The State ChampionshipWednesday, November 10 2021 - IHSA Boys 3A Cross Cross Country State Championship
As a team we talked in August about wanting to make sure that we run our best at the end of the season, at the State Finals, but to do that we would need to make sure every day we accomplished what was need to continued success and improvement. The team embraces the idea of Kaizen, continual improvement. But it is not just this fall that they have had that mindset.
This group of seniors have had quite the 4 years of cross country. The summer before their freshman year was my 2nd summer with the team, I had high hopes to build off a new sense of purpose in the program…and we had only two incoming freshman with us for summer running. Cam Mulyk and Henry Matson were there every day, I was excited for Cam and Henry, they had a lot of ability and was committed to the sport…but only two. The season started officially in August and I believe the number of freshman was now at 5 or 6 (Paul De Avila, Alex Rojo, Mike Forbear, Aaron Wyckoff, Jayson Matula), by the time we went to Peoria for the first time in September that number was at 11 (Hunter Porn, Patrick Kacena, Jacob Obman, Kyle Schick). Add a sophomore track distance addition of Jason Zigmant and this group of seniors has been a part of an incredible turn around within this cross country program.
As freshman they found success winning the Mortimer frosh/soph and Lockport freshman meets. They also saw what hard work and commitment looked like from upper-classmen like Jonathon Goetsch, Javy Garcia, Dean Eubanks, Austin Emrath, Ryan Bonomo, Tommy Adelmann, Luke Edmondson, Diego Herrera, Colin Graefen, Ryan Robinson, Chris Cockrell, Noah Franceshini, Alix Awalt, Vince Franco, Justin Irizarry and Connor Koukou. Getting to see what hard work and success looked like was big for their development.
Then they had to navigate Covid for 16th month. They were not unique in having to navigate those things, but each program and each individual had their own experience with it. A missed sophomore track season for development, a unique fall for cross country as juniors, and a season shut down the week before Regionals with no chance for post season experience. With Covid scheduling for school we also had morning practice and a more sedentary lifestyle, add in some low ferritin levels last year was a struggle on the cross country course as a team.
Due to a lot of factors a team that was on the rise and moving in a positive direction really struggled last year, it could have been a knock to the confidence, but the long off-season this group made the commitment to find that success that they saw as freshman and sophomores. That time also allowed for some of the newer runners to put in a long training block with the team, Harlan Matson and Tyler Schick who both ran at the State Finals as sophomores were a part of that group. Track season saw some return to success with the distance crew, and that momentum was able to be carried into the fall.
The team knew what they wanted to accomplish this season, but also knew that we had to put in the work everyday and focus on the process and not the end goal. As the season progressed with its typical ups and downs the goal of running at the State Finals started to become a more attainable goal. Peoria High at the start of October was our strongest team race (maybe in school history up to that point) and had the guys riding high, a win at Lakes, and a strong run at SPC and Regionals left the team confident in knowing what they had to do at Sectionals. A strong team effort at Sectionals punched our ticket to the State Finals for the first time in school history. Celebration energy was high for the bus ride home, but even then we knew the goal was not just qualify but to run our best at State.
The guys had a great week leading into the State Finals. They were relaxed but focused, that attitude carried through the whole week. They did not have a sense of the job was done by simply qualifying, they wanted their best at Detweiller. At the team meeting, we talked about this is a 3 mile race just like any other we want to use the same strategy as we have all year.
Race day brought perfect weather and a chance to leave our mark of PHS history. The guys got out together and fast but knowing they had more in the tank, Mike and Paul leading the way with the rest of the guys close behind. Aaron moved up well in the second mile and then like a monster in the 3rd mile. Alex and Cam worked together well as Harlan got out under control and then started moving up the 3rd mile. Tyler hung tough after a bad patch (getting caught in a runner pile up early in the race). Paul and Aaron both kicked home in 15:24 (lifetime bests for both), Mike who made a valiant move with 1K to go hung out with all his heart for 15:30 as our #3. Harlan continued to power home as our 4th followed close by Alex, Cam and Tyler. A 25th place finish and the best team in school history is the mark that they left on the course, and the target that teams in the future will be able to use as their starting point as they aim for success as Wildcats.