around 30th.

The team score, with less than a mile to go, appeared to be something like this:  New Trier 95, York 100, Ignatius 105, and Loyola 110.  It was really still anyone’s race from this point to the finish.

New Trier, of course, would close the race out with the best finishing charge—and a total of 79 points.  Silverman would challenge O’Gara, then finish third.  Cotsirilos surged in the last half mile all the way to fifth.  Afifi would finish 18th, Santacruz 23rd, and Om Kanwar 30th.  For York, Mroz took the win, with Mattes 10th; then Basqawi, Denning, and May would finish together in 27th, 28th, and 29th.  York’s total was 95.

Ignatius and Loyola struggled to the finish—each losing a large number of spots from key performers.

Dugas was already fading, all the way back to into the 40s, as he took the hard u-turn with 350 meters to go in order to enter the stadium space;  crossing a patch of grass, the runners jump onto the track for 300 meters to the finish.  On that grass patch, Dugas slipped and fell on the turn, partly, it would seem, out of exhaustion; he had run the race too aggressively up front.

IMG_0049

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

But almost magically, just as Dugas fell, Manglano appeared behind him.  He had moved steadily through the race from the very back at the start.  But even at the 2.25 mile mark, he had been around 70th.  Noting Dugas’s fade at that point, I had yelled to Manglano that the team would need him to finish strongly.  He obviously did so.

As he entered the track to discover Dugas on the ground, Manglano seemed to pause for a moment, reaching down almost to touch his teammate on the shoulder—and then he charged forward after the runners ahead of him.  He would finish 53rd in the team scoring.  Dugas would get to his feet and struggle home in 80th place overall, losing 40 points in the last half mile.

Meanwhile, with about a quarter mile left in the race, Teddy Brombach of Loyola was running just outside of the top ten.  Then he inexplicably slowed to a jog; later it was said he had some kind of cramp.  He finished just ahead of Manglano, in 48th.

But our drama at number five could not overshadow—or detract from—our strong team performance at the front of the race.

Santino ran what was arguably the best race of his young career, as he held on to fourth place in 15:03, close to a personal best.  Korabik was 11th in 15:13, his best race of the year. Khan, after his remarkable charge in the first mile, faded a little bit in the last mile to 25th, but it was his fifth personal best time in five weeks as he ran 15:24.  Weber had moved slowly forward throughout the race to finish 34th (15:33), showing he had recovered from illness and depletion that slowed him two weeks ago at the CCL championship race.

The moments after the sectional race are a nervous vigil, as teams try to calculate their results—and those of their opponents.  I initially gave my group inaccurate information, telling them we had safely scored around 100 points, our number earlier in the race.  I hadn’t quite figured in our fade at the finish.

I’ve been through this post-race moment meaningfully three times now.  In 2010, I had been measuring our team during the entire race against Loyola’s runners, whom I had figured as our competition for the sectional’s fifth spot.  We had clearly been beaten in that race duel—and as we walked from the Niles West stadium to the field house, I had begun to prepare my team for bad news.  What I had not noticed was a subpar performance that day by Maine South, who had entered the race, we thought, a better team than ours.  It turned out to be good news when the results were posted; we had scored 152 points for fifth place.  It was that experience, in fact, that gave me the “150 points to qualify” benchmark.

Last year we entered the sectional ranked as high as second in the pre-race speculation.  But we had had some adversity during the week entering the race; we were not 100 percent.  In the end, we just ran badly that day.  Even with Jack Keelan’s individual race win, I knew our score was well over 150 points after the finish, with our fifth and sixth runners—Manglano and Dugas–far back in the 80s.   But two of our runners up front—Santino and Weber—had underperformed, as well.  When the results were posted, there was a surprise.  Improbably the results on the wall said we had finished fifth with 183 points.  We celebrated wildly, no doubt because of the big surprise.  We had been prepared for bad news.  We took celebratory photographs with the team gathered around 1980 state champion and 1981Ignatius graduate Mike Patton, who had come to watch the race.

Then came the bad news.  Because of a chip scoring error, the results were missing a runner from Lane Tech.  When the runner was added to the race rank after a video review, we were relegated to sixth place.  As I noted in a blog post at the time, boys do cry.

There wasn’t much drama this year for our team, even with Dugas’s fall.  We had entered the race nervous but confident in ourselves.  We had run well, if not spectacularly.  We had a score safely under 150—maybe 110, maybe 120?

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

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

But as carefully as teams had tried to calculate their scores and those of their close opponents during the race, there was clear confusion among coaches after the race about the results.  Tony Jones of Lane Tech was running through his finish line video on his Ipad.  He called me over to identify our runners.  Jones was talking positively about his runners at the front of the race, but then he was clearly worried to discover that both his fourth and fifth runners had apparently finished well back in the pack—48th and 63rd.

Meanwhile Loyola worried about Brombach’s puzzling finish, which gave them, like Lane Tech, fourth and fifth runners who finished back in the neighborhood of 50th place.  Their counters, it seemed, didn’t succeed in getting a good read on the race.  Assistant Coach Dave Behof had some information from New Trier’s coaches.  New Trier thought they had won the race, ahead of York.  Behof told me we were likely third, and he was hopeful that Loyola was fourth.  Fifth, for some reason, remained a mystery.

Our team was not celebrating, but it was clear that a weight had been lifted from their shoulders once the race was over, and our fate, if not certain, seemed pretty sure.  Maybe the pain of the previous year hung over our heads a little bit; there would be no premature celebration.  Of course, when we were told we had qualified last year, we had been told those results were official.  We had not been premature then, either.

In fact, once we did get the official news at Lake Park, there wasn’t much celebrating from our team, anyway.   All we did was take a few photographs.

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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.

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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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