2016 ZBXC Season
For the first time in exactly forty years, Collin Luell represented the proud ZeeBees as a qualifier for the State Finals in Peoria. Only the second man to achieve this feat, he rounded off a stellar season with a solid race at Detweiller. With his team and dozens of fans surrounding him, Collin made history this weekend!
As the Varsity proudly pushed him forward, Collin strode through a roaring sendoff of staff, students, and the ZBTHS band on Friday morning. On the four-hour drive, the music blared and the runners relaxed as the team and coaches rolled downstate. The sunny warmth, atypical for the first weekend in November, contributed to the celebratory atmosphere and kept the spirits soaring. By early afternoon the bluffs of Detweiller came into view, resplendent in warm hues of orange and yellow, welcoming us to the pinnacle 2016 Cross Country of the season. While the runners jogged the course, the coaches attended the final meeting and picked up the bibs. While there was rain during the week, the course was in fantastic condition with few muddy spots and pretty solid corners--much better than our September experience on this course! With the starting and finishing strides, Collin and his teammates looked sharp and tall. There was no further preparation necessary. He was ready.
That night we talked racing strategy and enjoyed a fabulous Italian meal in nearby Morton. The team thoughtfully presented Collin with their words of encouragement and racing tips while we relaxed and talked about the upcoming race. We spoke of the monumental occasion that was upon us, and that there was no pressure--just opportunity. He has made it farther than any runner in that past forty years from our program, and we shared the thoughtful words of encouragement from the single preceding State Qualifier, Jimmy Wolfe, who placed 27th in 1976 on the same course. The hotel buzzed with excitement, and this carried over to our waffle breakfast the next morning as we relaxed and checked out. Saturday's temperatures pushed into the 60s and the crisp morning air warmed up comfortably as we drove to Detweiller and parked amid the crowded thoroughfares.
The excitement of the day was palpable, the energy invigorating and pulsing with the excitement of hundreds of fans and runners crowding the course. We watched the AA men's race, in which the two Grayslake brothers took #1 and 2, and linked up with the carloads of runners and parents who made the trek to see Collin compete. Following a light warm-up on the trails, Collin carefully pinned on his bibs and headed the line after the AAA women had finished. With a quick check-in and robust dynamic routine, he completed a few crisp strides. The team joined on the field for our breakdown, each sending powerful messages of encouragement and strength. Collin grinned as he considered his intended start and racing strategy, and when the whistle blew he was the picture of complete confidence in box #6 with two other individual qualifiers.
The gun fired and the field surged forward! Collin had a great start in the first 400m with the field crushing leftward at the first pin, but he still found himself boxed on the turns. He opened up on the Bus Row hill in great form, and hit the top of hill in a better position, settling well into the second pack, holding into the mile around the 32-35th position and logging 4:41, just one second off of his PR! He sprinted around the tight creek crossing and into the back field toward the halfway point holding firmly onto his position, and exited back onto the main field in the same position. At the two mile mark he crossed at 9:51, logging a second mile split of 5:10. He would later report that it was at this point that he started to tire, but he did not look it at all as he rolled into the final mile.
It was in the final 1000m that the pack around him kicked and he was suddenly enveloped with runners from behind him. Collin dug in and held on, maintaining a steady pace to the final 400m mark, then launching everything he had into his uphill finish. It was a mad charge into the finish for the field, but Collin pushed with an excellent kick and surged in with a large crowd of competitors, the clock results initially registering 15:11.1 and later correcting on final results to 15:12. He matched his PR, finishing his third mile with a 5:20 split, earning 67th place out of a field of the top 210 runners in the state! This top third finish and his effort made for a great race!
It is easy to replay races and critique the opportunities taken and missed, to reconsider footwork or form--but that has no place here at the end of the 2016 XC season. The great race that Collin ran this weekend was a gifted opportunity earned through an exceptional season and one that carried both him and his team farther than anyone in recent memory could recall or have predicted. His team celebrates with feelings of jubilation at his feat, and proud recognition. A good athlete will always plan for the next race, and I could see the wheels turning in Collin's mind as he planned for next year's State and the exciting road that will take us here again next year. This year Collin achieved what thousands of competitors this year could not, and he has made us so very, very proud.
Thank you fans, runners, esteemed colleagues and alumni--you all made this the most exciting weekend of the season. And most importantly...Congratulations Collin!
History was made this weekend as the Varsity Bees raced in the Sectionals competition against a field of the 140 fastest runners in this area of the state. We felt a distinct advantage going into the competition on the soggy trails of Waukegan Sports Park, having both raced and trained on the course, and also for the fact that it is mere minutes away from our campus. With a busload of fans and racers, and with a tremendous race day that hovered at 60 degrees, this team was set. The men seized their moment and raced for our best--ever--Sectional finish. Collin Luell, our reigning junior, became the first Zee Bee man in 40 years to earn a ticket to the State Championships!
After two consecutive weekends racing at Adler Park on the hills, Waukegan offered a respite from the steep trails but traded for soft, wet turf and narrow trails. After training there Tuesday, the team noted areas where they felt strong and together developed a strong collective racing strategy. We planned to get out hard in the first mile going into the trails, and work on the second half downhill switchbacks where most runners would conservatively hold their positions. We have worked hard on our finishing kicks, and I was confident in their strength in working into the chute. Coaching their great work ethic and seeing their evolution as a pack these past months led to two simple truths: they were at their peak, and they were ready to compete today.
Surrounded by fans and ZB alumni, the pack of seven took the line in box #2, far to the left and in a precarious position with a route pockmarked with water-filled holes and subjected to a leftward crushing field that needed to make the first turn farther down. A final breakdown and a few final words set us up and we watched the clock count down to race time. With a long whistle and a gunshot, the pack launched forward. They got out just as they had planned, in great position going around the baseball fields and were racing strong on the soccer field straightaway. 800m in there was no clear leader, but Michael, Nate, and Collin had surged to the front and were racing tall. Freddy and Josh were giving themselves a little space for better footwork and looked great. Jason was our seventh man and was holding strong with the fast pack! Going into the trails, the Bees were in perfect positions.
The race predictably and quickly strung out as it entered the trails. Collin firmly latched onto the pack of three Lake Zurich runners that he has trained against all year, with several other runners working right behind him. Michael was leading Nate by a slim margin, and Freddy was running close behind. Past the mile mark, Jason was only three positions behind Joseph and had just run his lifetime PR mile! As the race wound up the hill to the halfway point, I ran to the north side of the hill to catch their switchback descent. Collin was firmly in fifth place and rolling in perfect form, with a fifteen meter lead on his nearest competitor. Michael was still in our second position, assertively leading a pack of ten racers in their downhill charge. Nate was just fifteen seconds behind and running tall, with Josh showing great gains on his second mile too. Joseph and Jason were still extremely close and fighting hard. With 800m left Collin was firmly holding on at fifth.
As the lead racers surged out of the trail and into the final 300m to the finish, each man dug in hard on the soft turf and tried to kick. The spongy terrain had definitely taken its toll, as the final strides were tired--Collin rounded into the final 150m still in fifth, but with a pack of six others kicking with all their strength and cutting the distance betwen. In the final steps the pack caught up and they sprinted over the mats together, each throwing their chests forward at the finish for their bib chips to register. Collin took 11th place at 15:18, being narrowly beat by a margin of less than one second by five of the runners who all placed between 15:17 and 15:18. While this missed a guaranteed medal for the top ten, it earned him an individual qualification for State! He was the sixth of seven individual qualifiers! This is only the second time in ZB history that a Cross Country runner has earned this distinction! James Wolfe was recently discovered to have been the first and only man to earn a place in the State Finals, running strong in the 1976 season--forty years ago!
Nate had a great final 800m race, and he surged in at 66th place for 16:14. His finishing kick passed Michael and a great many competitors in the final stretch. Michael raced in as our third finisher at 16:23 to finish a great race with Freddy right on his heels! Frederick ran 16:24 and was three spots behind Michael, and his finish held off a half dozen more. Josh dug in hard for his final kick, and with strength crossed the line amid a large group for a lifetime PR 16:49! Joseph was next at 17:20 that beat three other racers by a second, and Jason kicked hard to finish at 17:52--his lifetime PR! Jason had earned PRs in the mile and three-mile today, and beat his first sub-18 time set last week at Regionals! Congratulations, Varsity, on the best race I have ever seen the ZeeBees run!
The Varsity team placed 14th out of 18 full teams, their highestcurrently recorded placement in school history. They also were the first ZB team to qualify for Sectionals since 2013, and only the fourth team in the past ten years! Despite the conditions, they averaged 16:14, much better than the 16:25 average on this same course at Lake County! Two lifetime PRs and a State Qualification marked a truly historic racing day! This was the gutsiest, grittiest, and strongest race I have ever seen this pack run. If the season would have ended at this point we could have gone home very proud of the effort and manner of our competition, but something far greater was achieved.
Until today, the ZeeBees have been lucky to make Sectionals, and with this race usually ended their season. This team, however, has already forged a strong legacy of excellence, and with Collin's State opportunity has gone father than ever before. The strong running, camaraderie, and support of these runners has made this the most unique and powerful pack that I have ever had the honor to coach. To the parents and fans to the alumni who have followed and attended the races, we could not have achieved this success alone and are grateful for your support! I am extremely proud of this team and of this season. This great season continues next Saturday at Detweiller in Peoria as Collin races against the top 3A runners in the state! Until then, the team will continue to work together to ensure that he has the same preparedness and support that carried him to great success this weekend. He has incredible potential, incredible talent, and an incredible opportunity with a history yet to be written. Here we go!
ON TO STATE!
Coach's postscript: Our original research and information noted Collin as the first ZB runner to earn State qualification. Recent research and wonderful new information from Mr. Wolfe (noted within this article) have greatly contributed to our knowledge and school records, and place him as the first and only qualifier--he ran 14:43.7 at Detweiller, finishing 27th! A huge thank-you, and our team's congratulations, to Mr. Wolfe!
We returned for the third time this season and as a different team this weekend to Adler Park for the IHSA Regional competition. Last week's Conference race on his same course was a resounding success for the Varsity pack, and as the crowds receded and quiet again permeated the colorful fall surroundings, I took the Varsity to the starting line and asked them to return as different team the next week. It was a challenge to take their racing to even greater heights with the common goal of qualifying a team to Sectionals. On a chilly Saturday morning the men of ZBXC did just that!
The day started at 35° but it had risen to the mid 40s by the time the men warmed up. They were cold, but they were focused. All week we had worked cohesively on pack running and on hills, and I knew that each man had a renewed sense of focus. For in this race, only the top six of ten teams would advance, plus five individuals. We had not qualified a team since the 2013 season, and only pairs of individuals had made it to Sectionals in 2014 and 2015, with Collin and Michael being our only Sectionals veterans.
We were assigned box #10, at the far left of the line. This presented a wide approach to the first right turn, but at least it had no danger of getting stuck on the inside. From the gun, they got a good start but it took the first 600m to get to reasonable positions; headed down the trail in the woods Collin, Michael, and Nate were in the top dozen, with Freddy, Josh, and Joseph not far off. Jason had a good start too, and started picking up steam at this point to find his racing pace. At the mile mark Collin was battling with Libertyville's Tam and Waukegan's Garcia, with a good wide open margin between him and the fourth runner. At 1.5 miles Michael was racing in a pack of four as our second man, with Nate not thirty meters behind leading a pack of his own. Freddy was running strong but boxed in by a pack of HP racers, and Josh was our fifth man with a pack of Warren runners on his back. Joseph was racing close to Josh and in great form, and Jason was making meaningful advances but in a gap by himself.
Coming out of the second mile, Collin had fallen farther behind Tam and Garcia but he was still in touch. In the final 400m, though, he was overtaken by a second Libertyville and a Mundelein runner, and while he dug in hard he was out-kicked at the finish. He still had an excellent race (15:54) and earned a 5th place Regional medal, the first time we have ever had a runner achieve this! Nate had a great second half of the race and a very strong kick that sent him flying in as our second man in 24th place (16:29), and just behind him Michael and Freddy raced neck-and-neck into the chute, earning 16:37 and 16:38 and 27th/28th places respectively. Josh raced hard to finish as our fifth runner, 44th place at 17:06. Joseph was next at 17:44 to narrowly beat out a Round Lake and Deerfield duo in the final stretch, and Jason rounded off our pack with a 17:59 finish. It was a tight race, and I was incredibly anxious as I congratulated the runners and awaited the results.
The ZeeBees took fifth as a team, earning a team berth at Sectionals for the first time since 2013! In the process, Collin earned a medal (only 1st-5th places are awarded), and the pack averaged 16:33--a great improvement over last week's 16:47 on this course! We beat out Deerfield, Warren, Lake Forest, Round Lake, and Waukegan today, with Mundelein, Libertyville, Highland Park, and Stevenson placing ahead of us. From last week Nate dropped 26 seconds, Josh dropped 45 seconds, Frederick 14 seconds, and Joseph 19 seconds. To top it off, Jason not only ran 31 seconds faster, but he also earned a lifetime PR and the first sub-18 finish of his life! This moved Nate and Freddy up on the course record board, and Jason advanced too!
It truly was a great race day, and one that was exceptionally hard-fought. I am immensely proud of the sacrifices and investment that these men undertook to get to this point, and their willingness to take risks on this course. They continue to establish this season as one that is great--not just in their many achievements, but in the quality and composition of the team itself. We have a full week to retool and recover before we return for the second time this season to Waukegan Sports Park for Sectionals! Greatness is at hand, and there is no limit to what they can earn next week. Thank you to alumni, parents, and friends for you continued support!
Race Car 10.18.16
We rolled out to Willow Stream Park for the Race Car Rally, hosted by Buffalo Grove, on Tuesday this week. This annual Frosh-Soph event is always an exciting trip for our young runners, who look forward to the 2.0 mile course and the chance for a couple hours of bonding. We had a strong showing last year--Collin won the Sophomore race--and I was very excited for this year's pack to take the field.
The course was pretty soft in places, which made for a slow first 800. Mark and Brandon represented ZBXC in the Freshman race, and both went out in great form. It was a large pack, and both settled in mid-field positions. At the mile mark they had relaxed a little bit and were running with great form. Mark was at 7-flat and Brandon not far behind, and they worked exceptionally well going up the course's single, steep hill. I caught their final 400m finishes, and they were racing hard. Both passed several runners headed into the finishing stretch, a testament to the strength they have both gained over the course of the season. Mark rolled in in 105th, and Brandon about 25 seconds behind him in 124th. Unfortunately the course timers only scored the top 100 times, and we were not able to get their finishing times.
The sophomore race began mere minutes after the sophomores had finished, and we fielded six men here. This sophomore pack has been the most cohesive and one of the fastest that I have ever coached, and they showed their collective strength in this race. With strong goals in mind, they got out in great position in the first 800m. Avedis and Jason worked hard in the top 30, with Lance and Kevin pairing up and T-Bone just seconds behind them at the midway mile mark. Jack also joined us again this week, still fighting through his ankle pain to seize the racing opportunity. I was very pleased to see the entire pack rolling with the momentum of the race. Avedis and Jason sprinted hard to the finish, with Avedis (11:33) edging Jason by one second (11:34) to take 32nd and 33rd places! Kevin put on a final burst of speed to narrowly out-kick Lance; Kevin took 55th place with 12:00 and Lance 60th at 12:04. T-Bone came in 84th at 12:32, and Jack unleashed his signature kick for 115th place--and unfortunately again there was no time for him. The Sophomore pack took 8th out of 12 full teams in this race and each of these men beat their times from last year!
It was a good course and great level of competition, but I take responsibility for not getting the times of three of our runners. The disconnect on this end should not in any way discredit the hard work these men put into their races--their final races of the season. These men are the future of our pack, and their investment is just beginning to pay off!
The Bees returned Saturday to Adler Park in Libertyville for the NSC Conference meet. Because of the split in the conference this year we faced only seven other teams, but this race was one that the Bees brought a renewed focus and energy in their competition. The morning was cool and slightly misty--perfect racing conditions. This presented a stark contrast to the 100+° heat last time we were here on 9/6, and the men were ready for another crack at the course. The Varsity ran first, with the JV and then F/S races following.
We were able to run ten runners in Varsity, and thus welcomed Avedis, Lance, and Kevin to the squad, which consisted of the same seven runners who competed as Varsity at Wheeling. I told the runners today that times didn't matter--not that a PR wasn't achievable, but that their focus on the hilly course should be placing against the other teams rather than personal achievement. I asked the men also to step far outside their comfort zone and to take risks. From the gun, it was evident that they were doing just that! Collin latched on with the top three LZ runners and his longtime Libertyville opponent, and ran the whole race in fourth place. Michael moved on the pack too, with Nate M. and Freddy sharing close proximity. Josh and Joseph shared the work too, followed by the sophomore pack. At the mile mark our team looked great, with Collin firmly in the top pack and Michael not far behind. Joseph was pushing himself really hard, and while Josh was in pain he was also running tall.
In the final uphill battle, Collin maintained his position well and had a very strong finish to fourth place, running a huge 15:45 time! Michael surged in with great strength as our second man for an All-Conference 16th place finish (16:28), with Freddy running a fantastic race and moving up to our third man at 29th place and 16:52! Nate M. had a tough second half but one could not tell from his fantastic kick that narrowly beat out a Libertyville runner by a split second into the chute for a respectable 16:56 time. Josh was next at 17:52 with a nice finish, and Joseph was just seconds away at 18:03 with a great second half race. Jason finished as our seventh man at 18:30, with Lance at 18:58, Avedis at 19:18, and Kevin at 20:05.
The JV men ran next, with Alex, Omar, and Chrisjon making up the small ZB pack. They were ready and hungry at the line, and they surveyed the large field of competitors with anticipation. From the gun, they showed their commitment to getting out hard and making the most of the race! Alex surged to the front, and at the 800m mark he was leading the race! While he fell back by the mile mark, his energy and risk-taking was inspiring. Chrisjon has been nursing a leg cramp for much of the week, but he let none of that show today, racing hard and moving up really well in his second and third miles, overtaking Alex and moving forward on every corner. Omar had the best start I have seen him ever throw down, and he showed great form on the uphill portions. Chrisjon rocked into the finish at 18:51, running perhaps the hardest race of his season, and also his second-fastest time this year on a very challenging course! Alex followed at 20:52, beating a trio of Warren runners in the final stretch with a move that brought cheers from the crowd around the finish. Omar raced in at 30:24 with a great uphill finish!
The F/S men ran last, a departure from the norm this season. Brandon, Andrew, Jack, and T-Bone made up the pack today, and they were fueled by watching to solid men's races already run. From the gun, they also went out in great form and threw all caution to the wind. T-Bone rolled hard in the first mile, with Jack and Brandon close behind. Jack appeared to be in pain from an ankle he sprained two weeks ago, but he kept on with fierce determination. Andrew was racing tall too, and working well in the woods. From the final loop, T-Bone had a very good kick into the finish for 19:37, running a very strong race. Brandon advanced in the second half of the race to be our second man, running 20:32 and passing a Stevenson runner in the final yards. Jack and Andrew rolled up the hill nearly together, with Jack sprinting in for 22:42 and a split-second victory over a Stevenson competitor, and Andrew similarly beating a Libertyville runner at 22:54. Well done men!
The Varsity took 5th out of the eight teams, averaging 16:47. Both Collin and Michael earned Conference medals! This is a repeat achievement for both as well, with both men placing at 2015 Conference too (9th & 28th places). For our team this is our highest--ever--placement at Conference, and it was earned on a tough course. Collin's fourth place finish is also the single highest placement in ZBXC history, with our previous best being 7th place in both 2012 and 2013. We also had four men make it into the Top 10 ZBXC records for this course: Collin topped Ntim's record 15:52 by a large margin, with Michael taking 4th, Freddy 8th, and Nate 10th! Lance and Jason put themselves on the Top 10 Sophomore board too! The 16:47 average is the fastest top 5 average our Varsity has ever run here, beating 2012's 16:55! Well done!
The focus of our training this next week is on solidifying this pack. We had a substantial, 14-man gap between our 4th and 5th runner, and this crucial scoring gap is where we need to tighten up. We will train hard to return to this course next weekend for a new race and with a brand new perspective too. With experience comes wisdom, and I believe this ever-evolving team is capable of making great progress. Our goal for the week is intentional training in all areas--running, recovery, stretching, sleep, and nutrition--and to emerge with strength on Saturday morning as we work to send a team to Sectionals. Conference was a good racing day for the team, but the advancing Bees are far from finished!
Wheeling invite 10.8.16
We traveled back to Heritage Park at for the Wheeling Invitational on Saturday. This is the second year that the course has been back at this course after its years of renovation, and last year the team did not have the most pleasant or productive experience there...but much to their credit they wrote a new history in their races this time around! I am very proud to share that they conquered the hills and competed in great form over the challenging three mile course.
We arrived quite early and did not run in the short F/S races, so the Varsity race was our first competition of the day. Jason joined the Varsity pack to replace Nate T., who is still out on the injured list. Jason really rose to the challenge, and from the gun he was off with the rest of the Varsity. In the mass of surging runners we could see a runner go down, and pop back up again--we would later find that it was Joseph who was tripped. Much to his credit, he was right back up and back in the race. Collin, Nate, and Michael worked toward the very front of the field, all runners holding in the top twenty at the mile mark. Freddy was in the top forty, with Josh, Joseph, and not far behind.
Collin and Nate moved hard to the top ten by the race's midpoint, with Collin following Libertyville's Tamm by a very narrow margin, with the top three LZ runners completely dominating the race and Barrington's Laning rolling right in the mix. In the last mile Jason moved ahead of Joseph, with all the runners making nice work of the exhausting hills. Collin held right in position to take sixth place and a medal, running 15:34! Michael worked hard to finish with great strength, locking in our second position and a medal in 18th place (16:17). Nate M. had a great final 800m kick that landed him a medal and 24th overall finish (16:26). Freddy launched his signature beast finish too, running a fantastic 16:46. Our next man was Josh at 17:13, followed by Jason in his varsity debut at 18:10, and Joseph at 18:25. We placed 6th/15 teams with a 16:27 average--blowing away last year's 13th place/17:26 finish!
Fresh off of this great race, the Varsity team spread out and encouraged the JV/FS runners as they ran in the Open race. I was very excited to see these young men ready at the line, preparing to conquer the challenging course rather than shrink from it. Our sophomores lunged out hard at the gun, with Lance , Kevin, and Avedis taking a commanding role; Zack had a great start as well. At the halfway point Lance had moved up in the top 40, with Avedis and Kevin not far behind. Alex and T-Bone locked in good middle positions, with Brandon and Andrew also making some positive gains on the hills. Lance finished as the first ZeeBee into the chute, running a nice race at 18:26 in 46th place. Avedis was not far behind at 18:34 for a fine finish, and T-Bone made a great second-half gain to finish as our third man at 19:03. Alex finished next at 19:30, followed by Kevin at 19:47. Brandon had a fine kick that beat three runners right in the finishing stretch for 20:10, with Zack just behind him at 20:18. Andrew rounded off the pack at 21:37.
It was a great racing day for the Bees. Each runner worked exceptionally hard today, doing exactly what I had asked going into the race: work hard and compete against the competition. They did just that, and looked better than ever on the hills. This is great training for the pair of upcoming races at Libertyville (Conference and Regional) in the next two weeks. This team rewrote the team's history on this course and I could not be more proud of them. I have high hopes for the upcoming race weeks with the skills and dedication this team continues to show in every new environment and in the face of every new challenge.
Home v. LF 10.4.16
Shouts of success echoed across the lush, emerald parkland as the ZeeBees dominated Lake Forest on Tuesday afternoon. Squaring off for the final time at the home course at Shiloh, the Bees brought enthusiasm and determination that saw them triumph despite the spongy terrain, wet from four days of rainfall. In this solid team effort both the men and women triumphed over the Scouts, bringing their dual meet season to a successful conclusion.
After setting up, the men were the first to the line at 4:45--they looked very prepared and displayed nothing but relaxed posture as they warmed up and toed the line next to the substantially-larger Lake Forest team. From the gun they went out in great form and set on running a pack race. In true form, Collin took the lead in the opening 400m and never relinquished hold. Michael and Nate M. locked in the second and third places, with LF's Najman running fourth, followed by Frederick, Joseph, and Josh. Jason and Avedis locked in the lead on the Sophomore Five, with Chrisjon and Alex running tall right up in the mix. Lake Forest had a number of small packs breaking up the maroon field, but the men were running in great form as they crossed the road and headed toward the mile mark.
I was able to see them again as they rounded Goose Alley and sped past the pool and back into the woods. The terrain along the pond was a soggy consistency, and the woods were muddy, but the men were still able to hold fairly consistent paces. Collin flew, still solo at the front, through the second mile mark at 10:20, evenly pacing at 5:10/mile. Michael and Nate were stride-for-stride racing hard about fifteen seconds behind him, with the top LF runner still holding down the fourth position. Freddy was holding still a dozen yards behind him, and Joshua had advanced ahead of Joseph. Chrisjon and Jason were now leading the younger pack, which had strung out but looked good. Darnell and Daniel had made visible advances too, with Andrew racing at a faster pace than I have ever seen him hold!
Our runners finished just as consistently as they had run the first two miles. Collin led right into the chute for a 15:34 finish. This puts him still firmly at #2 on the Top Ten board, and just three seconds off of Ntim's 15:31 course record--and Collin just ran it in wet conditions that slowed the entire field. Nate and Michael surged in together, with Nate barely overtaking Michael in the final steps--they took second and third places at 16:01 and 16:02. Lake Forest's Najman was fourth, and then Frederick and Josh hammered home for fifth and sixth, running 16:28 and 16:59. A trio of LF runners finished next, with Joseph locking in tenth place at 18 flat. Jason ran hard to finish as our seventh man at 18:19, earning himself a Varsity spot this upcoming weekend!
Chrisjon earned a nice Season Best, finishing just behind Jason at 18:24, leading a nice maroon pack who all had fabulous kicks. Avedis was next at 18:37, followed by Kevin at 18:46 and Lance a half step behind at 18:47; Mark was just one place behind them at 18:54 and a nice finishing kick. Daniel led the next pack in, pacing nicely at 19:27 and pulling in Jim (19:32, T-Bone (19:34), and Alex (19:43) right with him. Andrew was our next runner in at 20:44, dropping 1:11 to earn a huge PR! Brandon trailed not far behind at 21:20, and Darnell finished in great form, dropping nearly 50 seconds of time to earn his lifetime PR of 21:30! Omar was our final racer at 32:30, finishing through shin and toe pain with a nice kick into the chute.
The ZeeBee men won handily 17-39, while the ladies in the next race also won 25-34 in an equally-nice race. Teamwork won the day as the Bees kept their packs together. The Varsity 1-5 split was 85s, a nice spread, and then we had two distinct packs rolling in together. While we are not a large team, these athletes have a great sense of solidarity and this is scoring them points. This strategy will be particularly crucial this upcoming weekend as we race at Wheeling in our final invitational of the year. This home victory closes a significant chapter on the dual meet season, especially for the seniors who raced here for the final time. Frederick earned a place on the Top Ten board, locking in the 7th slot. Nate moved up to fifth and Michael to sixth, making 2016 a season where this board was completely shaken up! On the sophomore level, Jason, Avedis, and Kevin are in the Top Ten all-time records, with Lance missing it by only one second. Mark is now sixth overall in the freshman ranks--GREAT WORK BEES!
Stevenson Tri 9.27.16
The ZeeBees traveled to Half Day Forest Preserve for one of our last dual meets. We arrived just in time to briefly acquaint with the course on the warm-up, then took the line against Mundelein and host Stevenson. The Bees lined up in between the two larger teams, but despite the abbreviated warm-up and stretching period, they looked ready to compete on the flat course on the mild afternoon. It has been two years since we last ran here, and we hoped today to create a more positive experience. I was glad to see the men still feeling excited from their huge weekend!
From the gun, the pack went out racing hard. Collin surged to the lead with his same resolute determination, and he would never let go for the entire race. The Bees went into the woods and toward the mile in solid form, with a sea of competitors clogging up the trails and making passing difficult (it is not a spectator or coaching-friendly course either!). Just past the mile mark I caught back up to them, and saw Collin working hard in the lead with the rest of our Varsity in twos and threes behind, punctuated with a dozen competitors. Nate M. was running strong as our second man, with Michael not far off. Avedis was leading the JV/FS pack, with Jason, Lance, Mark, Kevin, Chrisjon, and T-Bone keeping up a strong pace in close proximity. Alex and Daniel were racing in good form, and I was pleased to see Darnell running with wider form than ever before. I worked back down the trail and caught them as they finished the final loop out in the swamp and came toward the finish line.
Collin has been developing his finishing kick, and it really shone through today. He passed me in the high 14:00s and I excitedly counted down the seconds as he won the race in strong form and BROKE HIS OWN SCHOOL RECORD with a fantastic 15:11 PR finish! Nate M. had a great kick and beat Mundelein's third runner to take fifth overall with a great 15:42 finishing time, and Michael wasn't far behind with a great kick and 16:09 time that beat Stevenson's fourth man in the final stretch. Freddy ran a great race and finished as our fourth man at 16:27. Joshua was our fifth at 17:00, with Joseph and Nate finishing side-by-side at 17:26 and 17:27 respectively. Nate was suffering greatly from a tight calf muscle, and once through the chute he collapsed.
Avedis ran a huge race today. He assertively worked the trails and finished to lead our JV/FS pack with a PR 18:03, beating his Peoria time by 23s! Jason raced for a PR as well finish at 18:09, beating his Lake County time though just narrowly getting edged out at the line by a Mundelein runner. Kevin kicked in as our third JV runner at 18:29, with a huge PR that broke his 19:13 time from Blue Devil! Lance was just behind him at 18:33, T-Bone at 18:44, and Chrisjon earning a season best 18:53. Mark had a great finish at 19:12 the just passed a Mundelein runner, and behind him Daniel and Alex raced in with excellent kicks. Daniel ran 19:17 with a 1s PR, and Alex 19:21 for a season best! Brandon was next at 20:51 and Darnell continued his impressive race with a 22:31. Andrew worked hard for 23:07 as our final man.
There were several standout achievements today. Collin breaking his own record was a wonderful event, a true testament to his unrelenting work ethic and drive to run at the top of each race. I was very glad to see Nate M. repeat a sub-16 race and work toward the front of the race pack with great determination. The PRs of the younger pack are also a great mark of progress, as they are quickly making gains closer to the Varsity level through their excellent team pacing and with the way they push each other. We did not, however, beat either Mundelein or Stevenson. We will need to get all of our Varsity runners closer to the top of the race, and closer together, to get these points. But as we move into our final dual meet on Tuesday, and toward the state series later this month, I am confident that each learning experience will push these men to race better and smarter, for that is exactly how they have evolved all season long. We race again at Home on Tuesday, and I cannot wait for this great final opportunity for this team to race to their fullest!
JT Invite (Grant) 9.24.16
This weekend we traveled to Camp Henry Horner in Ingleside, Grant's home course, for the JT Invite. The weather stayed cool and cloudy, providing a near-perfect racing atmosphere with a light breeze from the north. Many of our runners approached this trial with varying degrees of trepidation owing to the hills and our past performances on this course, so I had worked with them this week to set goals and focus on how our team can compete together over the terrain. Upon our arrival we were greeted with the news the the course had changed to basically run in reverse and in three short loops--this eliminated a tough uphill and distant trail, and this news was greeted with palpable excitement by the runners! Over the course of the day this team would not only embrace the conditions, but compete and earn a first place Varsity victory!
The Frosh/Soph pack ran the first of the men's races. Though we had two men not racing due to attendance issues this week, the large F/S pack got out in great form and hit the turn perfectly. 400m in I was very pleased to see that there was no sense of complacency at all. Avedis rolled to the front, leaping a boulder on a corner to take an early lead, which he would hold nearly to the mile mark. The men were competing well together, with a large maroon group making meaningful gains at the halfway point. At this point Jason surged out to overtake Avedis, who had fallen back a dozen or more places with over a mile left. Jack was back racing after a long injury hiatus, and he looked good. Armoni had a cramped calf with just over a mile in, and he gamely worked through it despite the pain. On the finishing lap Jason was still leading our pack, and he rolled in to the chute for a great 14th place finish (18:51). Lance led the maroon pack not far behind with a 19:18 finish, with Avedis (19:26), Mark (19:32), and T-Bone (19:56) not far behind and all placing in the top 40. Jack had a vicious stride for a 20:48 finish and Season PR, just barely ahead of Brandon (21:01). Armoni was our final man into the chute, still competing despite the pained stride. Despite this, he earned a lifetime PR 25:28, beating his time from Lake County by 1:19! The F/S pack placed 4th out of 14 teams, averaging 19:24. It was a gutsy performance on this course, and their hard work is just starting to pay off this season!
The Varsity took the line in the next men's race. They asked to wear the yellow Varsity uniforms, and I agreed with them that this was an ideal race for this honor. The contract of wearing these uniforms is that the pack needs to take their racing to a higher level--and they agreed that after Blue Devil this pack had found its focus and would continue to move forward. When they took the line, I knew with great pride that they meant every word.
The entire pack went out with strength and determination. At 400m Collin had taken the lead of the race with a pack of five surrounding him, with Nate M. and Michael just behind. Freddy was working right up to Michael, with Nate T., Josh, and Joseph working well in the top half of the field as they worked uphill from the lake and toward the mile mark. As they emerged on the other side, Collin continued to lead, with Nate M. following with a 10m gap between him and the lead runners. Michael was working up too, and Frederick had a great stride against a trio of much taller competitors. At two miles, Collin had fallen to second behind Becker of Crystal Lake, who had taken a substantial lead; Collin, though, had broken away from the top pack and was leading them by a healthy margin. Nate M. had increased his speed too, passing Michael, who was rolling well in 10th place! Josh had put some distance on Joseph, who had also passed Nate T., who was returning from his injury absence but was still racing hard despite his sore calf. Our entire pack was racing in the top 20% of the field with 800m to go, and each man was competing with incomparable strength.
Collin dug hard for a great sprint, a stride that he has been honing for the past couple of weeks. He surged into the finish at 16:08 to take 2nd place. I was nervously counting on my fingers as Nate M. ripped past a Johnsburg and Richmond runner in the final 150 to cinch 4th (16:25), with Michael sprinting in for a fantastic 10th place finish (16:44) with two runners finishing merely a second behind him. Frederick fought hard (and nearly hit a pole on the way in) for his 19th place medal (17:21), putting four of our runners in the top 20--I looked up and saw Josh drop his arms and begin his signature kick in the final straightaway for 33rd place (18:00)! Joseph was just ten seconds behind with a great finish (18:10) and Nate matched him stride-for-stride until the final steps for 18:16 and as the final man in our pack.
It was a very well-run race. The initiative and grit shown on the course and the Bees' competitive energy shone through in every way--and I nervously awaited the printed results at the cabin. When they were posted Coach Hughes and I quickly ran to see...and the ZeeBees had won! They took first place with 60 points and a top five average of 16:56, beating 2nd place Richmond Burton by a 13 point margin. Congratulations Varsity! This is the first recorded first place finish in any invite in the ZBXC history.
It was not yet time to celebrate, as our JV men took the line for the final race of the day. This pack was looking to capitalize on the energy and successes of the previous races, and at the gun they set about doing just that. Jim surged out to the front leading into the mile, following in the footsteps of Avedis and Collin in earlier races with gritty competence that again destroyed all possible sense of complacency in this race. Chrisjon, Alex, and Zack were racing strong in close proximity, with Darnell and Jonathan both running tall and in good form. By the halfway point Jim had fallen back to fifth but was racing with exceptional strength. Chrisjon moved up smartly too, leaving Alex and Zack to push each other. Darnell and Jon pushed hard on the uneven trails, showing nice strides on the corners. In the final loop Jim was still in 5th place, and he held this right into the chute for a ribbon and 19:23 finish! Chrisjon finished well in 14th place (20:07, a Season PR!), with Alex and Zack sprinting hard for consecutive 20:23 and 20:24 finishes! Jonathan and Darnell both had fantastic finishes at 22:26 and 22:36, putting the whole ZeeBee pack in the top two-thirds of the field. Great job Bees!
The F/S men narrowly missed out on a trophy, but Varsity proudly took the stand to win the meet and take home a large trophy! Collin, Nate, Michael, and Freddy all earned top 20 medals too. The pride they took in this achievement and the hard work, cohesion, and perseverance needed to get there speak to the quality of this pack. The collective success of this day is truly a team achievement, and I am so proud to see these young men working hard each day and then translating this investment into race day successes. It was a challenging course, but their mindset and preparedness helped them make today a memorable and significant day in ZBXC history. I cannot wait to see them continue this momentum as they square off with Mundelein and Stevenson this next week. Congratulations, men, and GREAT WORK!
Blue Devil Invite 9.17.16
It is with great pride and an even bigger smile that I share the results of yesterday's race day at Warren's Blue Devil Invite, just south of us in Gurnee. This day, simply put, was nothing short of historic.
Our runners eagerly anticipate Blue Devil each year. The course is flat and fast with three one-mile loops. The high level of competition is a great draw as well, and there are three levels for great XC competition. Though it rained a little bit overnight, the course maintained its integrity and lived up to the expectations of our runners. The buzz of excitement on the bus on the short ride to Gurnee was infectious, and the emerging sunshine and seventy degree morning only intensified the mood. After setting up the tent and dampening our shoes on a course walk-through, we talked strategy and worked out a few nervous jitters. The Frosh-Soph pack warmed up and took the line from Box 9. I challenged the team to run the first 800m conservatively and keep up until the pack separated a little, then run hard in the second mile. I knew from their training that they would take care of the third mile in good form.
From the gun I knew the results would be nothing short of epic. The men formed up into a great pack by the 800m mark and were reeling in competitors in a swarm. Jason, Lance, Mark, and T-Bone were still together at the halfway point, with Kevin just a few meters back and separated by two green jerseys. Brandon "Bean" was running tall close behind, and Andrew looked injury-free and in great form as our seventh man. Lance turned up the tempo in the final 800, sprinting up and into the finishing straightaway for a breakthrough race and to finish first for our team. He broke his PR, set at Regionals last year, by 41s for a lifetime best 18:12! Mark, Jason, and T-Bone were still packed solid right into the chute, with Mark running a 1:26s PR for 18:35, Jason running 18:36, and T-Bone dropping 50s from Lake County for an 18:37 PR! Kevin charged in at 19:13, earning his second PR of the week by 10s, and Brandon also earning his second PR of the week by dropping 56s and breaking 20 for 19:46! Andrew also ran well for 21:53, dropping 14s from Deerfield. The F/S pack placed 13/21 teams and averaged 18:38. This was a beautiful way to open the day!
The Varsity took to the line next. Nate T. was unfortunately sidelined with a calf strain, and Avedis rose to the challenge of racing Varsity today. The mood was heavy as each athlete considered the race they were about to run, but they took off with such hungry vengeance that I could not help but grin and watch for the success that was about to unfold. It began with Collin racing in the top three for the first mile, with Nate M. just meters behind in the top twenty; Michael battled stride for stride with a pair of Cary Grove runners here, with Freddy, Josh, and Joseph packed in close proximity and Avedis working hard. Past the two mile Jack Aho of Grayslake Central had a substantial lead, with Collin in the pack behind him, battling in the top five. I was overjoyed to see Michael and Nate working together here and Freddy mechanically passing runner after runner in the stretch along the creek. Josh was racing ahead of Joseph here, and while he looked tired, he was not sacrificing any of his speed. Joseph was locked in a deep pack and it looked like movement in there was nearly impossible. Avedis overtook a large pack and was racing in the open by himself with 1000m to go.
I got to the last elbow of the course just in time to yell toward Collin as he dug in for the final straightaway. I glanced at my watch and could not believe that it was in the low 14:00s--Collin battled hard with the advancing pack and had a beautiful finish in 13th place that beat out Grayslake's O'Connell by a fraction of a second! He finished with 15:14, dropping 18s from Lake County for a lifetime PR and smashing the most fastest ZBXC time set in recent memory, 15:26 run here in 2013 by Andrew Ntim! Nate Mosley pulled out his signature long stride kick for his finish and overtook easily a dozen competitors in the final straightaway. Again, I gaped in awe as he broke his 16:16 PR--and also Ntim's record--with a 19th place finish and 15:25 PR!
Michael raced harder than ever today. His PR stood at this course last year, and he had finished that season plagued with a hip injury. But today he was a new runner, and he broke into the 15s for the first time for a 37s PR, running for a 25th place medal and 15:32 finishing time. Freddy surged in as our fourth man, earning a ribbon in 48th place but dropping 30s from his PR at Lake County for 16:17! Josh ran three seconds better than Lake Country too for his 16:56 PR--especially nice considering the injury he nursed all week! Joseph rolled in well at 17:12 for a Season Best, just ten seconds off his PR last year. Avedis had a great finish as well at 18:32 for a nicely-run first Varsity race. Overall, we took 7th out of 22 teams, averaging 15:53 for the top five. This marks our fastest Top 5 average (ever recorded), and it would have placed us highly in previous years but this year's elevated level of competition made it tougher to score higher. This competition, however, drove us to this success!
The Open race was last, and though the day was steadily warming, the men were in great spirits and the team was gathering in support of the final racing pack. At the gun they began to race just as hard as the others had before them. Jim was competing as our top man by the 800m mark, with Daniel and Alex not far behind. At the mile mark Chrisjon was also extending his stride well and Darnell was not far off of his pack, pulling against a trio of Warren runners and running tall. Jon looked good here too and was running fast, with Omar racing as our seventh runner. Two miles in, Jim was still leading our pack, fighting off a two Evanston racers by the creek. Alex was our second man, and he chased down a Carmel runner around the corner as he exited the trail. Chrisjon was also racing well in good form just behind a Rolling Meadows competitors, and Darnell was still working to shake the Warren pack. As he surged out of the woods into his final loop, Jonathan put a pack of four Warren runners in the dust cloud behind him as he made a good move.
Jim battled his Evanston adversaries right to the chute, splitting them to earn an 18:24 finish, breaking his PR from Home this week by 1:18 and earning a ribbon! Daniel raced hard and had a remarkable finish at 19:18, also dropping huge time to beat his PR from this week by 1:22! Alex wasn't far behind, and he also looked good as he finished for a season PR 19:52 that just beat a Wheeling athlete into the chute. Chrisjon also earned a Season Best 20:18 with a strong kick, and Jonathan broke 22 for the first time to earn a 33s PR over his Deerfield time for 21:43! Darnell ran really well today, earning the day's largest PR (1:35) with a 22:21 finish. Omar also had an incredible race, fighting through tight calves to break thirty for the first time in his life. He dropped 61s from his PR at Lake Country to run 29:38! Well done Pack!
Our performance at Blue Devil was truly incredible. While this is the point in the season where fitness is achieved and many learn how to race smarter and with greater competitive energy, the team spirit and individual fortitude shown today bespoke a collective strength that can drive this team to far greater successes this season. We logged three season PRs, two ribbons, three medals, 16 lifetime PRs, and had two runners break Ntim's record. Both Nate and Michael joined the "15 Club" of now only a handful of ZeeBee runners who have run under 16 minutes in a race. Incredible job, Bees! This truly shows the power of hard work, of packing together, and the incredible strength of our progressing runners. I could not be more proud this team. And I would like to particularly thank the parents and race fans who came out to support us!
We have a solid week of training and compete again at the JT Invite at Grant next Saturday. There is yet another opportunity to make history--I can't wait to see them compete again!
The first of our two home meets this season saw us travel to our course at Shiloh for a showdown against Lake Zurich and Waukegan. The day edged to eighty degrees, but the threatening thunderstorm intermittently blocked the hot sun and provided cooling breezes by race time. LZ showed up quite late to the meet, which pushed our start time back. Still, the men of ZBXC stayed warmed-up and excited to run on the perfectly groomed course.
We went out in great form. Collin took an early lead with the top pack, working with five top LZ runners and trailed by the top Waukegan racer. Michael, Freddy, and the Nates worked up against the LZ packs, which created quite a sea of blue across the course. At the halfway point, Nate M. and Micheal were racing hard together, with Nate T. and Josh not far behind. Avedis led our second pack at this point, racing well into the woods with Kevin and Jim in hot pursuit. Daniel made some particularly aggressive moves by the duck pond, as did Jason in his hard work overtaking Kevin and Jim by the two mile mark. I was pleased to see Brandon and Chrisjon packed here, with Alex just behind them--but at this point I also lost track of Josh. Darnell and Omar had good pacing as they passed into the final lap of the field, and I looked ahead to see that Collin was still right in the mix of with the top five LZ runners.
Collin refused to back down and surged hard to keep up with the LZ pack to the finish. This was no easy task, but he finished in fourth place to break up their attempt at a perfect score--he earned a reputable 15:39 here, despite being sick this week. Michael resiliently raced in as our second man at 16:28 and just behind the top Waukegan runner. Nate M. was just behind him at 16:33 with a strong final 400 kick. Nate T. rolled in after a pack of eight LZ racers hit the chute for 17:27, with Freddy finishing nicely at 17:37 and Joseph at 17:50. Avedis was our next man at 18:50, and then a large gap until Jason rolled in at 19:21 and Kevin for a PR at 19:23.
Jim raced for a great PR 19:42, breaking 20 for the first time in his life! T-Bone was just behind him at 19:46, and Mark logged a PR 20:01 in the second race of his career, finishing neck-and-neck with Zack, who gritted through an injured toe to compete today. Lance led a ZB pack the the finish at 20:12, with Kevin at 20:40, Alex at 20:41, Brandon at 20:42 for a nice PR, and Chrisjon at 20:45. Still, I did not see Josh and was beginning to worry.
Jonathan rolled in at 23:14, with Darnell just behind him at 23:56 for a PR of over four minutes from Wauconda! Andrew finished next at 24:08, with Matthew next at 25:04 for a second PR this week. Joshua was finally spotted limping around the course, but he refused my effort to pull him from the race and promptly collapsed after his finishing time (26:12) with a pulled groin. Omar had a great kick to round out our pack at 31:42.
At the end of the evening we had logged seven lifetime PRs, but many of the men seemed tired in their racing. We did not completely capitalize on the home course advantage and missed several key opportunities to compete, but it is also difficult to come back from the Peoria traveling and muddy Wauconda conditions and race at full potential. We also had a number of sick and injured runners that were unable to compete. It is, though, very neat to see the younger runners making progress, and to do some memorably on the home course. Equally exciting, too, is that we had some changes to make to the Top 10 board for this course! Collin moved up to second overall with his 15:39 time, and Michael to fifth. Nate Mosley joined the record board as well, placing seventh and bumping Tim Athans off. Great job men! This next week we need to sharpen and focus for the great racing opportunity at Warren.
We split the team this weekend, with half traveling to Lakewood Forest Preserve on Saturday morning for the Wauconda Invitational with Coach Hughes, and twelve runners traveling with me down to Peoria on Friday afternoon. The week preceding First to the Finish at Detweiller Park was reportedly rainy, and it also rained on Lakewood for the meet there, resulting in similar muddy conditions on both courses.
At Peoria we drove straight to the course in the evening. We were quick to ascertain that the corners on the course equated to little more than muddy pits, with standing water and thick quagmire that threatened to suck one's shoes off. The runners, however, embraced this with a smile, and it wasn't long before everyone was covered in mud (though Nate's bright socks were in better condition than predicted) and laughing throughout the run. Several starts and finishes later, the muddy crew was en route to the hotel and then to dinner. A team meeting after a filling pasta/chicken tenders dinner gave each man an opportunity to set goals and share in the projected positive outcomes from Saturday's race.
The next day began with a drizzle, but the sun emerged by mid-morning and we headed down to the course. Much to my surprise, the corners had firmed up quite a bit and the standing water was largely gone! With several morning races completed, the course still looked rough, but much more manageable than the day before. The Varsity warmed up for their 12:20 race but in their run-outs Michael slipped and took a spike to the face. He was undeterred, in his usual fashion, as he urged the pack of seven to success.
From the gun, our runners got out in great position on the field. From box 5 we had a straight shot at the first corner 500m away, but we also had the entire field pushing left and were in danger of being run into the poles on the muddy turns. They took the turn without great difficulty, and it was great to see them flying up the first straightaway. Collin was in the top 20, with Nate M. and Michael racing in close proximity to each other. Nate T., Freddy, Joseph, and Josh were within spitting distance but on par with each other, but by the mile mark Nate T. had made up some distance toward Nate M. and Joshua and Joseph had found each other. They entered the far "Twilight Loop" after a solid first mile. Collin passed by at 4:52 and Nate M. in the low 5's; Nate and Freddy passed at 5:20 and our final two at 5:34.
A lot happened in the second mile of this race. Collin moved up to 13th place in the top pack just shy of the 2-mile mark, with Nate M. and Michael both fading back slightly and Nate T. moving toward them. The race had spread out quite a bit, and I noticed that most runners were taking long, wide turns to avoid the muddy corners. While this added substantially to the race distance, it did provide better footing. Freddy responded with a great uphill kick here to reel in a dozen or more competitors, and it was nice to see Joseph running square on the far side of the lane, passing many who swung wide.
In the final 800 the race leaders turned on the afterburners and sped to the finish. Collin tried gamely to hold on here but could not quite match their kick. Still, his valiant efforts and solid race placed him at 30th place out of 431 runners with a solid time of 15:52! This beat's our highest past finisher, Andrew Ntim in 44th place in 2013. Great job Collin! Nate M. sprinted hard and in great form in his finish, passing many runners on his way to finish as our second man (16:30), with Michael close behind at 16:39! Nate T., Josh, and Freddy wove through the competition in a close group a minute later, with Nate crossing first (17:29), Josh seconds behind him (17:32) and Freddy a half step away (17:35). Joseph rolled hard for his 18:24 finish to round off our pack. Our top five averaged 16:49, and the ZeeBees placed 26th/47 teams. This is our highest placing in the last three years, and third highest in the seven years we have been coming to this meet.
An hour later the Sophomore Five took the line in the Open Race, which fielded over 700 runners! These young men have proven over the course of the season that they can work both cohesively and with great strength, and there was no way we could leave this pack at home. They paid close attention to the Varsity race and listened to the Varsity advice, and in their race they went out in great fashion. Avedis let nothing hold him back as he distanced himself from the others, with Jason and Lance our #2 and 3 and Kevin and T-Bone not far behind. The sheer size of this race made movement difficult until the halfway point, and yet our runners performed admirably in the density. Avedis continued his upward movement throughout the race, and in the finishing stretch he was extending in great form to earn the day's sole lifetime PR, and 18:29 finish that beat his Lake County time by 49s! Jason sped in at 19:00 with a midfield trajectory, and Lance flew by on the far side for 19:01 and a 22s season PR! Kevin had a good finish too at 19:42, and T-Bone rounded off the pack with a open spring and 19:52 final time. It was great to see this pack work this hard and rise to the level of competition around them. They all finished in the top half of the 700+ field!
Overall, the times at Peoria were slow. Based on top finishers in the races, it would be safe to say it was 30+ seconds slower than it typically would be, and this definitely equated into our times as well. Nate M. was just 14s off of his lifetime best and Michael 7s off his season best, but most of our men ranged 20-40s slower than their target times. They did, however, go out with a hunger to compete--this is a more accurate measure of success than the times they earned. And the PRs in the Open race showed that PRs were still possible that day. I hope that a dry course in the near future will allow them a better PR opportunity, but the level of racing today was a nice achievement in itself. It is time to reunite our team and begin putting ourselves together for our home meet on Tuesday!
Tuesday proved to be the most challenging meet of the year as we traveled to Adler Park to run against Libertyville and Warren. The ambient temperature edged to 94° at race time, with the heat index on this sunny day spiking to nearly 104°. The meet was on, however, and it was on us to compete to the best of our ability. Unfortunately, we had a number of men on the sidelines due to injuries and attendance issues, but we still took the line 18-strong.
We had worked on some hill last week, but this was a great test of fitness and mental strength. Adler Park features at least one significant uphill on each mile, including a nice uphill trail to the finish--we worked on hill training strategies in practice and I hoped that some of these would prove useful in the race. It would happen, though, that the race largely became a battle of completing it rather than competing in it.
From the gun, Collin surged to the lead and refused to give it up the entire race. Much like his victory at Deerfield, he had to set his own pace and trust his training to battle for the win. Behind him a pack of three Warren runners set pace, with the rest of our Varsity packing in close behind. Our younger runners went out very well, and I was very pleased to see their hard work in the first mile. Jim, in particular, worked up toward the front here. Past the first mile mark, however, the heat caught up with the entire field. Nate T. and Joshua fell off hard here, with Michael gamely working on the Warren trio. Omar and Matthew were working hard to pick off runners as well, with our middle pack stringing out farther and farther. By the second mile mark, we were taking casualties. Nate T. and Matthew had succumbed to the heat and were out of the race, and Darnell took a nasty fall and sidelined as well. Collin was still charging alone with a substantial lead, and Michael had picked off one of the Warren runners to edge into 4th place. Joseph and Freddy were gamely holding on, but Josh was overtaken by many of the JV men, who were all near exhaustion trying to hold a 7-min pace.
Collin finished with a nice uphill drive and won his second race with a stellar 17:08 time in these conditions. Michael held fast and charged in as our second at 17:52, followed by Freddy and Joseph at 18:48 and 49. Avedis led the Sophomore pack at 21:00 with Lance matching him stride for stride at 21:01. Kevin was next at 21:20 and a nice finish, followed by Josh (21:34) and Jason (21:36). Jim ran a solid race (22:10), with Brandon (22:50) and Alex (22:51) finishing not far behind and working well together into the chute. T-Bone logged 23:12 here, with Jonathan finishing at 26:09 and Omar at 33:47. When the points were counted, we had lost to Warren but beat Libertyville. It is worth noting, though, that Libertyville rested a handful of their top runners instead of exposing them to the race conditions.
It was a brutal experience, but one from which we must grow. Afterwards, and after copious amounts of water and Gatorade, we discussed the outcome and ways to move forward from it. The combination of heat and hills were staggering, but I believe that this team can bounce back as we look toward the weekend's races at Wauconda and Peoria. The key here is preparation--hydration and mental toughness. I am proud of those that competed hard in these conditions, and I know that rewards are waiting just around the corner.
Lake Co. 8.31.16
"Bees Sting at Lake County"
While the Deerfield dual was a great season start, our first real test came at the annual Lake County Invite. A challenging trail course, top varsity competition, and large numbers of opponents made this a great opportunity for the Bees to elevate their competitive spirits and race hard. While the week thus far had given us a stiflingly hot Monday and a monsoon on Tuesday, the weather settled comfortably in the mid 70s with a slight breeze. Perfect.
The Varsity men ran after the ladies today, with the balance of our team in the Open race later in the evening. We ran our top seven against sixteen other teams. From the outset, they appeared comfortable and excited to compete; from the gun they worked hard on the opening straightaway and around toward the wilds of the eastern section of the course. I asked them to work hard on the first mile and then try to move when they could on the second and third on the narrow trails, and they did just that. Collin and Nate M. went out in the leading ten going into the mile mark, with Michael just behind them and Nate, Freddy, Josh, and Joseph packed in close proximity to each other. Freddy made some great progress on the final straightaway before heading into the wilderness, but it was on the trails that things got challenging. Near the mile mark the native wasps, disturbed by hundreds of runners, flew about and began stinging runners. Both Nates, Josh, and Joseph would sustain nasty stings, but continued undeterred on the challenging middle section of the course.
The second and third miles are not very conducive to coaching and spectators, but I was able to see the men fly out of the fields with 800m to go and sling around toward the finish. Collin worked hard in the top 5, with Nate M. close behind. Our runners looked tired and a pained coming down at this point, but they each reset as they neared the finish. Collin sustained well but was overtaken in the final stretch, but his kick brought him in for a fantastic 7th place medal finish and lifetime PR 15:32! Nate M. extended for a great finish as well, topping his Deerfield time by 30s to run a 16:16 lifetime PR in 24th place! Michael was just six places and sixteen seconds behind him at 16:32, earning a season PR by 11s. Freddy made great gains in the middle mile and sustained for a remarkable finish that earned the first sub-17 finish of his life for a 26s drop and lifetime PR 16:47! Joshua earned his second lifetime PR of the season with a kick that overtook 10+ runners in the final 300m as he mercilessly shredded the final stretch in great form. He also ran his first sub-17 race, with a 23s lifetime PR! Nate T. was our sixth man, pained by bee stings, running 17:20, followed by Joseph at 18:08. This great varsity race placed the ZeeBees in 6th place out of 17 teams! This matches the best Lake County placing ever in ZBXC history, attained in 2012! Our top five averaged 16:25. Wow! I was dismayed, however, that four of the Varsity were stung by bees.
We tabled celebrations and quickly made our way to the line for Open race. We ran twelve men in this race, with five of them running the first races of their careers! While there were some nervous jitters at the delayed start, once they took the line they were all confidence. I am particularly proud of the young underclassmen who have stepped up to lead and organize this group.
From the gun, the Bees followed in the Varsity's footsteps--they went out hard in the first mile and competed in the horde of colorful jerseys. Avedis and Mark (in his first race!) worked toward the front in the first 1000m, with Lance, Jason,, Alex, Brandon, and T-Bone closing in together. Andrew, Armoni, and Matthew found their strength close to each other, with Omar making very assertive gains on the straightaway going into the wilderness. I was able to get farther up the field and see them with about 1200m left--and I was greatly impressed!
At this point, Avedis was leading our pack, with Jason racing just off of his shoulder! Kevin was next, with Lance and T-Bone not far behind; Jim overtook Mark and both were running an incredible first race. Alex and Brandon took sharp corners in nice moves to gain position here, and Omar was using the downhill to his advantage. I sprinted over to catch finishes, and the progress continued here. The final 800m was very well run by our racers, with Jason finding great power and finishing in 16th place overall with 18:24, blowing his 19:57 Deerfield time out of the water in a huge lifetime achievement! Avedis led a large pack of Bees as he sprinted in great form through the finish as our second man, running his second consecutive lifetime PR, beating his Deerfield time by 3s for 19:18! Lance blasted in just behind him at 19:23, logging a great 21s season PR. Kevin was right on his heels in the best racing form I have ever seen from him, running his first sub-20 for 19:25--this is an improvement by 1:18 from his best time last year on our home course on 10/5! T-Bone rounded off this close pack of ZeeBees with 19:27, also his first sub-20 lifetime achievement and PR by 36s!
Jim and Mark sprinted in to complete their first career races together! Jim smashed his Bee Linked time by 3:14 for a finishing time of 20:13, finishing with strength while being sick in the finish lane! Mark was just behind him, logging a great 20:20 in his first race. It was great to see these two work hard and support each other on the trails. Alex finished hard next with 20:32, a 53s season PR, followed by Brandon at 21:05. For Brandon this was his second consecutive lifetime PR, as he also dropped 53s for a 21:05 PR! Andrew ran a nice 22:57 here, followed by Armoni in his first race with a nice kick into the chute at 26:44. Matthew gave a great effort for his career first 27:18, followed by Omar who competed well for 30:39! Well done, and many raced on despite sustaining bee stings too.
While the reader may note an exceptionally liberal distribution of exclamation points in this race summary, it is also worth noting that this coach cannot stop grinning as I recount each achievement. By the numbers:
1 . . . Medal
4 . . . Season PRs
5 . . . 1st career races
9 . . . Lifetime PRs
10 . . Bee stings
The evening closed on an elated note as Coach Hughes and I tabulated the stats and calculated just how much progress these men made on the clock tonight. They went out with the mindset of working hard when others might get stuck on the trails, and both sought and found opportunities to challenge themselves. The assertive first mile and beautiful closing kicks are achievements in their own right, but it was the team spirit and support that carried the night. The pack is growing and learning with each practice, and their hard work this season is just beginning to pay off. This strong start is one on which I hope we can capitalize on as we go into the long weekend and return Tuesday at hilly Adler Park in Libertyville. Keep up the good work!
The men of Zion Benton Cross Country opened the season in great form at Deerfield on Thursday. Squaring off against Deerfield in a dual meet, the warm summer evening kept the temperature around 80 and the humidity high. This was our second consecutive season opener at Deerfield and also the second year it has been the same unaltered race course.
All ZB runners ran in the 3.0 mile race. They faced a slightly smaller pack of Deerfield runners. In the past, Deerfield has run their men in packs for the first mile or two, and then they break up to moved up on the Bees. I cautioned the runners on burning out in the first mile, but stressed that this was a learning opportunity meet, one where they should take risks and learn from them. From the firing of the gun, the men did just that!
Collin surged out front in the first 400, and did not relinquish the lead for the entire race. Our top seven were ahead of the packed top seven of Deefield at the mile mark, but we were spread out and they then began working upward at this time, overtaking Freddy, Josh, and Joseph. Nate T. hung gamely with the Deerfield pack, with Nate M., Michael, and Collin leading. Our middle pack was led by Avedis, who pushed himself into the middle of six Deerfield runners and refused to be overtaken! Lance, Kevin, T-Bone, Zack and Alex worked hard on this middle section, with Jon and Omar making good gains in the middle mile.
The Deerfield pack advanced hard on our men in the latter part of the second mile, passing the two mile mark with aggressive movement as the Bees worked in the heat. While Collin remained untouchable, Deerfield's Winter advanced to challenge Mosley and Michael; I saw the pack overtake Freddy, Joseph, and Josh and they had a choice in their last mile--Nate T. still ran hard and matched the Deerfield pack move-for-move in a great show of resilience. It was at this point that our pack made moves of their own and worked up toward their Deerfield opponents. Collin flew into the chute at 15:48 for his second consecutive win (last year he won in 15:41), beating Deerfield's winter by 51 seconds! Michael charged in hard right on his heels (16:43), with another opponent challenging and narrowly slipping past Mosley in the last few meters--Nate finished his first XC race with a respectable 16:56! Nate T. finished with the same tenacity that he raced with over the entire course, gritting hard and sprinting to seventh place and beating Deerfield's Schneider by just .2 second! For Nate this was also a major lifetime PR, as he finished in 17:05, beating his previous best from Regionals last year by 43s! Josh and Joseph flew in at 11th and 12th places (17:18 and 17:22); this being a 58s season best for Joseph and a major 36s lifetime PR for Josh over his time at Conference last year! Freddy finished just behind them at 17:38 for a 43s season PR to round off our top 7.
Avedis finished a very impressive race with an incredible 19:20, earning a lifetime PR of 8s over his time at Blue Devil last year! He also kicked to beat a pair of Deerfield runners into the chute by one second. Lance led our next big pack in soon after at 19:44, closely followed by Jason (19:58), T-Bone (20:21, a 2:08 season PR!), Zack (20:49), Kevin (21:17), and Alex (21:25). Brandon had the greatest race of his life to date also, rolling in at 21:58--beating his lifetime be from Bee Linked by 2:31! Jack and Andrew followed seconds later at 22:06 and 22:07 respectively, with Jack setting a season best by 26s! Jonathan finished his first XC race with a great 22:17, followed by Omar for a great team finish!
The ZeeBees raced hard, with our top five taking 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 11th. We beat Deerfield 27-29 tonight, and it was solid team effort! We logged four lifetime PRs, six season bests, and five runners ran the first races of their careers. And Collin won for the second year in a row. It was truly a remarkable evening, and one on which a strong season will be built. Tonight represents great progress, both in racing times and in racing experience, and I am very proud of the hard work these young men invested to open the season in this fashion. Their strength can only improve with further competition, and we will have an exciting opportunity at Lake Country this next week. Great work Bees!
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1. 15:11 Collin @Stevenson
2. 15:25 Nate M. @Blue Devil
3. 15:32 Michael @Blue Devil
1. 18:24 Chrisjon @Home 10/4
2. 19:17 Daniel @Stevenson
3. 19:21 Alex @Stevenson
1. 17:52 Jason @Sectionals
2. 18:03 Avedis @Stevenson
3. 18:12 Lance @Blue Devil