Tag Archives: Saint Ignatius College Prep cross country

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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Filed under coaching, cross country running, IHSA, 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

Executing the plan

Jack Keelan celebrates his state cross country win after schoolmates put a Saint Ignatius flag over his shoulders. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The 2012 Illinois High School Association 3A cross country champion Jack Keelan admitted afterwards that he had been very, very nervous before the race.  And it had been a while, I think, since a race had made him nervous—not even the state track meet back in May.

That admission wouldn’t be a big surprise to those who spent any time with him on Saturday while he and teammate Chris Korabik huddled in our Saint Ignatius school van, parked on Bus Drive at Detweiller right by the finish line at the IHSA state cross country championships.  We had made a concerted effort to keep the bus empty.  Only Patrick Santino, our co-captain from last year, one of Keelan’s best friends, and now a runner at Miami of Ohio, got an extended stay.  Other teammates–more than 40 Ignatius boy and girl runners had made the trip to Peoria–were told by their coach pretty directly that they could poke their heads in to wish Keelan and Korabik luck, but then they should leave the bus.

The nervous Keelan wasn’t a great conversationalist at that point, anyway.

Both Keelan and his coach thought he was ready.   His workouts all season have been right on target.  He completed a six-week session of phase III workouts at the end of October.  On Mondays the workout was basically at race pace—1000s in 3:00 or 800s in 2:22 with a few minutes of rest, sometimes on the grass, sometimes on the track.  Wednesdays was a tempo workout, often 5 x a mile, sometimes on the lakefront path, sometimes on the grass at 41st Street beach, with a minute rest.  Saturday races in September and October were really a third workout, and then Sunday was a long run—12 miles or so.  With some easy running on the other days, his mileage total amounted to around 60 miles a week.  He had never pushed too hard in the workouts, just running the pace.  Races were the same way.  He had run comfortably for the most part, losing only to Grant Nykaza of Beecher at the Palatine Invitational in September in a closing sprint.  In mid-October Keelan had tested himself a little bit at the Chicago Catholic League conference meet, where he had set a new course record of 14:29 running by himself at Turtlehead Lake.  Scott Milling of York had pushed him a little bit at the Niles West Sectional, where he ran 14:45 on a soft track.

Keelan wanted to win the individual state title, but he also wanted to run a fast time.  As it turned out, he had to run fast to win.

On Friday afternoon at the course, Mike Newman of Illinois Prep Harrier and Dyestat.com had told me that he was predicting a winning time of about 14:20—and it was a reasonable prediction.  Last year Garret Sweatt, Leland Later, Malachy Schrobilgen, Erik Peterson, Todd Ford, and Jereme Atchison had posted Detweiller times of better than 14:27 in September and then only Later was able to go faster to run 14:17 and win the 3A state meet.  No one had matched those fast times this year.  Keelan had run only 14:35 winning the First to the Finish meet in September.

On Friday Keelan was still talking about running 14:00.

To think you can go from 14:35 in September down to 14:00 in November–even on a fast day at Detweiller–requires some serious belief.  Keelan hadn’t even nibbled at it with a 14:20 along the way.

I suspect this was partly why Keelan was nervous.  He believed he was ready, but he didn’t know absolutely for sure that when he reached down for what he needed that it would be there.  He hadn’t run a race like that since last June.

Keelan said later that he had had one small moment in his head while he waited before the race where he had said, “Well, if it doesn’t go well today I still have NXN and Footlocker.”  But then he kind of gave himself a big shake and said, “No, this is the state meet!”  It was the race he really wanted to win.

Just before the start, one of his Ignatius teammates put his own special mark on the day.  York brought the school band.  Junior Mickey Smith had brought his bagpipes, and he began to play them five minutes before the race started.

Keelan’s plan was to start in the pack, but then go early at the mile, before the triangle.  With O’Fallon’s Alex Riba and York’s Scott Milling out in front of him a few steps after the 4:39 first mile, Keelan didn’t actually take the lead until they were into the triangle itself, and obviously Riba was there ready to go with him.

In the morning, back at breakfast at the Embassy Suites, I was eating with my family at the same time that the O’Fallon team and coaches were in the breakfast area.  While waiting in the waffle line, I had a quick hello and shook hands with Coach Jon Burnett as he passed by.  “Our guys are gunning for Jack,” he had told me.

What a courageous race Alex Riba ran.  As one of our captains, Tim Hatzopolous said later, Riba had already been second once.  He wasn’t going to just run for second place again.  He was running to win.

Keelan and Riba came out of the triangle together, with the others behind, and it was clearly a two man race.  They started up the hill and passed through the two mile in 9:23.  They were running fast.

Talking about the race later, Keelan said that Riba had put in a surge going across the top of the course after the turn around the tree.  Keelan had to fight a little bit to stay with him.  But then going down the hill along the highway, Keelan had picked up confidence.

Keelan and Alex Riba of O’Fallon ran stride for stride at the front of the race for a mile and a half before Keelan made a final move with 800 meters to go. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

I was actually at the bottom of the course at the turn just past the mile clock, with 800 meters to go.  They were still together.  I had a video camera out.  I caught them going by together and watched them stride away.   Then I looked back toward the mile clock to where the other runners were coming, looking for our second runner Chris Korabik, who had been running around 50th.  It must have been about 20 seconds that I took my eyes off the front of the race.

And then I looked back to Keelan and Riba, and Keelan had made his strong move and opened a gap that just kept getting bigger.  Keelan said later that he had started pushing a little bit, but that Riba had also started to fall off a little.

As I had imagined the race, it was going to take a double move by Keelan to win.  He would have to move after the mile in the triangle to make a selection.  But then he would have to run the last 800 to beat whoever came with him.

We knew from last spring that he could run that last 800 fast, like he did at the Arcadia Invite in April when he ran 8:55 for 3200 and closed in 2:05.  But there was maybe a small sliver of doubt after Nykaza had outrun him at the Palatine finish.  I did mention to Jack before the race Saturday that the finish at Palatine had been downhill.  It is a lot different, I suggested, to sprint that incline uphill to the finish at Detweiller.  If it came down to that, I told him, a sprint there would suit him a lot better.

Keelan was sprinting coming up the last incline, but the race was already in hand.  He built close to a ten second lead.  His teammates, it was reported to me later, were going crazy; there were reports of lost voices the next day.  Keelan’s father later admitted to thinking, don’t fall down.

He finished in 14:05–an evenly paced race with miles of 4:40, 4:43, and 4:42.   Our co-captain Ray Lewis said it was perfectly executed race plan.

Riba faded to fourth in 14:15 after his courageous effort, passed in the last 400 meters by Quentin Shaffer of Prospect (14:14), who took second, and teammate Patrick Perrier, third in 14:15.

So finally, even if he was a little bit nervous, when Keelan went into the tank to find what he needed, he found it.

Keelan had started the race nervous, but with a belief that he had that bigger race in him.  He really had been waiting all season for November and the chance to open it up all the way.

We’ve been planning for a final phase of the cross country season in November through December, with the state meet as the first big racing week of five.  We hope he has some more big races in him.

I don’t think he will be quite as nervous next week at the NXN Midwest race at Terra Haute.

After his teammates were first told at the Niles West sectional that they had qualified and then were told they had not qualified, the disappointed Jack Keelan said he had a new mission and a new reason to win at the state meet. It was the only way to make his teammates feel better. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

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Keelan wins

Jack Keelan takes a ten second lead down the final straightaway to win the IHSA 3A cross country championship at Detweiller Park on Saturday, November 3.

This picture by our assistant coach Steven Bugarin is worth more than a whole lot of words.

It is Sunday morning, and I’m still processing yesterday’s great day.

Blog post to follow at some point.  But for now, just the news:  Saint Ignatius senior co-captain Jack Keelan won the IHSA 3A cross country state individual championship yesterday.  His time of 14 minutes and 5 seconds was the tenth fastest time in state meet history.  Keelan becomes the second Ignatius runner to win the state meet, and his 14:05 sets a new school record, breaking the record of 14:24.3 set by Mike Patton in his 1980 state championship run.

Junior Chris Korabik also had a great day, running 15:08 for 57th place and almost a 30-second Detweiller personal best.

1980 IHSA cross country champion Mike Patton, Ignatius class of 1981, visited practice two weeks ago for a visit with the team–and this photo with Jack Keelan. Photo by Steven Bugarin.


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Boys don’t cry

The first results posted at the Niles West sectional, signed by an IHSA official, gave our Ignatius boys the fifth qualifying spot.

But Lane Tech’s results listed only six runners.  They found number seven, David Schmieg, in 44th place, using video review. Photos from CPSfan.com.













It was, in fact, too good to be true.

The results posted at around 3:15 after the IHSA Niles West sectional gave our Saint Ignatius boys cross country team the fifth and final qualifying spot for the state championship meet next week.  We had scored 183 points—a surprisingly high total to qualify.  York had dominated with five in the top fifteen to score 29, with Maine South scoring just 70 points for second place in a strong performance.  New Trier was third with 119, and Glenbard West fourth with 167.  We had beaten Lane Tech by three points—183 to 186.

We had known we might be in some trouble with a half mile to go in the race, but we also had hopes the race could still turn our way.  Standing at the far southeast corner of the Niles West sports campus, as far as you can get from the finish line in the stadium, I had scored us with 170+ points at that point.  It is a commonplace at the Niles West sectional that 150 points is a good standard to aim for when it comes to qualifying.   But there were a lot of teams in play, it seemed, for the final three qualifying spots, and I silently hoped that might inflate the score needed to qualify.

At that half mile to go mark, our senior co-captain Jack Keelan seemed to have the race in hand with an eight meter lead on Scott Milling from York.  We would score the number one.  Junior Chris Korabik was in 18th, just about right where we had hoped he would be.  Freshman Dan Santino was in 28th.  But he had beaten Korabik often during the season, and he had moved up from 36th at the half way point of the race; he seemed to be on the move.  Sophomore Andy Weber was in 44th, a bit back from where we had hoped.  Then it was a long way back to junior Taylor Dugas in 75th.   On the optimistic side, there were ten runners lined up just in front of Dugas if he could muster a strong finish.  On the darker side, Dugas had been up around 55th place at the halfway point in the race, so he was fading.

I had yelled at Santino and Weber that they needed to pass five more runners as they ran to the finish.  I told Dugas he needed ten more.  That would do it, I figured—close to 150.

We didn’t have a good finish, however, and our senior co-captain Tim Hatzopolous had unofficially scored us with 178 points as he watched the race on the finish line.   Keelan had won, Korabik was 21st, Santino 36th, Weber 43rd, and junior Patrick Manglano had passed a fading Dugas to finish around 80th as our fifth scoring runner.

In the crowd at the finish line, our boys were clearly discouraged.  We still had a chance, I told them, as I collected the chips from their shoes.  I sent them back to the field house to change out of their spikes and prepare for a cool down—and I told them to stick together.  They needed to support each other, and they needed to be together for whatever news was to come.  There was hope for us; all the scores might be high today.

But when they were gone, I had told a group of our parents at the finish area that now they could start praying for us.

At 3:15, the prayers, it seemed, had been answered.  A parent, Bill Santino, had caught a glimpse of the results as they were posted on the wall and delivered a thumbs up to us across the field house as he hurried to join us and celebrate.  We took team photographs in front of a phalanx of smiling parents.   Mike Patton, the IHSA cross country champion from Ignatius in 1980, jumped into the group for a few more photographs.  We talked to newspaper reporters.

As the good news sunk in, we made other observations.  This team would be only the third Ignatius team ever to qualify for the state meet—and Keelan, Korabik, and senior co-captain Tim Hatzoplous would be the first Ignatius runners ever to go to Peoria on two different teams.  They were all members of our 2010 qualifying team.

Our team had really come from nowhere in pre-season estimations to rise into the unofficial rankings of the state’s top teams; we were a big surprise.  Our boys had worked very hard over the last year, and now they were being rewarded.  We had not run our best this day, but our boys would have a chance to perform better the next week.  Watch out for us next week.

Along with winning our Chicago Catholic League conference meet, which we had done, it had been our goal for the season that the team would qualify and accompany Keelan in his campaign to win the state individual championship.

Our Saint Ignatius team was told we had qualified at 3:15.  And then at 3:45 we realized that we had not qualified.

A year ago at the Niles West sectional, there had been a debacle when race results had been posted prematurely before they had been reviewed and corrected by the IHSA officials.  A team, Maine South, had been told they had qualified for the state meet—only to be told later that a mistake had been made and they would not go to Peoria to run.  New procedures had been put in place, in fact, to prevent that kind of disappointment from happening again.  At the sectional meet the officials would be required to review a video of the finish, runner by runner, to verify the results from the chip timing system—just as they do at the state meet.

But at Niles West in 2012, apparently, the officials did not do a complete video review before posting the results, as they had been instructed to do.

As our celebration geared down and we started to look for the awards ceremony to begin, a buzz had begun to circulate that there was a mistake in the results that had been posted.  I was nearby, in fact, when a Niles West meet worker angrily tore the boys results off the wall, showing obvious frustration and concern.

Someone explained to me, I don’t even remember who it was, that a Lane Tech runner was missing from the results—their fourth or fifth runner.  A few minutes later Lane Tech coach Tony Jones and I had a quick and friendly conversation, and he confirmed that David Schmieg, who had finished close behind their 37th place runner Jonathan Vara, was missing from the results.

A quick calculation made it clear to us that Lane Tech would jump up in the standings when Schmieg was inserted into the scoring.  I called our boys together and gave them the bad news.   I don’t remember everything I said to them.  I do know that I began to recite the speech I would give to them individually several more times that afternoon:  Next year, we would be Maine South, who had faced this same kind of disappointment last year and who had come back this year as a possible trophy team.

The Niles West meet organizers brought me outside the field house to meet the IHSA official as he arrived by golf cart from the finish line, where he had reviewed the race video with the chip timing company representative.  Did I want to see the video, they asked me?  No, I told them, I understood what had happened.  As expected, the official confirmed that a video review of the finishers showed that the chip timing system had failed to record the finish of a Lane Tech runner, senior David Schmieg, in 44th place.  Inserting Schmieg into his rightful spot, the adjusted final scores read York 29, Maine South 70, New Trier 119, Lane Tech 165, Glenbard West 168, and Saint Ignatius sixth—and outside the last qualifying spot–with 184.

I did ask him whether they had reviewed the video before the first set of results had been posted, and I was told that they had looked at the video but only to look at the close finishes.  I did tell him that in the officials meeting I had attended last winter, it was made clear to us by IHSA administrator Ron McGraw that a full review of the finish was required at the sectional before approving and posting results.  It wasn’t clear to me that this official understood that.

I spent the next fifteen minutes circulating among our boys and their parents—and a few coaches who wanted to know what had happened.  Although I was standing nearby, I missed the awards ceremony which gave Jack Keelan his first place medal.  I was one of the last to get the news—a small silver lining—that with the adjusted results Chris Korabik had won one of the seven individual qualifier spots for Peoria with his 21st  place finish.

As the field house began to empty, some of our boys, including Keelan, were among the last to leave.  We had a conversation together where I told him that, for better or worse, he had new pressure on his back for the state meet next week.  There would be only one thing that could happen to make his teammates feel better.

Yes, Keelan acknowledged, he had a  new mission.

With the field house almost empty, Mike Newman of Dyetrack.com and Illinois Prep Harrier asked me, with his tape recorder running, whether we would lodge a protest.  Of course not, I told him.  It was unfortunate that our boys had been told we had qualified when we had not.  But Lane Tech and Glenbard West had beaten our team on the cross country course to earn their qualifying spots.

The real ethical dilemma, I suggested, would have been how we all would have responded if the video review had not been available to find the Lane Tech runner.  I had been one of those last year calling for the IHSA to institute a back up procedure for chip timed finish lines after the problems at the Niles West sectional last year.  Last year there had not been any complete video review, and there are still questions about the final results of that meet.  The new system this year had not really worked properly because the officials had not done their complete video review the first time; incorrect results had been posted.  But the correct results had been posted in the end, and there was no doubt about the correct results.

Then I went outside to make a phone call to my wife, who had been celebrating the news I had texted her an hour before that we were all going to Peoria.

When I came back inside the field house, workers were ripping tape to pull up the mats covering the gym floor.  The field house was clear except for our team camp, where there was a lonely Gatorade cooler, a forlorn frisbee, an empty box, a few pieces of trash to be picked up, some extra team warm-ups I had brought along, and my own jacket and meet backpack.  I threw away the trash and packed the other stuff in the box, and then I dragged it all out to my car.

Later last night I got a text from Tim Keelan, Jack’s father, with some good news.  A big group of boys from the team were out bowling together, and they had plans to go for a team run at Waterfall Glen in the morning.  Yes, I texted him back in agreement, this was a good sign.

Coach Steven Bugarin, freshman Dan Santino, senior Jack Keelan, junior Patrick Manglano, sophomore Andy Weber, junior Chris Korabik, junior Taylor Dugas, senior Ray Lewis, and coach Ed Ernst celebrate–for a short while–our qualification for the IHSA state meet with 1980 IHSA state champion Mike Patton (front). Photo by Tim Keelan.


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Not racing to win is a funny feeling

At the Saint Ignatius IHSA 3A Regional meet at Washington Park on Saturday, October 20, we ran our “second seven” and rested our top five runners. Our team ran well, but not well enough to win. Our top five will run next week at the IHSA Sectional at Niles West High School. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

I did something as a coach yesterday that I once thought I would never do.

At the IHSA 3A regional meet in Washington Park, a meet that awards a big championship plaque and which puts a year on the team awards banner that hangs in our school gymnasium, we didn’t try to win the meet.

Meanwhile, our girls coach Matt Haffner, who in other years has made the decision that I made yesterday, had his girls run to win the girls side of the meet.  To be honest, however, he did not run all his top girls—just enough of them to win.  They got their big plaque, which will hang on a school wall, and they will get a 2012 pasted on their team banner under regional champions.

Our reasons for not running our best team at the regional are somewhat complicated.  But the simple answer is this one:  Giving our top runners a week off from competition seems like the best way to prepare them for the more important races ahead of us the next two weeks at the IHSA sectional and state meets.

We have not been happy with the way we have competed at those meets the last two years.  Two years ago, after winning the Chicago Catholic League championship with the best Saint Ignatius Boys team in many years, we won the regional the next week.  At the sectional qualifying race for the state meet, we did not run a good race.  We did, however, qualify as the fifth place team.  Our race at the state meet was mixed–some great, some not so great.  Last year, however, we had even bigger struggles.  We finished second in the CCL meet, and then, even though we were missing one of our top runners because of illness, we made what turned out to be a failed effort to win the regionals anyway.  Then, at the sectional, we fell flat.  Most notably, our top runner Jack Keelan, expected to run with the leaders at the state meet the next week, did not even qualify to run at the state meet.  It was his only subpar race of the season.

There were other circumstances that went into the decision, but it seemed logical that we should try a different approach.  We have a very good team this year, we believe, which can compete for a place in the top ten at the state meet in November.  We have a runner who will compete to win the state meet individual title.  We have much bigger fish to fry in the next two weeks ahead of us.

We decided to rest our top five runners, giving them a Friday workout instead of a Saturday race this week.   It is an approach other coaches use regularly—John O’Malley at Sandburg comes to mind, and York, if memory serves correctly, has done the same thing in the past (although York did not do so this year).  Some coaches use a modified approach, pulling a top runner, or two, or three from the regional lineup.  We did that, in fact, in 2010.  In 2010, we still used enough of our top runners to win the regional, however, and often the teams that rest their top runners still win their regionals because their teams are so deep.

Our team yesterday wasn’t deep enough to win without our top runners.  We finished fifth in the meet behind winner Lane Tech (who rested two seniors and still won), Northside, Leyden, and Whitney Young.  We were open with our team and other teams ahead of time about what we were doing.  Some parents on our team seemed a little bit nervous:  What if our team didn’t qualify for sectionals?  I assured them that we would.  Our second group of runners were not strong enough to win the regional, but they were good enough to compete with teams running their top boys.  And finally, only eight complete teams even ran in our regional, with seven qualifying.  We really had nothing to worry about.

Assuming that this decision results in a good performance at the sectional meet next week by our rested top runners, we did already realize one surprise bit of added value.  Our experience with the twelve man postseason roster has often been that the boys at the bottom of the list are happy to be on the roster—but not especially motivated anymore because they were not going to race again this season.  After we announced to the team that we would be resting our top five runners, the second seven all knew they would be running at the regional.  I don’t remember as much excitement and motivation from this group in the past compared to what we got from them this week during our training.  Younger runners got experience that they would not have gotten.  Seniors got to run in a postseason championship race—most for the first time.

And if our team qualifies for the state meet, these runners will know that they were part of the effort.

Our three top runners at the regional, in fact, set personal bests in the race.  Junior Patrick Manglano, who had established himself securely as our number six runner on the team with a big improvement at the CCL meet last week, ran 16 minutes and 42 seconds for the three miles in Washington Park to finish 14th overall and set a personal record by a little bit.  Senior Ray Lewis ran 16:49 for 16thand sophomore Brian Santino ran 16:54 for 17th, both setting personal bests by 20 seconds.  Lewis and Santino were also fighting each other for the number seven spot on the team—and the chance to run in the sectional meet.  Senior Matt Heffernan finished 21st in 17:10, another personal best, and senior Andrew Musur was our fifth place runner and final scorer in 26th place (17:20).

We were the host team at the meet.  Serving as emcee at the short awards ceremony after the race, it did feel a little bit funny to award the big regional championship plaque to the Lane Tech boys.  They are a respected rival whom we race often in track and with great seriousness in cross country, mainly at the end of the season like now, each year.   We didn’t put up a good fight at the regional–but we will race them and what amounts to probably six or seven more serious contenders for five qualifying spots to the state meet at the IHSA Niles West Sectional next Saturday, October 27 at 2:30 PM.

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Conference day dilemmas–and joys–in the rain at Turtlehead Lake

The fax stamp at the top dates a 2007 map of the Turtlehead Lake course, revised slightly in 2012 to extend the old 2.94 mile course to 3.0 miles.

It was the best day of a great season so far for our Saint Ignatius boys cross country team, but also a difficult day for runners, coaches, and fans at the Chicago Catholic League conference meet yesterday, run at Turtlehead Lake in Palos Heights.

Our varsity boys won, 35-53 over second place Loyola, which was the good news.  It was our second win in three years, after a drought of 12 years before that.  We placed four runners in the top seven, as senior Jack Keelan won the race in an amazing personal best time of 14 minutes and 29 seconds, with freshman Dan Santino third in another personal best of 15:27, junior Chris Korabik fourth in another personal best of 15:28, and sophomore Andy Weber seventh in a second best time ever of 15:46.

Keelan had stated his intention in our  strategy discussions during the week to go out hard and fast and to set a personal best time.  As we call that race plan, he wanted to “Prefontaine” this race.  He did just that, going through the mile in 4:39, reaching the two mile mark in 9:35, and then finishing strongly.  An email from Carl Sandburg High School’s coach John O’Malley after the meet confirmed what we had speculated on the course.  Andrew High School’s Matt Withrow held the old course record of 14:36 at an IHSA Regional race in 2002, the year Withrow finished second in the AA IHSA state championship meet .  [I had originally identified 2002 as the year Withrow won the state cross country championship and then came back to win the 1600 and 3200 at the state track meet; those achievements were 2003-4.   At practice, four days after posting this blog entry, my cross country boys informed me of my mistake!  I told them that next time they need to check my facts sooner.]   That course was measured as 2.94 miles.  Our similar course was laid out by our Saint Ignatius girls coach Matt Haffner, but with some adjustments he had lengthened it to 3.0 miles—which makes Keelan’s effort that much more impressive.

We had good performances by lots of other team members, including our freshman and sophomore team runners who both placed second behind Loyola Academy teams.  For all but our top 12 team members who will continue on in the Illinois High School Association state championship series meets, this was their last race of the season and many ran their best races of the season, as we had hoped.

A special highlight of the day was a visit to the meet by Tom Coyne, a member of the class of 1951 at Saint Ignatius and part of the Ignatius Sports Hall-of-Fame team that won Chicago Catholic League cross country championships in 1948, 1949, and 1950.  Coyne gave our boys a big congratulations after the race when he visited an already wet team in their tent—just before the really heavy rains began to fall.

Dark clouds seemed to threaten the meet all morning.

One particular dark cloud for our day:  Just after the two mile mark, I saw our number five runner, junior Taylor Dugas, take a funny step running around a flag.  He stumbled, limped, stumbled, and limped for 100 meters or so before continuing on.  He was 18th at the time.  We had the race well in hand.  Behind Dugas, our sixth runner Patrick Manglano was in 22nd.  We probably had the meet won with our strong performance up front.  After the meet, it turned out that Dugas, who had sprained his left ankle two weeks ago, had turned his good right ankle.  Dugas courageously finished the race.  But his 21st place left him out of the medals and off the all-conference list.  (The bigger concern will be his recovery and his ability to run well in the coming weeks.)

There were other aspects of the day that were stressful—including the weather.  The forecast predicted the rains would come around 11:00 AM.  We had set up a meet schedule which would end the day early—but not before 11.  Turtlehead is a course that allows two races on the course at the same time, and we took advantage of that, bumping our time schedule wherever we could so that we could finish before the rain.  Our last race actually went off around 10:30—but the rain had already started and the downpour came as the boys open race went through the first mile mark.  Of course, our co-captain Tim Hatzopolous later insisted, the race, with some slipping and sliding in the mud, had been “a lot of fun.”  It helped, perhaps, that our boys held down 11 of the top 20 places in the race.

The rains did disrupt the post race plans for our important league awards ceremony.  In one of the torrential moments, I talked with Coach Dan Seeberg of Loyola who said other coaches wanted to forgo the awards ceremony and get out of the rain.  It seemed reasonable to me when I said I understood and agreed.  Later I regretted that decision a little bit.

We had had plans to honor the memory of former Ignatius coach Jim Connelly, who had died in September, with some thoughts and a moment of silence.  But cancelling the awards ceremony also meant that our Ignatius team did not get the recognition of having won the meet.

The problematic rain came on top of another stress at the time.  We had shared the course that day with the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference championship meet, something we had done the year before, as well.  Last year I had coached at the meet and also did the meet results for both meets.  This year I agreed, at the last minute, some details to follow, to do the computer work for the girls meet again, since we were sharing the site and I could help out Coach Haffner, meet director for the girls meet.  But I hadn’t planned on the rain.  Instead of doing the results with my team around me, I was huddled in my car trying to keep from dripping on my computer.  I got the results done, but it was difficult to do so and coordinate the chaotic team arrangements in the rain.  We didn’t even manage a team meeting after the race.  The boys who were left did manage a team photo without their coach when they got the news that we had won the meet.

What’s more, it was the end of a long and complicated week just getting the meet on the course.  Besides the stress of their importance, conference meets have other stresses for coaches—and our CCL meets have a particular set of their own.

In track, at invitational meets, coaches often have to work the meets, measuring for the shot put or long jump, for example; but in cross country, invitational meets are a lark for coaches.  The home team pretty much handles everything, and the stress falls on just those coaches running the meet.  We know about that since we host one; we are happy to return the favor to the coaches who host for us.

But at the conference meet, there really is no home team.  Often, one school or another is designated as the host for that particular year, but it is often an all-hands-on-board arrangement.  All the coaches have to chip in a little bit.

At our Chicago Catholic League meets, it is common for a coach and recruited volunteers to do the timing and computer work for the meet scoring and results.  If you are timing the meet and organizing the meet, it is hard to be a coach.

Conference meets also carry the burdens of history.  Sometimes the rivalries—and old grudges—remain fierce, so there are sometimes interpersonal challenges.   When there is work to be done, it is human nature to chip in; but it is also human nature, perhaps, to feel that others are not doing their share.  Of course, on the other hand, many coaches are good friends after having spent years running these meets together.   It is complicated to be colleagues and rivals—and stressful, I find.

And when there are problems, blurred lines of communication and authority at the conference meet can make things more complicated.

In the Chicago Catholic League, we have an arrangement in which the schools in the northern division of the conference handle the league meet one year, and then the southern schools handle it the next.  2012 was a year for the northern schools.  Early in the summer Dan Seeberg, the Loyola coach, communicated with some of the northern coaches and volunteered to organize the meet for us this year.  He wanted to host at his home Harms Woods course, where we have run before.  He has a skilled computer operator on his coaching staff, Dave Behof, who would handle the timing and results.  It would be an easy day for the rest of us.

But some confusion over permits at Harms Woods—and then at Schiller Woods, the back-up plan—resulted in a decision to join the GCAC for their meet at Turtlehead Lake.  Many of the CCL schools have girls teams as members of the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference, and some of those coaches coach both the boys and the girls teams.  Having the two meets in one place works great for them.  Saint Ignatius girls coach Matt Haffner had a permit and a race course laid out at Turtlehead Lake for Saturday morning, where Ignatius had been host for our “home” meet earlier in the fall.  Haffner and the GCAC helpfully offered to share their site and event with the CCL boys teams.

So we made new transportation arrangements and hammered out a new meet schedule–and Haffner ordered more port-a-potties.

If only someone could have made better arrangements about the weather.  It occurs to me that we have only had one meet that I can remember in the last ten years where we ran in that kind of rain.  At least there was no thunder and we were able to run all our races.

As it turned out, the girls teams waited out the heavy rains and then held an awards ceremony in a drizzle.  It wasn’t even that cold.

When the teams had cleared out, Haffner, girls’ assistant coach Erin Luby, and I picked up flags and cones on the course and loaded them into Haffner’s car.

The Southwest Suburban conference meet had been scheduled to run at Turtlehead after us in the afternoon.  It was interesting to watch another group of coaches go through their own discussions—and possible disagreements—as they decided to reschedule the meet for Tuesday afternoon.  Buses pulled into the Turtlehead parking lot and then headed back out, one after another.

Only Thornton High School’s coach Vince McAuliffe unloaded his runners and sent them off around the course for a practice run.

It was McAuliffe who gave me the first information about possible course record holders.  What had Lukas Verzbicas of Sandburg run, he wondered.  And then Matt Withrow, of course.

Back home a couple hours later I finished the GCAC results, mailed them off to Haffner and Mike Newman of Illinois Prep Harrier and Dyetrack.com, and emailed John O’Malley, Verzbicas’s coach at Sandburg.

A fun email came back quickly—with congratulations for our team win that day.  O’Malley had already started looking at results.  Verzbicas had only run a time trial at Turtlehead during his three-year high school career, running 14:56.  But O’Malley had a list ready of the top Turtlehead times:

Matt Withrow  Andrew 14:36 2002
Dan Glaz  Stagg  14:42 2000
Dan Haut  Lockport 14:42 2000
Zac Sartori  Lockport 14:56 1999
Tim Moran  Andrew 14:58 1997
Jeremy Borling Sandburg 15:02 1997
Kyle Saginus  Lockport 15:05 2003
Marty Carr  Andrew 15:06 1999
Kyle Leonard  Lincoln-Way 15:07 1994
Jason VonSwol Lincoln-Way 15:08 1997

“Congrats on Jack and the rest of the crew today! That is flying. You guys are having a great season,” O’Malley wrote.

At the end of a long hard day, it was great to read those words and agree.  It was good to remember that when we run these races we are connected to the coaches who coached and the boys who ran these races many, many years ago.  Those coaches had to time their own meets, too, and they had to coach in the rain.

And finally, when you win a conference championship, it has to be a great day, and it has been a great season.

Now we hope it gets even better as we enter the IHSA state series post-season.

Of course, that reminds me, we are the host team for the regional meet next week.  We will pray for sunshine.

The Saint Ignatius Wolfpack boys cross country team won the 2012 CCL varsity championship on Saturday.

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