Category Archives: Seasonal Awards

Reflections of High School Running in Illinois in 2012: Some of my top moments

By Michael Newman

One of the perks of covering a state meet is talking to each state champion. This time, it was state record holder Madeline Perez of Glenbard West. Thanks to Madeline for sending this picture in.

One of the perks of covering a state meet is talking to each state champion. This time, it was state record holder Madeline Perez of Glenbard West. Thanks to Madeline for sending this picture in.

We are getting near the end of 2012. What a year it has been in running in the state of Illinois. I have been fortunate to see many events in so many places throughout the state of Illinois. I never have done a year in review before. I thought it would be a unique thing to do to end the year for Illinois Prep Harrier.

I started the year covering Boys running throughout Illinois for Dyestat Illinois. I ended the year in a different place, a creation of mine, Illinois Prep Harrier. I was able to cover everything in Cross Country this fall both Boys and Girls. It stretched me a couple of times but it was worth it.

I tried to summarize my highlights month by month. I think if would have done it in that format, I would still be writing this in 2014. Instead, I want to take a look at some of the top moments of the year in both track and cross country.

I did not rank them. I am just doing this in random order.

1                     The rise of Madeline Perez and Girls Distance Running in Illinois

The junior from Glenbard West caught my eye in the first race of the season at the Hornet Red-Devil Invitational in Hinsdale. Madeline Perez was a runner that in the preseason I thought would be a runner that may challenge for the top 5 in November. When she ran 16:59 on the rolling course at Katherine Legge Memorial, I thought that she may be running much faster by the time of the state meet.

Perez did not have a perfect season by any means. Early in the year, she was defeated in consecutive weeks by Kaylee Flanagan of Lake Park. The second race at Detweiller Park, Perez finished second running 16:29. Flanagan broke the course record running 16:20.3. Fans started to talk of what Flanagan could run in November. No talk about Perez and what she could do. She came down with an upper repertory and sinus infection that slowed her down for the next month.

When she recovered, she had found the gear that she was missing earlier in the year. She just missed the course record that Flanagan had set earlier in the year at Lake Park by one second. The big thing was that she defeated Flanagan by over 40 seconds. Two weeks later at the state meet, I was on the lead truck watching Perez move away from the pack. When she passed by the 2 mile in 10:36, everyone at the park on that day knew something special was going to happen.  She shattered the course record by 18 seconds. She just missed breaking 16 minutes by two seconds, but considering that she is a junior, she will have a couple of chances to take the record down further in 2013.

The improvement in Girls Distance running had a staggering effect which I think will continue to grow during this track season. Four years ago, the winning time in the girl’s 3A race was 17:09. In 2012, that time would not have even placed in the top 25. Perez improved her state time in one year by over one minute. The same improvement could be said about runner up Emma Fisher of York where her time was a minute faster.

We could see some special times this spring. Could the 4 x 8 record be broken after it was only set a year ago by Wheaton-Warrenville South? Are we looking at low 4:40 times in the 1600? Last year, the 3200 was won in 10:28. I would not be surprised if it goes under 10:15 at the end of May at state.

2                     A grand way to send a track to retirement

The plans for O’Brien Stadium in Charleston were to put a new football surface in after the conclusion of the Boys state track meet. As always, the state meet brought many exciting finishes and outstanding performances.

The one race that will be etched in my mind forever was the last race on that blue oval: the Class 3A 4 x 400 Meter Relay. It wasn’t who won the race but how the race was run. If you were to ask me which school was crowned the champion in that race, I would have to go back and look at my notes. I did not remember that Belleville West held off Minooka and Bloom to win the race. I did remember the sacrifice that Derek Suss of Plainfield North made for his team. This is what I wrote in my recap of the meet starting with Suss in the third leg:

James Cole had the baton for Belleville West, Tevin Hopkins for Minooka, and Derrick Suss for Plainfield North. Coming around the first turn, Suss made a move to try to take the lead. All of a sudden he slowed down and popped into the air. In 2011, he was out all season with a hamstring injury. That injury hit him again. He crumpled to the ground in pain.

The announcer called for a trainer as the rest of the race moved by Suss. The young man got up and waved everyone away from him. This was the senior’s last race and he was going to finish it. “I was going to finish that race. In my mind, no one was going to stop me,” Suss said while he received medical attention.

The race was still going on, but it seemed that all the attention of the remaining crowd had their eyes on Suss. Bloom Townships Kaleb Williams made a move on the outside to get his team into contention. The final leg had Tevin Suggs of Belleville West holding off Chris Wilson of Minooka and Micah Frasier of Bloom Township for the win. It was the first win in this relay for Belleville West. It was also the first for Belleville West coach Patton Seagraves. When he ran at Harrisburg, he anchored their 4 x 4 relays all 4 years, but could never win the title. On this day, Suss delivered to give Seagraves that winning satisfaction.

Suss was still trying to make it around the track as the rest of the runners finished. And he was going to finish. He was moving slowly. But he was getting encouragement. Man he was getting encouragement. All the athletes on the infield waiting to get their medals from previous races were lining the infield cheering for their fellow athlete. The crowd was standing giving him encouragement to get that final exchange off. If he got the exchange off, his squad still would receive a medal and attain all-state recognition.

I do not think there was a dry eye in that stadium as Suss approached his teammate Evan Flagg with the baton. I think it was a requirement of those who were still in that stadium that there was not a dry eye. Who could not be moved by this?

Suss finally made the exchange to his teammate and fell to the track. His teammates and his coach Tony Holler rushed around him. His coach gave him a tearful embrace. Plainfield North finished the race with a time of 5:47.44, perhaps the slowest final time ever for the 4 x 400 Meter Relay. That time did not matter. It was a matter of perseverance and desire to do something for his teammates that kept Suss going.

“He has been accepted to the Air Force Academy. He has a 32 ACT. He pulled a hamstring last year and missed his entire junior year,” Holler said after the race was over. “He did not get to run at the state meet. He made it through his entire senior year because he worked so hard. It was really eerie when he went down and pulled that same hamstring. In our pre meeting of today, I told them a story. The most heart wrenching story that I have ever seen about Derek Redmond in the 1992 Olympics. He pulled a hamstring and his father came along side and helped him across the finish line. I told our men that was the type of team that we wanted to be. And it happened. I am so proud of that kid.”

The effort of Suss should serve as an example of what athletics should be. There is glory in doing your best and winning the competition, but there is more glory in persevering and completing the goal that you set out to achieve.

For those who left the Stadium of that day, I am sure that vision of Suss limping around the track to finish will stay in their minds hopefully forever. It was a forever moment for Suss. It was a forever moment for Holler and the Plainfield North track team. It was a forever moment for this blue oval and the legacy of great moments in Illinois high school track history.

3                     Multiple Distance Races in the heat

I wish I could comment on the great double that Jessica Ackerman of New Trier accomplished with two all state performances in the 3200 and then less than an hour later in the 800. I still regret not going down to the Girls State Meet last May. There were many performances that I would have loved to have seen and written about.

I can, however, tell you about the great distance doubles that I saw the following week at the Boys State Meet. The temperature at O’Brien Stadium on the day of the final was 96 degrees. The temperature on the track approached 115 degrees. It was hard to believe that anyone would be able to accomplish a distance double. Don’t tell that though to Steve Schroeder of Monticello and Michael Clevenger of Decatur MacArthur. Both seniors were state champions in cross country the previous fall. The hot conditions would only be a slight deterrent to their goals.

Schroeder’s task would be a little more difficult. With Monticello in the hunt for a team trophy in Class 1A, Schroeder announced after the prelims on Thursday that he would run on his team’s 4 x 800 Meter Relay team, then run the 3200 Meter Run and the 1600 Meter Run.

Clevenger would coast in his heat of the 1600 Meter Run on Friday. Meanwhile, Jamison Dale of Jones College Prep set a Class 2A record in his heat of 4:15. Clevenger’s task of doubling in the 3200 & 1600 would be tough with Dale and Will Brewster of Grayslake Central in both of the races.

Schroeder’s teammates would keep them close to race leader Elmwood as they handed the baton off to Schroeder. His 1:55.1 anchor would secure the win for Monticello and ten points. He went off the track immediately afterwards to find some shade. He would return less than a hour later to run the 3200. The hot temperatures took its effect on the field but it did not seem to faze Schroeder. He moved away in the last 800 for an easy win. “This race was more of an endurance test for me. The race was mostly tactical. I know the time wasn’t impressive, it was just getting the points for the team,” he said.  His luck ran out a couple of hours later as he ran against a fresh Grant Nykaza of Beecher in the 1600. Schroeder tried to stay with Nykaza and he did…for 1400 of the 1600 meters in the race. Nykaza made a race winning move in the last 200 that Schroeder had no energy to stay with him.

“I was telling myself over and over again I was ready for it and I just had to keep myself mentally upbeat that I could do this,” Schroeder said. “I just tried to stay with Nykaza. I waited to make my move and he made his even stronger.” Still, it was a great day for the mentally tough Monticello senior. Monticello scored 31 points, 28 of those were accounted by Schroeder. That was enough for Monticello to take home a third place trophy.

Just like Schroeder, Clevenger was not worried about time. All that mattered was that he cross the finish line on his last lap of both races in first place. The 4:48 mile that the pack went through in the mile was slow but that did not matter to Clevenger.

“The times were not great. The heat had something to do with that. What was I supposed to do? It was a matter at the end of who could run the fastest last 400,” he said. “When we went through the mile, it felt like tempo running and I was feeling really good. When I crossed the finish line, it was like phew, I got through that one.”

He ran his last mile in 4:30, the last half in 2:06, and the last 400 in 58.9…good enough for a state championship.

He doubled his pleasure in the 1600. The only way that he would complete the double that eluded him the year before was that both races became tactical in the extreme heat. He made his move with a 56.4 last 400 to secure his fifth state championship. “It’s unexplainable how I felt getting the 1600 for the first time. It felt like the first time all over again when I won my first state championship. It felt like it was the best conclusion to my high school career,” Clevenger said.

Two weeks later, his kick again proved deadly as he made a move with 250 meters to go to win the Midwest Distance Festival Mile in 4:09. It was the fastest time for that distance in the state in 2012.

4                     And they all cheered…

The last moment was not a state championship performance, but the roar of the crowd during the race made it seem like it.

The Proviso West Invitational at the end of February is just one of the first big indoor meets of the season. The meet does not determine a state qualifier or as a tune up for a big meet. It does give teams a chance to run on a fast 200 meter oval against some good competition.

The one mile run is contested towards the end of the meet. There were some fans that had left this meet by that point. Those who stayed saw a measure of will power achieved by Calvin King of Proviso West.

Now King does not have the typical distance runner’s body. He stands about 6’ 3”, weighs about 300 pounds. There he stood on line waiting for the gun to fire off in the first section of the race. People were asking what was this guy doing in the race. A fan at the race tweeted “From a true fan perspective, I’m all for kids accomplishing goals, but a 300 lb shot putter is a bit too much”

It did not matter what size of a body he had for me. His coach put him in the race…and he ran.

He was there to see if he could beat his seed time of 14:00.

He was lapped early in the race and often. The runners finished in the race and King still had 4 laps to run. Though he was the only runner still on the track, he was not alone. Fans in the stands were standing cheering the young man on. Athletes from all team lined the track to cheer him on. Each step seemed like it took forever, but he would not stop. The cheers got even louder as he closed to the finish line. His time was 11:11. He had run almost three minutes faster than his seed time.

It was not the prettiest mile that I would watch this year, but his desire to finish would stick with me. He did not win this race but that did not matter. He won in the hearts of everyone that was there.

–          –  –

This year was a memorable one for me. ESPN dropped Dyestat in June and it left me with many decisions. One of them was where I would cover Illinois Cross Country this fall. One of the things that swayed my decision was when my daughter was looking at the Dyestat Illinois website. When she asked me how come there are more articles about the boys, I had to think hard what I wanted to accomplish in the fall. I had been the boy’s editor for a long period of time and watched the girl’s races from a far. Not having the opportunity to write about the girls athletes in the past, I wanted that opportunity. The only way that I would be able to do that was if Illinois Prep Harrier was started.

It was a shame that Dyestat had to close down this fall. With Runner Space buying the assets for Dyestat, it will be fun to see what they will do.

One other thing that I noticed was the coverage in the main stream media for cross country decreased. For the first time that I can remember, there was not a reporter that I noticed from the Chicago Tribune at the state meet. There is a need for coverage on the internet and I am just happy that I was a small piece of that. There are more running websites in Illinois that will be starting up in January that will be covering the sport. I think that is a great thing. The more exposure for these young men and women is a plus for track & field.

I am excited for 2013. This will be my first time that I will be covering Girls Track along with Boys Track and I am looking forward to that. There will be many changes that will occur to Illinois Prep Harrier coming up sometime in January which I am very excited about.

I think once you see it, you will be too. At least I hope you will.

When I was running, my coaches would tell me that you were as only good as your next workout, your next race. That is the same philosophy I use when I write. I may think that a piece that I have written is good, but I know I will have to do better next time. It is the force that kept me improving when I ran. It is the same force when I look at this website.

Thank you for your support throughout the last year. I am fortunate that I am able to serve to you with this website.

Have a great holiday season and a blessed Christmas.

See you in 2013!

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards – Boys Runner of the Year

At the Palatine Invitational at the end of September, Jack Keelan leads Grant Nykaza by 10 meters with less than a half to go. The finish was much closer. (Photo by Steve Bugarin).

At the Palatine Invitational at the end of September, Jack Keelan leads Grant Nykaza by 10 meters with less than a half to go. The finish was much closer. (Photo by Steve Bugarin).

You’ve read the 3 articles honoring the 3 runners of the year in each class: Grant Nykaza of Beecher, John Wold of Glenbard South, and Jack Keelan of St. Ignatius. The two other runner that I considered as finalists was Alex Riba of O’Fallon and Quentin Shaffer of Prospect.

When I announced the finalists, I stated that the entire season including the post season would be considered, but the emphasis would be on races within the regular season.

Riba and Shaffer both had great post seasons. Riba ended up winning the Nike Midwest Regional with Shaffer finishing 4th. Shaffer had an excellent race at Nike Nationals finishing 12th. But it came down to the state meet and Keelan and the final word in that race.

John Wold had an abbreviated season due to an injury. Though he was undefeated in the 5 races that he ran, it was not enough to push him over the top.

So it came down to two runners that I considered: Nykaza and Keelan. They did race in the post season at the Midwest Footlocker Regional with Nykaza in fifth and Keelan back in the pack. I did not consider that race in my final consideration.

The race that made the difference was the Palatine Invitational. In my mind, it was one of the most amazing tactical races that I’ve had the pleasure to watch this season. On the curvy Deer Grove East course, every turn that the two made, one would surge only to have the other counter it. In the final 800 meters, Keelan made one final move that would break Nykaza…or so he thought. With 300 meters to go, Keelan had a ten meter lead. Nykaza unleashed a torrid kick that would catch the St. Ignatius senior about 10 meters before the line.

The margin of victory in this race was only six tenths of a second between the two with Nykaza getting the narrow win.

I cannot punish Nykaza for being in Class 1A. He did go out to run against top flight competition in Indiana and the following week after Palatine in Chicago where he dominated a not so tough field at Loyola. He ran 14:21 at state, but I am certain if he was in a fast race he would have been in the lead pack.

My determinant for Runner of the Year was not going to be who had the fastest time. We will save that for track. It came down to head to head competition and racing on the course. We will never know who would have won at the state meet since they were in different classes. But on the one day, a winner was determined.

With that…

I congratulate Jack Keelan on a great season. He set his goals and achieved them. Who could ask for anything else?

For the Illinois Prep Harrier Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, it will go to Grant Nykaza of Beecher. Congratulations on a great season.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards – Girls 3A & Overall Runner of the Year

16:02 at Detweiller says it all for Glenbard West’s Perez

Madeline Perez's 16:02 at state was the performance of the year in Illinois.

Madeline Perez’s 16:02 at state was the performance of the year in Illinois.

When I decided to do the Runner of the Year Award, I looked at the top runners out of all the classes. I wanted to see if I could include a runner from the other two classes in the overall award. I made a reasonable judgment that it would not be possible. Class 3A for Girls this year has been memorable to say the least. When the course record at Detweiller Park can be broken twice in a season, it was more than memorable.

Kaylee Flanagan of Lake Park started the season off on a hot note. In her first four big invitationals, she set four course records including the 16:20.3 that she ran at the Richard Spring Invitational at Detweiller Park in the middle of September.  Her first loss of the year was a 12th place finish at the Wheaton North Falcon Classic. It seemed that she was not the same after that. She did finish 4th in the 3A race.

Emma Fisher of York was a runner that we saw a vast improvement from. She had two wins during the year: the first meet of the year at the Leavey Invitational and then the West Suburban Silver Meet where she defeated Madeline Perez.

Courtney Ackerman of New Trier had a good regular season but seemed to get better as the month of November went along. She had some statement wins during the year at the First to the Finish Invitational and the Wheaton North Falcon Classic. Courtney finished third in the 3A state meet running a personal best of 16:27. She qualified for both the Nike Cross Nationals and the Foot Locker Nationals. She was one of two runners from Illinois to qualify for both races (the other was Scott Milling of York). Ackerman finished a strong 6th place in horrible conditions at Portland. Last Saturday in San Diego fighting off a head cold, she ended her season by finishing 18th.

It is hard to argue against Madeline Perez of Glenbard West but her season left the ROY debate open. The junior started off the year with a strong win over Ackerman at Hinsdale. The next two weeks she placed 2nd to Flanagan at Lake Park and then at Peoria. In the race that saw Flanagan break the Detweiller Park record, Perez ran 16:29.

After that race, she had an upper repertory and sinus infection that she tried to run through with affected her performances. During that period, she finished 9th at Wheaton North, was defeated by Fisher in two races. The West Suburban Silver race that she lost to Fisher, the gap was only 10 seconds. The week before, Fisher had defeated her by thirty seconds.

Then she started to feel better and she picked up where she left off. She dominated both the Lake Park Regional and the Niles West Sectional. Her time of 16:28 just missed Flanagan’s course record, but it showed that she could run a special race at state.

Boy did she ever!

When she passed by the two mile point at the state meet in 10:36, she was not racing against any competitor but the clock and history. Her 16:02 smashed Flanagan’s record by 18 seconds. She will have a chance to go under next fall in her senior campaign. A fun fact is that her coach Paul Haas ran for York at the state meet in 1986. His time was 15:56. So she has that to go after as well!

Therefore, I am proud to congratulate Madeline Perez as the Illinois Prep Harrier 3A and overall Girls Runner of the Year in Illinois.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards – Boys 3A Runner of the Year

Keelan dominance in races results in 3A Runner of the Year

Jack Keelan of St. Ignatius    on his way to a win in the 3A state race.

Jack Keelan of St. Ignatius on his way to a win in the 3A state race.

Jack Keelan of St. Ignatius had unfinished business when he started this cross country season. What pushed him through the track season was that he did not get the opportunity to race in the 2011 state meet. The two all state performances that achieved in track in the 3200 and 1600 meter runs gave him the confidence to be able to go after the one thing he wanted in the fall: a state championship.

The question would be who would push him at state. The one runner that surprised many in 3A was Quentin Shaffer of Prospect. He opened eyes at the Peoria Central Invitational running 14:28. He opened more at the Nike Cross Country Nationals where he placed 12th in Portland.

The O’Fallon duo of Patrick Perrier and Alex Riba would also push. Perrier had a great season just getting outkicked by Garrett Lee of Belvidere North at the Richard Spring Invitational. The 14:28 that he ran in mid-September showed that he was able to go faster at state. Riba had a viral infection that hampered his training and racing during mid season. He came back strong at the Regional and Sectional meets. The race after the state meet, the Nike Regional meet, may have been his best as he sat back and won on a blistering last quarter kick.

All eyes would be on Keelan. He was undefeated against 3A runners during the regular season. It seemed that he was trying different strategies getting himself ready for Peoria. He did have one set back at the Palatine Invitational (we will talk about that at in the Overall ROY article). Before state at the Niles West Sectional, York’s Scott Milling pushed Keelan for the first 2 ½ miles before the St. Ignatius senior broke away for an easy win. Milling seemed to peak at the right time this year with a 6th place state finish along with qualifying for both NXN and Footlocker. He finished 27th in both of those races.

The state meet race was a battle of wills. Riba pushed the pace to try to break Keelan. The thing was Keelan was not going anywhere. He made a move with about 900 meters to go that broke the race open for his state championship. His time of 14:05 makes him one of the ten fastest runners in state meet history at Detweiller Park. He came back the following week to finish 5th at the Nike Regionals.

His dominance during the season was strong enough that he was the one runner qualified for this award.

I am pleased to congratulate Jack Keelan as the Illinois Prep Harrier Boys 3A runner of the year.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards – Boys 2A Runner of the Year

It’s Wold’s late charge that earns him Runner of the Year

John Wold moves away from Alex Baker to win the 2A state race.

John Wold moves away from Alex Baker to win the 2A state race.

Heading into the 2012 Cross Country Season, the one race that everyone had high expectations on at the state meet was the Boys in Class 2A. So many quality runners were returning that it would be a must watch race at the state meet. It was.

Garrett Lee of Belvidere North emerged early in the year not only in 2A but throughout the state after convincing wins at the Lake Park Invitational and the Richard Spring Invitational. Lee only had one defeat heading into the state meet which was to teammate Tyler Yunk early in the year at the Crystal Lake South Invitational. He did win the Belvidere Sectional by under a second to Alex Baker of Crystal Lake Central.

John Wold of Glenbard South had a frustrating first half of the season. He came into his first race at the Leavey Invitational in great shape. The hope was dashed when he had to drop out of the race due to a recurring foot injury that he had during the track season.

He let his foot heal and came back at the Metamora Invitational. He won that race by only nine seconds over Jonathan Schaap of Mahomet-Seymour. Each race that he ran and won he gained more and more confidence. He knew was ready for a championship bid at the Wheaton Academy Sectional where he dominated the race at the start to easily win. He took out the first mile in 4:37 and was able to maintain a pace to run 14:32 on a course that is longer than 3 miles (3.04 miles).

The state meet came down to the last mile when Baker and Wold broke away from Lee. In the last 400 meters, Wold broke away from Baker to storm to a six second win. The domination that Wold showed at the end of the year clinches this award for him.

I happy to congratulate John Wold the Illinois Prep Harrier Boys 2A Runner of the Year.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards – Girls 2A Runner of the Year

Clinton barely over Adams & Saey for Girls 2A Runner of the Year

Victoria Clinton on her way to the win at the 2A state meet.

Victoria Clinton on her way to the win at the 2A state meet.

The state meet was not that close. But the battle for the runner of the year was extremely close. Katie Adams of Marengo was the dominant runner during the season. She was undefeated during the regular season including wins over Skyler Bollinger of Yorkville, Sami Staples of Crystal Lake Central, and Victoria Clinton of Kaneland.

Victoria Clinton was the 2A state champion. Her state race was one to behold as she broke away from Staples in the last 600 meters to win by 10 seconds.

One runner that should be considered was Stephanie Saey of Galesburg. She placed third at the Peoria Central Invitational behind two 3A runners. She was undefeated otherwise heading into the state meet.

Three runners. Three totally different resumes. Who would you choose?

Katie Adams and Victoria Clinton raced three times during the season. Adams won their races at the Kaneland Invitational and the Belvidere Sectional. At state, Clinton was ahead of Adams by 36 seconds with the Marengo runner finishing 9th. The dominant state meet performance I what I took into consideration.

Clinton and Saey raced only one time: at the state meet.

Sami Staples and Skyler Bollinger were also considered for this award but it came down to three above runners.

I am pleased to congratulate Victoria Clinton of Kaneland as the Illinois Prep Harrier Girls 2A Runner of the Year.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards – Boys 1A Runner of the Year

Nykaza’s mission statement earns him 1A Boys Runner of the Year

Jake Brown and Grant Nykaza lead the pack past the two mile at the 1A state meet.

Jake Brown and Grant Nykaza lead the pack past the two mile at the 1A state meet.

Every mile that he ran during the spring, he thought of the opportunity that he lost in the past cross country season. The second place finish in that race did not sit well for Beecher’s standout senior Grant Nykaza.

He did win the 1600 at the 1A state track meet last May. That did not matter. He wanted one more shot at Detweiller Park in November. He was on a mission.

Nykaza did run 14:42 early in the year at the First to the Finish Invitational to win by 18 seconds over Jake Brown of Mt. Zion. Brown did come back at the end of the month to run 14:38 to place second at the Peoria Central Invitational behind Prospect’s Quentin Shaffer.

That race gave Nykaza something to think about. The Beecher runner came back a week later at the Amboy Invitational to break the course record that 1A state record holder Jeremy Stevens of Winnebago held. When asked if he was going after the state record, he simply answered, “It does not matter if I run 15:00 at state. All I want is the state championship.”

It showed in that race on that Saturday in November at Detweiller Park. It was apparent after the first half mile that this was going to be a Brown / Nykaza battle. Each runner would make a move. The other would counter.

Around the corner behind the finish line with less than a mile to go, Nykaza made a move that Brown could not react to. In the last 1200 meters, he stretched his lead to a mind boggling 18 seconds. He could of run faster, but at the end he was going to enjoy this “forever moment”. His mission was complete. He won the state championship that eluded him a year before.

Grant came back and qualified for the second year in a row for the Foot Locker Nationals. He finished 26th in that race last Saturday.

I am pleased to congratulate Grant Nykaza as the Illinois Prep Harrier Boys 1A Runner of the Year.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards – Girls 1A Runner of the Year

Devereux edges teammate Handley for 1A Runner of the Year

Ivy Handley and Rachel Devereux lead the pack early in the 1A state meet.

Ivy Handley and Rachel Devereux lead the pack early in the 1A state meet.

When state meet time comes around, it is a coach’s dream to have two runner toward the front of the race. That was the luxury that Decatur St. Teresa Coach Todd Vohland had this year. Ivy Handley and Rachel Devereux were toward the front of the race that they were in all year.

It also is a luxury during workouts when you have two quality runners on the same team pushing each other to be the best. That is what Handley and Devereux did this entire season.

If the award was to be given before the week of the conference meets, the runner of the year would have gone to Meagan McNicholas of Rochester. The freshman was undefeated in every race she was in up until the Carlinville Invitational. In that race, she twisted her ankle and finished as the team’s fifth runner. She continued to run on it but it did affect her performance. She finished 13th at the state meet.

Another runner that deserves recognition is Sophomore Regan Weidner of Manlius Bureau Valley. She came on strong at the end of the year to win the Rock Falls Regional, place second at the Oregon Sectional, and second at the 1A state meet.

So it comes down to the two teammates.

At the state meet, Coach Vohland mentioned afterwards that Rachel Devereux raised her game one notch for the state meet. The thing was that Ivy Handley raised her game two notches in winning the race by 21 seconds.

It would be easy to give the Runner of the Year award to Handley since she did win the state meet. But I think it is necessary to look at the entire season.

The two teammates raced each other eleven times during the season. Devereux was ahead eight of those eleven races including wins at the Okaw Valley Conference Meet, the Carlinville Regional, and Effingham St. Anthony Sectional.

I am pleased to congratulate Rachel Devereux of Decatur St. Teresa as the Illinois Prep Harrier Girls 1A Runner of the Year.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards: Boys Coach of the Year

David Behm of St. Thomas More and his wife Julie at the Illinois State XC Meet.

David Behm of St. Thomas More and his wife Julie at the Illinois State XC Meet.

David Behm of Champaign St. Thomas More is the Illinois Prep Harrier Boys 1A Coach of the Year. Just like St. Teresa on the girl’s side, St. Thomas More started the season as the #1 team in 1A. Expectations were high especially with the majority of their top 7 returning. Behm changed up the schedule in 2012 running against bigger schools including the Midwest Catholic Schools Championship outside of Cincinnati and the Richard Spring Invitational in Peoria.

Their first serious competition against 1A schools was the Amboy Columbus Day Invitational. They won that invitational by scoring only 53 points running 5 runners in the first 22. They had command in the two state series meets. The Sabers placed 5 runners in the first 10 including the first 4 places in easily winning the Paxson-Buckley-Loda Regional. At the tough Effingham St. Anthony Sectional, Behm’ team defeated 2 of the top 5 teams in the state #3 Mt. Zion and #5 Shelbyville to win the sectional with 48 points.

St. Thomas More would not look back. The team captured the program’s first team championship by scoring 82 points at the state meet, 75 points better than Elmwood-Brimfield.

The decision for Coach of the Year was extremely close. Both coaches had strong resumes to go off of this season.

Andrew Adelmann of Jones College Prep - Coach of the 2A state champions.

Andrew Adelmann of Jones College Prep – Coach of the 2A state champions.

Illinois Prep Harrier 2A Coach of the Year Andrew Adelmann of Jones College Prep had a season of nightmares early on that turned into dream by the time November came around. The Eagles were rated #2 in the preseason rating behind 3 time defending 2A champion Belvidere North. In their first race of the season at the Sycamore Invitational, they upended the defending champs to take over the #1 spot.

Their drive was detoured at the beginning of September during the Chicago school strike. It was the organization of Adelmann before the strike that kept the team together. Adelmann had set a goal for this squad when he took over 4 years ago. Their focus stayed intact during the strike period. When Jones ran at the Palatine Invitational immediately after the strike, it seemed like they had not lost a step.

They steamrolled through the Chicago Public League Meet and their two state series meets. They dreams were realized in November when they won the 2A state meet over the defending champions Belvidere North

Illinois Prep Harrier 3A Coach of the Year Joe Newton of York High School does not like the favorite role. In fact, it has become a tradition that every August when I contact the coaches about their team, he always asks me to rank them low. This was not going to be the case this year. Even though they finished fourth in 2011, York returned 7 of their first 9 runners. The Dukes would be wearing a bull’s-eye for the rest of the year.

Coach Joe Newton of York  High School - Illinois Prep Harrier Coach of the Year

Coach Joe Newton of York High School – Illinois Prep Harrier Coach of the Year

Their hopes took a little bit of a hit in early September when projected #1 runner Nathan Mroz was out with a season ending injury. In the first few meets, York dominated the races they were in but #1 returnee Scott Milling was behind the front pack of Kyle Mattes, Chris May, and Alex Mimlitz more than was desired. York went undefeated against Illinois schools during the regular season. Their only loss of the year came at the Palatine Invitational when they placed 2nd to Kentucky power St. Xavier.

They won their regional and sectional easily, but the small split that Newton thought the team would have at that point was not there. They had a strong front four, but the gap was too big between four and five.

York did prevail at state. They captured their 28th state championship.

The Illinois Prep Harrier Coach of the Year goes to Joe Newton. The feats that Jones Prep achieved this year were great winning a state title for the Chicago Public League in cross country for the first time since 1963. The two schools faced each other twice during the season. York defeated them early in the year at the Palatine Invitational. Both teams won state titles, but York’s was a little more impressive.

Congratulations to Joe Newton, Andrew Adelmann, David Behm, and their teams for their great seasons.

Illinois Prep Harrier Cross Country Awards: Girls Coach of the Year

Todd Vohland -coach of the girls St. Teresa cross country team.

Todd Vohland -coach of the girls St. Teresa cross country team.

Todd Vohland of Decatur St. Teresa is the Illinois Prep Harrier Girls 1A Coach of the Year. His team started the season as the #1 team in the state in this class. He only had three runners returning from the 2011 state championship team.  His team went undefeated to Class 1A schools during the regular season. At the beginning of October, St Teresa finished 2nd to 2A power Normal University at U-High’s Invitational. Four days later, the Bulldogs finished third at the Metamora Invitational behind perennial 3A power Palatine and again behind Normal University.

It just made their team stronger.

St. Teresa scored a mere 16 points at the Carlinville Regional placing 7 runners in the first 9. They scored 31 points in winning the Effingham St. Anthony Sectional. They completed their task at the state meet. They had the race won by the mile mark where they were in the lead with 23 points. The Bulldogs ended up winning the meet with 41 points, the third title in a row for St. Teresa and Coach Vohland. The state meet was more special for Vohland as one of his runners, Ivy Handley, won the 1A individual race. Handley was the first individual state champ that Vohland coached.

Dan Iverson - Girls Cros Country Coach at Naperville North High School

Dan Iverson – Girls Cros Country Coach at Naperville North High School

Dan Iverson of Naperville North is the Illinois Prep Harrier Girls 3A Coach of the Year. The Huskies started the season #5 in an extremely tough Class 3A. They showed their toughness by dominating the First to the Finish Invitational defeating defending 3A champion New Trier. The Huskies escalated to the #1 spot in Class 3A by winning the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota at the end of September.

Iverson was blessed by having a deep, deep, talented squad. He returned 5 runners from last year’s third place team. By the time that Naperville North started the state series, Iverson had 2 freshmen runner in the top 7.

Naperville North dominated a tough DuPage Valley Conference meet scoring a low 20 points. The domination continued at the West Chicago Regional scoring 19 points with 6 runners in the first 9. At the St. Charles East Sectional, Naperville North won by over 70 points to Wheaton-Warrenville South.

The state meet was not their best race of the year, but Iverson’s team won the school’s fifth state championship and fourth under Iverson. North went on to compete at the Nike Cross Nationals and placed 15th.

Chris Muth, Yorkville Cross Country Coach & Illinois Prep Harrier Girls Coach of the Year

Chris Muth, Yorkville Cross Country Coach & Illinois Prep Harrier Girls Coach of the Year

The Illinois Prep Harrier 2A & Overall Coach of the Year is Chris Muth of Yorkville. The defending state champs were rated #2 in the preseason ratings. Muth admitted before his team’s first invitational that the rating maybe too high. He only returned 3 runners from that state squad. One of the returnees, Casey Kramer, was injured and missed the first half of the season. He did not what kind of talent he had especially when he had 5 freshmen in the first 8 runners.

The Foxes demonstrated that they would be a team to be reckoned with after they won their own invitational over highly rated 3A Downers Grove South and then the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria.

Yorkville was undefeated against 2A schools this past season. They dominated their regional and sectional meet at Wheaton Academy. At the state meet, they successfully defended their title scoring 66 point while having 4 all state runners.

Congratulations to Chris Muth, Dan Iverson, Todd Vohland, and their teams on great seasons.