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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!

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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.

NXN Midwest Regional: York makes it 9 straight to Portland; Naperville North championship season continues with 2nd place finish

Riba’s individual win leads 3 Illinois runners to NXN Final; Perez’s conservative plan nets her 2nd behind Erba.

Illinois had a strong showing in both the Boys and Girl races on Sunday. Quentin Shafer, Alex Riba, and Jack Keelan will all be making the trip to Portland in December. Photo by Bryan Riba

By Michael Newman

Last year, York was a surprise team to qualify for the NXN Championhips in Portland especially after they finished in fourth in the state meet the week before. This year the #10 Dukes came in as the state champs but where rated lower than meet favorite #6 St. Xavier OH.

There is an aura around this program. They always seem to perform well at Detweiller Park for the state meet in Illinois. The same can be said about the Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute where the NXN Midwest Regional is held.

Somehow, someway, the 7 that step to the line find a way to make it to Portland.

The only cross country program in the nation to make it to every NXN national championship made it 9 in a row as they captured the Midwest Regional Boys Championship Sunday afternoon. York had to rely on a 44 second split and their first four runners in the first 22 team places.

Scott Milling, Jack Keelan, Alex Riba, and Billy Bund are among the lead runners Sunday in Terre Haute. Photo By Jim Bertoli.

Scott Milling finished 9th overall to lead York again as the lead runner. Alex Mimlitz (26th), Kyle Mattes (32nd), Alex Bashqawi (42nd), and Jack Libert (78th) were the other scoring runners for York.

“I am just so happy we could keep the tradition going and making it nine for nine,” Milling said afterwards. “After winning state, it’s hard to get back to work and to get ready for a meet like this. I am so proud of my teammates in that we were able to come together again and qualify.”

The race itself seemed to fall right in the laps of York and the rest of the Illinois runners in the race. With winds gusting up to 40 mph, the race looked to be strategic as close to 35 runners were close to the lead as the pace seemed to crawl at a 9:57 at 2 miles.

The first runner that made the first major move was Sam Wharton (Tippecanoe HS, Tipp City OH) who took of just before that point with fellow Ohio runner Samuel Prakel (Versailles HS, Versailles OH) close behind. With about 800 meters to go, a pack led by Jack Keelan (St. Ignatius Prep, Chicago IL) started to try to make up the 20 meter lead that Wharton had built up.

With 400 meters to go, the pack had caught up to Wharton. This race was going to come down to who had the most leg speed at the end. Out of the pack burst Alex Riba (O’Fallon HS, O’Fallon IL) as he charged for the lead that he would not relinquish. Riba finished with a winning time of 15:30.1, almost two seconds ahead of Wharton. T.J Carey (Lake Orion MI) was one second back. Two more Illinois runners took the final qualifying spots with Quentin Shafer (Prospect HS, Mt. Prospect IL) finishing 4th and 3A champion Keelan 5th.

Illinois had the most runners in the top 21 with 8. Patrick Perrier (O’Fallon HS, O’Fallon IL) was 10th, Garrett Lee (North HS, Belvidere IL) was 11th, Zack Smith (North HS, Downers Grove IL) was 13th, and Billy Bund (Lake Forest HS, Lake Forest IL) was the last Illinois runner in the top 21 in 20th.

O’Fallon’s Alex Riba unleashed a furious kick in the last 500 meters to capture the Boys championship race at the NXN Midwest Regional. Photo by Tony Jones.

“For the whole race, my goal was just to stay in contention and keep contact with the top 5 guys. Top 5 was my goal going into it with no thoughts of winning it,” Riba said. “At that last set of hay bales, I was in 6th and I just thought all I needed was one more guy. But I felt really good so I decided to push it.  I started that kick with the mentality of not winning it, but creating a better cushion for a top 5 finish in case there were other guys with the finishing speed that could break into that top 5. But as I kept on going, I felt really good and I was gaining and passing. Even after I overtook the lead I still wasn’t thinking about winning until about maybe 100m out. It wasn’t until 200m out that I was confident I had one of those top 5 spots, even though I was winning. It wasn’t until that last 80-100m out that I finally realized I could win it.”

Alex will run with his teammate Patrick Perrier at the Footlocker Regional in Kenosha in less than two weeks.

#24 Carmel IN ruined the form charts so to speak. They were they fourth rated squad heading into this meet. They ran a great team race led by the 33rd place finish of Bobby Browning and a tight 20 second split. The Indiana state champs punched a ticket to Portland by finishing a distant 2nd to York with 162 points.

Pre meet favorite St. Xavier OH did not run their best race of the year and finished 3rd (211 points). Columbus North OH finished 4th (252 points). Both teams are eligible to be picked as at large squads for the national meet by a “panel of experts”.

Lyons Township IL ran a great race but finished 5th, 9 points out of 4th with 261 points. The Lions had a 26 second split led by the 48th place finish of Ryan Speir.

Other Illinois schools to place in the top 10 include Palatine (8th, 297 pts), O’Fallon (9th, 303pts), and 2A state champs Jones College Prep (10th, 333 pts). Neuqua Valley finished just outside of the top ten in 11th (376 pts).

Naperville North Girls team qualified for the NXN National meet with a 2nd place finish at Terre Haute. Photo by Phil McDaniel.

The Girls Championship Race would be a tell tale of how strong running has been in Illinois this past season. Out of the top 5 in the 3A race, only Emma Fisher (York HS, Elmhurst IL) chose not to run in Terre Haute looking towards the Foot Locker Regional in two weeks. Neither did the teams from Glenbard West and Lake Park run, but their top runners Madeline Perez (Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn IL) and Kaylee Flanagan (Lake Park HS, Roselle IL) were on the line.

US #12 Naperville North was ready to challenge a powerful US #4 Carmel IN team. Carmel destroyed their competition easily winning their state meet. The question would be whether or not North could pull off the upset. New Trier finished 4th in the 3A state meet, but with their strong front 3 could provide a challenge as well.

The first mile went out much slower than it did a week before at the IL state meet. One of the things had to do with the rolling terrain on the Gibson course. The other was the wind that forced the race to be more tactical. A pack led by MO Class 3 Champ Taylor Werner (Ste. Genevieve MO), Kaylee Flanagan, and Courtney Ackerman (New Trier HS, Winnetka IL) went by in 5:27.

In a pack 5 meters back was Madeline Perez and Ashley Erba (Warsaw IN). Both of the pre race favorites were willing to let the trio break the wind for them waiting for the right moment to make their move.

Ackerman was the first runner to make a move. Just before the 3k point, the New Trier senior tried to break away from the pack. Perez quickly responded as did Erba. They passed the 2 mile point in 11:12. All 3 runners looked comfortable.

Madeline Perez takes the lead over Courtney Ackerman and Ashley Erba half way through the race Sunday at Terre Haute. Photo by Doug Ackerman

Right after that check point, Perez made a strong move that quickly opened a 5 meter lead. Ackerman started to drop off, but Erba remained in contact. One minute later, Erba decided to go and made a decisive move to open up the race.  Perez could not respond to that as Erba opened up a 25 meter lead with 1000 meter to go.

The move was all that the defending 5k champion on the track needed. Perez looked like she was getting closer to Erba at the end, but it seemed like an illusion. She finished in 17:38. The time was great on this course on this day and nearly 8 seconds ahead of the Illinois 3A champ.

“I was running against state champ that I had not run against before so my plan was a little conservative,” Erba said after her run. “My coach told me that I did not have to break the wind for all of these runners. All I had to do was tuck in and mooch off of that in the first part of the race. Actually we talked about making the move later but I felt when I went it was the natural time to move out when I did.”

Erba will not run in the NXN National race. Instead, she will be focusing on the Foot Locker National Meet. Her first step for that will be the qualifying race at Kenosha in two weeks.

“My race strategy went out the door as soon as I got to Terre Haute and felt how strong the winds were. Before the race, I decided I would try to stay a few runners back through the first mile but I felt at that point it would be time to go,” Perez said. “Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I would have been better off staying where I was a bit longer as I began to break the wind for the others. I ran into a little fatigue in the middle of the race, but my leg began to feel stronger again in the final kilometer. I just wish I had a little more in the middle today.”

Behind Erba and Perez, in came two freshmen Taylor Werner and Ohio D2 Champ Mary Kate Vaughn (Oakwood OH). Then Ackerman came in fifth sealing the final qualifying spot. With Erba deciding not to run in Portland, she gave her spot up to fellow Indiana runner Bobbie Burgess (West Lafayette, IN).

Illinois showed their incredible strength by placing 11 runners in the first 21. Those runners included Mimi Smith (New Trier HS, Winnetka) in 8th, 2A champ Victoria Clinton (Kaneland HS, Maple Park) in 10th, Elly DeTurris (North HS, Naperville) in 12th, Katie Adams (Marengo IL) in 13th, Brooke Wolfe (Prospect HS, Mt. Prospect ) in 14th, Kaylee Flanagan in 16th, Tess Wasowicz (Palatine HS IL) in 17th, Skyler Bollinger (Yorkville HS IL) in 20th, and Jessica Ackerman (New Trier HS, Winnetka) finished in 21st.

Carmel IN did win the team title, but it was closer than some experts had expected. The Indiana state champs did run a 23 second split with three runners in the first 26 (Kelcy Welch 22nd, Gina Genco 23rd, and Haley Harris 26th) that was enough to capture the NXN Midwest Regional championship with 91 points.

Naperville North ran a great race to capture the second qualifying spot with 107 points. Elly DeTurris was ahead of the front pack of Carmel with Maria McDaniel just behind Carmel’s Harris in 27th. Their split on 5 was 45 seconds. Other scoring runners for Naperville North included Judy Pendergast (35th), Kate Shannon (48th), and Kimber Meyer (56th).

New Trier finished 3rd with 125 point powered by the top 21 finishers Courtney Ackerman, Mimi Smith, and Jessica Ackerman. Other scoring runners for them was Oona Jung-Beeman (81st) and Kathleen Keene (84th). Ohio D1 Mason finished 4th with 151 points, just one point ahead of West Lafayette IN. Only the 3rd and 4th place finishers can be chosen by the “panel of experts” as an at large qualifier for the NXN National meet.

It will be a waiting game for New Trier. Hopefully there are no real upsets in the yet to be run regional races. With their history especially finishing 4th in the national race a year ago, this is a team with the credentials that should get in.

Three other Illinois schools finished in the top 10 including Palatine in 6th, 2A state champion Yorkville in 8th, and Prospect in 9th.

York celebrates their ninth straight trip to Portland with their NXN Midwest Championship

2012 IHSA Girls 3A State Cross Country Meet: Perez runs race for the ages

Glenbard West junior shatters state record in winning 3A race; Naperville North captures 5th state championship.

Glenbard West’s Madeline Perez – 2012 3A Girls State Champ and State Meet Record Holder. Photo by Steven Koch

By Michael Newman

Peoria, Ill — The words of New Trier Girls Coach John Burnside were ringing in my mind as I was walking near the starting line before the start of the Girls 3A race at Detweiller Park.

He told me at an early season meet at Hinsdale of how this would be a special year in Girls 3A. He told me that there are so many great teams and individuals; it would be hard to comprehend.

Every time I saw a great girl’s race, I referenced that quote. When Kaylee Flanagan (Lake Park HS, Roselle) ran 16:20.3 at the Richard Spring Invitational and break the course record, I would refer back to Burnside’s words. When his runner Courtney Ackerman defeated a deep field at the Wheaton North Falcon Classic including Flanagan, those words would come back to me.

The dynamics of this race were fascinating. It pitted the front running pack of Naperville North, the #1 team in the state, going against teams like Lake Park, New Trier, and Glenbard West who had great front runners, but had a gap between their first two runners and the pack.

The individual race would be a great one as well. Madeline Perez (Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn) had run some great races the previous two weeks defeating some title contenders such as Ackerman, Flanagan, and Emma Fisher (York HS, Elmhurst). She would enter the meet as the favorite with those three runners chasing her. You also had to consider Carly Krull (Sandburg HS, Orland Park) who easily won the Marist Sectional by 18 seconds over Jill Hardies (Central HS, Hinsdale). Krull had beaten Fisher and was only eight seconds behind Ackerman.

The conditions were great setting the table for a great race. No wind. Upper 40’s. Overcast. Nearly perfect.

Perez had the momentum. She just missed Flanagan’s course record at Lake Park by one second. When Flanagan set that record, she came to Peoria a week later and ran the 16:20.3 at Detweiller. Perez was peaking for state. Could she break the record? If so, would she get close to 16:10?

Kaylee Flanagan of Lake Park leads the pack through the half mile of the Girls 3A race. Photo By Michael Newman

In the first half mile, it was evident that Kaylee Flanagan had ditched the plan that she had the week before to sit and wait during the first mile. Instead, she went back to the strategy that she was most comfortable with in pushing the pace and daring runners to go with her. She passed the half mile in a blazing 2:31. In a line behind her were Madeline Perez, Emma Fisher, and Courtney Ackerman. As the quartet charged up the front straightaway, it was clear that these four runners would be the challengers for the state championship.

The gap between the four and the rest of the race continued to grow as they approached the mile.  Flanagan passed the mile in 5:13. Perez had the same time but just a step behind. Fisher was one second back; Ackerman came by in 5:16. After that,  there was a six second gap with a pack led by Carly Krull, Laura Van Vlierbergen (Jacobs HS, Algonquin), and Brooke Wolfe (Prospect HS, Mt. Prospect).

Lake Park had charged out to the lead like they had done during the season. They had a tight 2-3-4 pack (Rachel Garippo, Brianne Murphy, and Samantha Montalbano) that had a slight advantage over race favorites Naperville North. The Huskies had Maria McDaniel, Judy Pendergast, and Elly DeTurris close together and were waiting to make their move. O’Fallon was running good early and was in third just ahead of Prospect. All eyes, however, were on the lead truck and the 4 runners that were following.

Perez made her first move. In the last two races, she would start her push at this point. After each of the last two races, she said she was feeling better and better after a sinus / upper respiratory infection hampered her training for four weeks in the middle of the season. There were no effects from this now as her stride continued to push out the pace.

Courtney Ackerman was staying close to Perez as were Fisher and Flanagan. But somehow, the Glenbard West junior was starting to extend her lead as the race headed back into the main part of the course.

I was distracted by the lead that Perez was opening up as we headed to the two mile point.  In my mind, I was wondering how fast she was going. Her foot hit the blue mat and my finger hit the split button on my watch.

Madeline Perez at the 2 1/4 at the 2012 State Meet. Photo by Michael Newman

10:36.3 !

Holy smokes! (Not the words I used but you get the idea).

Perez was on pace to break 16:00 on this course!  Courtney Ackerman was 10:43! Emma Fisher was 10:44! Kaylee Flanagan was at 10:45!

Naperville North had re taken the team lead with Lake Park, Glenbard West, and New Trier close behind.  Here again, the focus was on the front.

The stride on the diminutive Perez looked effortless but she was storming away from the competitors. Every spectator that she passed that had a stop watch going watched her pass then looked at their watch. An excitement was engulfing the entire park as Perez was no longer racing her competitors but racing the clock and history.

Two weeks earlier, Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley HS, Simi Valley CA) had run 16:00 at the Mt. SAC Invitational in California. After that race she said that she did not realize that she was going that fast and was afraid that someone was going to catch her.  She never looked back.

This was the same case here. Perez’s focus was ahead on the lead truck and not the action behind her.  The noise kept getting louder as she made the turn down the final straightaway. Behind her, Emma Fisher had a solid lead in second place about 10 seconds ahead of Ackerman. Flanagan was another 10 seconds behind.

History was about to be made on this course. Forty years ago at this meet, Craig Virgin made history in setting the boys course record of 13:50.6. There he stood right by the finish line waiting for Perez to cross the line and join this exclusive club.

Eyes were all on her as she entered the last 200 meters of the race. As she approached the line, all eyes turned and watched the clock tick towards 16:00.

16:01.2!

On the official results, it states 16:02. But on that clock it said 16:01.2.

She shattered the record by 20 seconds. The same record that Kayla Beattie set just two years ago and people said that it would be tough to break.

Emma Fisher also crossed the line ahead of the record running 16:15. She broke the record but she was “only” second.

Emma Fisher of York finished 2nd in 16:15 also breaking the course record. Photo By Steven Koch.

“Emma Fisher ran such an amazing race,” said Glenbard West Coach Paul Haas. “Believe me, we know what it is like to break a record and get second!” In last spring’s state track meet, Glenbard West set the state record in the 4×8 relay, but so did Wheaton-Warrenville South who went under 9:00 to win the race.

“I am really happy,” Fisher said about being in the race. “I am very happy with my time. It was kind of cool. Madeline Perez is in our conference. I stayed with Courtney Ackerman most of the way. It was a great feeling.”

“The mile was 5:12-5:13. It was definitely a fast one. I was hoping it was going to go out a little harder. It was a perfect start,” Perez said after her record run. “I knew that when I got into the triangle, I wanted to put a surge in to see what other girls would go with me. The last mile felt like the fastest mile of my life. You had the fans cheering behind you. Your adrenaline is flowing. My first thought when I went by was woo, new PR. The second was that I have one more mile to go.”

“We knew it would go out fast and how the triangle was where she would attempt to get separation. She is such a tuned-in runner that I was not surprised that she was going to run well at state (she was ready to run on Wednesday) but I don’t think even she could have predicted just how well,” said Haas. “In my mind I thought she had a shot at the record, but I did not mention it since the forecast was calling for rain and the course conditions would play a huge factor on the times. I am just so proud of what she did because I know how great the competition is in this state and how hard she works at developing her running talent, not to mention overcoming such a serious illness this season. Madeline just does everything right and it was terrific to see her take control of the race the way she did.”

Third place finisher Courtney Ackerman of New Trier. Photo by Steven Koch

Courtney Ackerman finished third in 16:27. Kaylee Flanagan finished 4th in 16:39. Olivia Ryan (Fenwick HS, Oak Park) made a late race charge to take 5th. Lisa Luczak (Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn) was hampered by a hamstring injury at the beginning of the week. She went out slower than expected (she was 30th at the mile). Still, she managed to place 6th in 16:45. All together, the top 6 finishers in this race were all from the Niles West Sectional.

In all the attention that the individual race received, Naperville North moved up beautifully in the last portion of the race to capture the 4th championship for Coach Dan Iverson. They had taken the lead from Lake Park half way through the race and were able to maintain that to the end for a 20 point margin. Glenbard West was only 5 behind Lake Park to take third. New Trier finished 9 points back with 147 and fourth place.

On this championship day, Naperville North had 3 all state runners. Sophomore Elly DeTurris finished 14th to lead the Huskies. Junior Maria McDaniel was next in 21st. Freshman Judy Pendergast was the third all state runner for North in 23rd. Their 5 runner split was only 39 seconds.

“We had to continue to run the way we have been running.  By nature, they are very competitive. I did not have to say much to them before we came over to the park,” Iverson said. “They ran smart the first mile and built from there. It is a very simple race plan. They are trained pretty efficiently to run that well. This year has been a process of breaking down barriers. First breaking 18 minutes was a big deal. Now it is 17 minutes. Our team fed off of that real well.”

2012 was a season that will not be forgotten by many girls’ runners in Illinois. It was a year where records were erased and competition was unbelievable.

Just think…Naperville North will return the majority of their team. Madeline Perez is only a junior. 2013 should be just as fun…maybe better.

The Naperville North Girls XC Team celebrates their state championship. It was the fifth for the Girls Program; the fourth under Coach Dan Iverson. Photo by Michael Newman

Steven Koch took some of the pictures for Illinois Prep Harrier. I appreciate the work that he did this past fall. He did take pictures at the state meet. If there are any pictures that he took that you would like copies of, please e-mail him at S.Koch.Photo@gmail.com

Niles West Girls Sectional: Perez leads Glenbard West to team title in high powered sectional

Madeline Perez of Glenbard West enroute to the sectional title at Niles West. Photo by Steven Koch.

Skokie, Ill — Madeline Perez of Glenbard West last week called it a “mini-state meet”. She was right. Three of the top 4 teams in the state went to the line at the Niles West Sectional in what it seemed to be a check up a week before the state meet.

It was a chance to see where teams matched up against each other. It was a chance for the individual runners to test themselves one last time.Perez has come on strong the last couple of weeks just being edged out two weeks ago by Emma Fisher at the West Suburban Silver Meet and last week with a convincing win over Fisher and Lake Park’s Kaylee Flanagan. Throw in to this field New Trier’s trio of Courtney Ackerman, Mimi Smith, and Jessica Ackerman, Olivia Ryan of Fenwick, and Maine South’s Emily Leonard you find a pretty tough field.

The first mile started unexpectingly slow. Kaylee Flanagan all year has pushed the pace early daring runners to stay with her. It backfired last week when Perez zoomed by her at the 1 ½ mile point. The pace was 5:25-5:30 and all the runners that expected to be there was there.

As soon as the pack passed the mile mark, the course turned right and Courtney Ackerman took off wanting to steal the race at that point. The trio of Fisher, Perez, and Flanagan were 10 meters back. Then a pack led by Lisa Luczak of Glenbard Westwas another 5 meters behind the trio.

Perez made her move on Ackerman after the 1 ½ point and she did not look back. The rest of the race for Perez was a race against the clock and a race against herself. The gap continued to grow for the Glenbard West junior. Fisher and Luczak moved past a fading Ackerman but they ran out of time. Perez’s margin of victory was an amazing 24 seconds over Fisher. Luczak and Courtney Ackerman finished within two seconds of each other and 10 seconds behind Fisher.

If anything could be told from this race is that Perez will enter the state meet at Detweiller Park as the favorite in the 3A race.

“The pace went out comfortably compared to what it has been the last couple of weeks. I was really happy how it went out,” a happy Perez said after her race. “The minute she (Courtney Ackerman) took off, I knew I just had to stay in contact with her. I felt comfortable in the last mile. I told myself it was one last mile and push the pace and to see how hard I could go.”

The team race was fantastic and it is interesting to look at the dynamics of it. 15 points separated the first three teams. #2 Glenbard West took the team title with 60 points. #4 New Trier was second with 68. Lake Park was third with 75. York and Maine South claimed the other two qualifying spots. When it comes to the state meet next week, it could be closer between these three teams. Glenbard West has their front two in Perez and Luczak who were in the top 3. New Trier’s first three finished 4-6-9. Flanagan was the only Lake Park finisher in top 10, but the Lancers had solid 40 second split between 2 and 5.

“Our plan was to run our race, but we knew we had to go out faster,” said Glenbard West Coach Paul Haas referring to his 3-7 runners slow start last week at regionals. “Sectional is going to go out fast and state is going to go out faster. This is what we train for.  Our 4-5, two freshman, kept moving and moving and that was the difference with us.”

Glenbard West’s fourth and fifth runners (Grace Rogers and Christina Sedall) finished 20th and 21st; New Trier’s four-five of Kathleen Keene and Ooma-Jung Beeman finished 23rd and 24th. Lake Park’s four-five of Brianne Murphy and Nicole Alfano finished 19th and 23rd.

If that order changes then we would’ve had a different outcome. It will be an interesting meet at Detweiller on Saturday to say the least.