Reflections from the Season

Tuesday, November 6 2018

This season felt like a season that every moment was important both at the time and for the foundation it has laid for the future. We took a different approach this summer offering a middle school camp to kick off the summer. The first day of camp, I came in early to get a few miles in on my own and as I was returning to school I ran past our group of returning varsity runners getting their work it together. Smiling, laughing, enjoying the run and the company. It to me is the perfect picture of what this season had in store for the Wildcats.

Last December I met with the returning varsity runners and we discussed where the team was headed and what we wanted to accomplish. They wanted commitment, buy in, a culture of care and excellence. They were ready to be the leaders to set that trend.

The guys had a great summer, consistent work was put in and continued building of passion for the sport. There are very few things as a great as a nice relaxed summer morning rolling into the school to get ready to go to work on the roads or trails with the guys. The time spent working together all summer paid off in a big way not just in the physical benefits but also in the way that the strong culture carried over into the guys who were not with us this summer.

I am not sure how to put into words what this season meant, I have so many different directions the story took us this season.

Story 1: The freshman.

This summer we had one freshman attend summer running, Cam Mulyk. Cam worked his butt off all summer, whenever he could he hung with our varsity group. I could tell early in the summer that Cam was going to be a good one because of his drive. I didn’t know what else to expect from this freshman class. The first official day of practice Cam was no longer the only freshman. In fact, by the end of the season Cam was just 1 of 13 freshman on the team. This group was great, they created an identity of hard work and competitive drive. They pushed each other every day. Each one of them worked everyday to get better. They did not want to be left behind be their fellow freshman who were getting better. This group had a great presence at the front of a few races. The highlight for this group came during the two week span of The Joe Mortimer F/S Invite and then the Lockport F/S Invite. The Mortimer Invite is a 38 team invite that includes most of the south suburban schools, it has a freshman only race, and our guys ran a great race that day with 4 guys in the top 7! The guys won the race at the freshman level. The following week they won again in the freshman race at Lockport, this time with 6 medalist and the individual champion Aaron Wyckoff. This group was full of guys who improved dramatically over the course of the year, because of their commitment to each other. The average improvement for the freshman from their first 3 mile race of the season to their PR was 2:32!

Story 2: New Types of Leadership.

Jonathan Goetsch has been our best distance runner for the past two years. He leads both on the course and at practice. Jon was unfortunately injured early in the season and didn’t run a step from mid-August through late September. That meant a very different role for him, not being on the run with guys every day. He had to figure out new ways to lead. It also meant we needed new guys to step up and lead. And what we got was a pack of leaders. I love that it was a pack of leaders because one of the images for this season for me, was the increased size of the pack on the run. Last year it was often strung out small groups of 2 or 3 this year we consistently had groups of 10 running together. The pack of leaders. The beauty of the pack of leaders was each brought their own leadership qualities. Javy motivating, Dean holding his teammates accountable, Austin leading with hard work, Jon keeping guys focused on improvement, and the list goes on, each guy brought something different to the table that helped the whole of the group get better. Having the entire group permeated with many leaders means everyone is held accountable and everyone is a part of what we are doing.

Story 3: Next steps.

As a group the guys set the goal of qualifying for Sectionals as a team. The Wildcats had not qualified for Sectionals as a team since 2009. Going into the post season the varsity crew struggled at the SPC Conference Championship. They needed a strong bounce back week to advance on from the Regional. They certainly bounced back well, and helped the team take that step. The best part of the success was that at Sectionals the guys did not back down and ran their best race of the season on the biggest stage they raced on, certainly a good program boost for years to come.

Story 4: Improvement.

The biggest story of the year has been the dramatic improvement as a team. The results, the times, the workouts, all have taking a step to another level and those are all by products of the change in commitment and culture in the last year and half. There are so many different numbers and metrics to use to show improvement. Here are a few:

Top 5 average PR for the previous 4 years

2015: 17:12

2016: 16:47

2017: 16:21

2018: 16:05

Top 15 average PR for the previous 4 years:

2015: 18:17

2016: 18:01

2017: 17:23

2018: 17:00

We had more guys under 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 minutes than in the previous 4 years.

Our 18 returning runners averaged 40 seconds improvement from last year’s PR to this year’s.

Story 5: We Belong

The SPC Conference meet left a bad taste in the mouth of the varsity team, the guys did not run poorly, they just did not get out and never gave themselves a chance to compete. We spent some time talking that week about believing that we belong with the teams in this area. The next two weeks were huge steps for the program to show that we belong. Regionals was our strongest race as a team up to that point. We were clearly 4th in a very strong regional. We were not afraid to put ourselves in the mix with the rest of the field. That momentum carried over into Sectionals where we ran far and away our best race, and it was because we ran like we belonged in the field. We didn’t approach Sectionals like icing on the cake of a great season. We approached it like a race that we could compete with the best teams in the area and start to make our presence known. That confidence is going to carry over for years to come and is a big step for Wildcat XC.

This was a big year for the team, but it was not because of some magic formula it was because the guys bought in to working hard and being a part of a sport that is counter-cultural. I had a conversation with a former athlete that I coached a handful of years ago, and she was telling me that her and her teammates thought a lot of their success came from changing things among the team that working hard would be the cool thing to do. That might sound like a silly concept, but it can’t be overlooked. If you want to get better as a runner you run, and what makes running more enjoyable when you enjoy it and you can do it with people who you care about and want to push you to be your best.