2021 Cross Country
First to the finish 9.11.21
Thankfully, after a year's hiatus, we were able to return to the absolutely amazing racing opportunity at the First to the Finish meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria. The value of this trip and race cannot be understated in the scope of our team's development and progress, and I was excited to invite seven men and Coach Washington along this year. We took the spirit bus out on Friday afternoon, arriving at the course a little after 6:30 pm for a little shakeout run. The temps were nice, but we were also bracing for the predicted heat the following day. I held Jarek out of racing here to focus on injury recovery, and the rest of the pack did several strides as we prepared for the big event on Saturday. Of the pack, only Eric had ever raced here before.
We had an excellent dinner and team goal-setting meeting that night, and learned that hotel room doors are actually battery-operated (and require a special screwdriver). The next morning we were greeted by a very impressive, hazy sunrise and a steady increase in both heat and humidity. We started a new morning tradition of going bowling, which was quite fun. When we left and headed to the course, though, it was all business. We arrived to see hundreds of teams and thousands of spectators--a very impressive and welcomed sight! We had pledged to go with the current of the race and push out hard from the start--a very reasonable goal for this race. The temperature was in the high 80s by this time, and we had a full hour to watch the races and shop for clothing. I talked race and training with Coach Washington here, and team started getting ready for the big event.
Before we knew it, it was time. The warmup was out of the way, and it was just HOT. The men sipped water, applied it to their skin, and stretched. We checked in and ran out from the box. From the gun, the pack surged out hard and in the monster field. Some years the pack holds back and races back, but I was glad to see them aggressively punch forward and down the hill toward the first pin. At the approximate mile mark we were in excellent position and each guy was racing faster than they had before! Eric was near 4:45, Jalen and Alex right around 5:20, Ryan at 5:30, and Adam right at 5:45. I'd missed Durran in the massive croud. The heat and clouds of dust took a heavy toll on the second mile. Eric was near 10:40 here, and Alex and Jay were still together and near the 11:50 mark. Durran had moved up and was around 12:30, with Ryan just behind him at 12:35 and Adam at 13:05. The heat was doing a number on the field, and I know our men were fighting hard through it.
Eric was our first man into the chute at 16:48--a Season Best. Alex was next with a lifetime PR 18:24, followed by Jalen (18:47), Ryan (19:11), Durran (19:46), and Adam (20:34).
The men appeared devastated with the result, and completely dead on their feet. The reality of the challenging race in contrast with their lofty goals left them gutted, but it was time to focus on the positives as we talked about the experience. As they talked it though, the reality shifted to the gritty racing they put into the day, the punishing 90 degree extreme conditions, and the effort put into the first mile. For several this was a PR, and for all the fastest they have started any race this season. The goals still stand, for now, as we celebrate the effort and intensity of Peoria and take this back into the next week of racing. I could not be more proud of how this team came together and competed this weekend. While it clearly wasn't the race we were hoping for, working hard to make it so exemplifies many great qualities this team possesses. They are destined for great things, and they know it. So proud of you all!
@Waukegan v. Mundelein 9.8.21
We rolled back down the road on Wednesday to our first dual meet and second run of Waukegan's course. The sky was a beautiful mélange of high clouds illuminated by the late afternoon sun, and temperatures hovered in the high 70s--perfect racing weather. Waukegan did not field a team, and it was just us and Mundelein. In looking at our previous run against them at Lake County, we saw that we were just narrowly beat in points by their top guys, and thus very evenly matched for tonight. I challenged the guys to match up with opponents and snag those top spots.
It was our first time putting all the Zee Bee men on the line, and the tiny race went off in good order. In the first mile, Eric was leading by a substantial margin--a lead he would maintain the entire way--as he notched a 5:03 opening mile. Jay was racing side-by-side with the top two Mundelein runners, followed by Alex and Ryan at 10m intervals. Adam was next through the mile, with two opponents separating Durran and Orion from Adam--both were running in excellent form. Tom was making big moves here, and I was pleased to see Antonio and Davion squared up and racing in the sixes just behind Christian. Jared and Jonathan were racing together, as were Joan and Emmanuel. Orland was speeding up as well, having an incredible first mile.
Clearly our challenge to Mundelein had upset their coach, as he had apparently planned to run a workout tonight. He had his top four athletes punch into the last mile with another gear, which our runners gamely attempted to match. Their final miles tired us out, however, but saw our men matching them very well. It was anyone's race going into the final 400m, where Eric finished the race all alone at 17:02. Mundelein narrowly snagged the next three places, with Jalen racing as our second at 19:11, beating a Mundelein runner right at the chute. Alex and Ryan took seventh and 8th (19:18 and 19:27), with the ninth spot going to Mundelein and Durran surging in for tenth (19:38). Adam was next at 19:56--his first time breaking 20! Mundelein narrowly won 24-31, despite our excellent fight in the second half.
We had some very excellent races. Davion ran his lifetime PR, beating his freshman time, kicking hard in for 20:01 with Antonio and Orion both earning lifetime PRs at 20:24 and 20:46! Tom earned a great Season Best 21:39 here with a great kick. Christian his 21:48 as our next man, with Jared (24:40), and Jonathan (24:51) just behind. Joan ran a lifetime PR 24:55, with Emmanuel racing 28:03. Orland had the race of his life, dropping nearly 3 minutes from his time here last week to race 33:53!
While we narrowly lost to Mundelein in points, we put forth a fantastic effort tonight. We worked to match Mundelein's moves and competed all through the course. This experience will undoubtedly help our pack move forward in their racing, and I am very happy with the number of PRs here. I know we will be a different team next time we race Mundelein, and can't wait to see what they will do then. Nice work tonight!
Rebel Invite 9.4.21
We rolled up to Wisconsin for the exciting Rebel Invite on the UW-Parkside Cross Country course this weekend. This hilly, wooded, course is one of my favorites but clearly a polarizing experience. It's tough on the body, but wholly rewarding to race. The rain gave way to a nice morning upon our arrival, and we set about preparing for race day. The distances here don't lend themselves to great comparison with the rest of the season--4k and 5k--but today was about effort and competition.
Our freshman pack took the line first in their 4k race. Nick, Sebastian, Orland, and Antonio N. were the men on the line, and for Nicholas and Antonio this was their first race. They took off well with the gun, and attacked the long hill together. This course isn't very spectator-friendly, so we saw the starts and didn't see the athletes again until they were rolling down toward the finish. Nick led our pack and put on a spicy sprint as he passed the fans. Sebastian was our second, followed by Orland and Antonio. They all had a nice resets and kicks into the chute. Nick finished at 23:22, followed by Sebastian (25:30), Orland (29:04), and Antonio (31:00). I am proud of the effort in working through the challenging course--and of the two men that raced their first today!
Our Varsity pack of six men took the line next. I had asked them to pack, and keep our split tight the entire time. They had a very excellent start up the hill, and seeing them race down at the midpoint showed their hard work paying off. Eric was in the top 15 here, and Jay and Ryan were packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Alex wasn't far behind, followed by Adam and Durran. We didn't see them until the finishing straightaway. Eric sprinted in nicely for 28th place and 17:32. Jalen, Ryan, and Alex were in very close proximity for their finishes. Jalen held off the rest of his pack for a great 19:31, with Ryan at 19:36, and Alex at 19:56. Adam and Durran had great kicks to round off our pack at 20:59 and 21:29 respectively. The Zee Bees placed 12th/14 teams.
Our final race of the day was the JV/Open 5k race, and we had our largest pack on the line. Orion forgot his bib but was able to recover and pin it just as the race kicked off! Tom and Christian led our pack at the midpoint, with Orion not far behind. Emmanuel was having a great race, and he and Antonio put on nice moved to pass other athletes as they passed the fans. Davion, Jared, and Joan had nice surges here as well. When the athletes rolled into their finishes, I was impressed by the tenacity of their kicks. Tom was our first man in at 22:07, followed closely by Orion at 22:17 and Christian at 22:21--what a great pack this was! Davion was our fourth man at 24:54 with a great kick, and Emmanuel was right after him at 25:03. This was a huge PR for Emmanuel, who dropped 50 seconds from his time at Waukegan this last week--and in a 3.1 mile race! What an impressive feat! Antonio was next at 25:35, followed by Jared at 27:26 and Joan at 27:58. The Bees placed 12th/14 teams here as well.
This was a tough day to race, and the Bees came out and raced tough. The kicks, the passing on the trails, and the overall effort were there today. While this isn't easily measured in times (Coach Washington did provide general equivalents to the athletes), today represented a great stepping stone of progress in our season. Racing these hills and competing provides invaluable experience. This next week we move forward to race again at Waukegan Sports Complex, and then the Varsity is headed downstate to Peoria. I cannot wait to see how this team capitalized on their momentum. Have a great holiday weekend everyone (get in your Long Run)!
Lake County 9.2.21
The weather cooled off a bit for our first major invitational of the year. We took the short commute out to Waukegan Sports Complex to square off against fourteen other teams in the Art Campbell Lake County Invite. This was the first time we ran at Varsity and Open levels, and the course is a far hillier 3 miler than our season opener at Deerfield. After a short course hike, we were ready to begin the day with the men's Varsity race. It is worth noting here that the race info I received listed two open races, but when the Varsity went to the line we learned there was just one--our Open racers had to quickly adjust to an immediate warmup and accelerated race schedule!
Eric went out with the top pack in the Varsity race, and was racing in the seventh spot through the mile at 5:03. The rest of our pack came through nicely packed, with Alex leading Ryan, Adam, Durran, and Jarek. It was awesome to see these Bees working so well together. I ran up the hill to catch the downhill part of their second mile. Eric was back at 15th and still racing well, and Ryan was right up on Alex's back. Durran had surged ahead of Adam on the downhill switchbacks, and Jarek was holding off a pair of Warren runners. Eric launched into the finish to earn a 14th place medal finish (17:16)! Ryan was our next man, edging out Alex in the finishing route for 19:30. Alex was just behind at 19:36 (incorrectly reported in the results as Orion). Durran kicked hard as our fourth man (19:59), with Jarek edging out Adam for a pair of nice finishes (20:20 & 20:23 respectively). The Varsity placed 13th/15 teams in the race.
The coed Open race was next, and I sprinted over to the line just in time to wish them luck and hear the gun go off. This was a huge race with both men and women racing, and our Zee Bee men--many of whom had never raced before--went out with fire. Jalen decided to make the race his own, and took a fantastic lead over the entire field in the first mile. Orion raced in excellent form as our second runner, with Tom not far behind him going into the mile--accompanied by Lauren as the first woman in the race! Christian and Davion were in close proximity going through the mile, with Jonathan and Antonio separated by about fifteen positions. Jared was working next to Illyana, and Sebastian was racing in excellent form in his first race, as was Orland. Joan and Emmanuel were packed up nicely into the second half. The Bees had visibly tired from the hill, but were looking pretty aggressive on the switchbacks coming down. Orion and Christian both caught runners on the turns, and it was awesome seeing Emmanuel and Joan still side-by-side headed into the final 800m. I wasn't able to make it back to the finish for all of the kicks, but I was assured by the other coaches that these were awesome!
Jalen was edged out in the last half second by a Deerfield runner, but finished in second place with a fantastic kick and 18:43 time. Orion was our second man at 21:53, which was a huge PR from his time at Deerfield! Tom and Christian rolled in next at 22:18 and 22:24. Antonio O. was our next man at 23:18 with a fantastic kick into the chute, followed by Davion (24:09) and Jonathan (24:17). Emmanuel finished his first XC race with a 25:53 PR, with Joan not far behind with his first finish and PR 26:35! Jared (26:29) and Sebastian (29:58) were next, with Sebastian racing through strong Achilles pain to finish his first XC race as well. Orland rounded off the pack in his first race, too, with a tremendous kick and 36:52 finish. The Open race men took 9th/13 teams.
I could not be more proud of the races tonight. The tougher course was certainly a factor to learn from, and our men rose nicely to the challenge. We will be back here next week for a dual, and I believe we can approach it with a different angle based on our experience. I am proud of the assertive races -- including those that raced to the front and held it -- and of those that pushed to get into good position at the first mile. Congratulations to the men that raced their first high school Cross Country races as well!
It is with immense pride that I report on the season opener today. The Zee Bees have been working hard in the heat and humidity that have been omnipresent since we started the season just three short weeks ago, and the team's commitment to hard work is just starting to pay off. We traveled to Deerfield HS to race against Deerfield, Warren, and Mather on a toasty Thursday evening. Temps had dipped slightly when we took the line around 6:20 pm, but were still in the mid-80s. While a solid third of our men's team was sitting this one out (not quite to the minimum number of practices to compete), we put a squad of fourteen men on the line for the 3 mile race. Our captain, Durran, took the lead in getting the squad warmed up and positioned for the race.
For many, this was their first high school XC race. For most, the nerves of throwing down for a true race were occupying the mind. We had hashed out some plans to attack this flat course--packing in the first mile and seeing where this would set up the second half. Our collective strength this season has been in sharing the work together, and I was pleased to see our packs form right off the line. With the gun, the team surged forward in great form. Eric raced out assertively to take an early lead on the entire field, and in the first mile we had some amazing groups pack up. Jalen, Alex, Ryan, and Adam were racing together, with Durran just behind. Jonathan and Jared were working together, as were Aaron, Tom, and Antonio. The first mile came and went with our team competing nicely.
Eric entered the second loop with a slight misdirection that he quickly corrected--he held a nice 75m lead still. Jalen and Alex had pushed ahead while a Mather pack worked up in front of their squad mates. Jarek, Christian, and Orion were between groups here, and Jarek made several assertive moved to pass runners in his laps near the building. In the third mile, a Deerfield athlete worked up to Eric and took the lead. As the field of spectators raced to the sport fields to see the finish, I could not help but be impressed by the fire of our finishes.
Eric locked in 2nd place with a 16:51 season best time and great kick. Jalen surged ahead of Alex in the final loop to lock in our #2, racing a lifetime 18:24 PR. Alex was close behind him as our third man, also with a lifetime PR 18:29. Ryan and Durran fought neck and neck into the chute with amazing kicks, each running 18:49 PRs! For Durran this is 42s faster than his PR from last year, and for Ryan it dropped 1:58 from his Bee Linked time. This top 5 group had a 1-5 split of 1:58--not a bad start for the season!
Jarek punched in with a stellar kick as our 6th man, breaking his previous 22:02 best with a smashing 19:47 (2:15 improvement from last season!). He was closely followed by Adam as our 7th, who threw down a lifetime PR 20:50. Christian and Antonio were next, both racing their first high school XC races. Their efforts were impressive, particularly how they rounded the final flag and kicked into the chute. Christian ran 21:21, a 2:35 PR improvement over his Bee Linked time. Antonio raced his lifetime PR 21:37! Tom was right on his heels with a Season Best 21:50, and then a string of Zee Bees rolled in hard across the finish. Orion raced a PR 22:17, followed by Aaron at a PR 23:01, Jonathan with a Season Best 24:00, and Jared with a lifetime PR 24:29--65 better than his time last year!
In sum, we had 11 lifetime best and three Season Bests tonight. This amazing racing underscores the benefit of the work they are putting in, and their commitment to pack racing will undoubtedly be a deciding factor as we move into the season. I don't think I have ever had a frosh-soph pack start the season with this kind of strength, nor carry this kind of potential moving forward. As we finished the evening and reflected on what we had done, I could not help but feel that we have something truly special here--this team is poised for greatness! Congratulations, men, on a great season opener!
1. 16:48 Eric @Peoria
2. 18:49 Durran @Deerfield
3. 21:39 Tom @Waukegan
1. 18:24 Jalen @Deerfield
1. 18:24 Alex @Peoria
2. 18:49 Ryan @Deerfield