Click on XC SCHEDULE above to see our meet and practice schedule. Check back for updates as new information becomes available. NEW in 2017 - Culver Invitational replaces Charger Invitational, and DVC is now on a Saturday!
Summer Camps for both Cross Country and Track and Field begin on Monday, June 12th, 2017. We offer camps for incoming grades 3 - 12. Go to wildcatXCTF.com to register today!
On November 5, 2016, Soren Knudsen became the first son to follow his father as individual state champion in IHSA Cross Country history. That’s an incredible story, and, given the difficulty of the sport and the myriad genetic and temperamental variables that go into it, perhaps wholly unique in American high school history. We have raced Soren a few times this season, and we have always been impressed by his toughness, discipline, and industry, as well as his cool hair and Viking name. But we don’t truly know his story, nor that of his father. "We're so similar, so we don't always get along perfectly," Soren told the Chicago Tribune. "But we have a connection like none other.”
That’s the thing about a split sheet, a trophy, or a newspaper article. It can tell you the times and places, perhaps offer a few quotes or anecdotes. But we are completely in the dark about the men we run against, the coaches who support them, or the parents who shape them. Champions like Knudsen don’t just happen-- they are the product of thousands of tiny stories that swell to an operatic climax.
On the same day that Knudsen matched his father’s legacy, we were fortunate to secure the third State Championship in our program’s history. It was hardly a preordained moment-- the senior class that took the line on Saturday had finished second four years earlier in their first race at the Hornet/Red Devil Invitational. Each runner had at times this season been injured, sick, or mentally spent. At times, the pressure of state (and even national!) expectations intruded into the sanctity of practice and scrambled our focus. Yet the story coming out of Saturday will inevitably be oversimplified. Even in our program’s 20th year, it is a story like no other. Here is a more full telling.
“...And the rest of the Wildcats!”
One of the first decisions made once we knew we were going to be on the trophy stand was to include seniors from our State travel team. Though they were not listed on our official roster, Alan Poe, Josh Patel, and Austin Vandersteen had proved instrumental in the team’s eventual success.
Poe’s story is the sort of inspirational allegory coaches love to cite with freshmen. A running neophyte whose early races never augered much success, Poe continued to train and apply himself, incremental improvement arriving race by race, year by year. In a time-trial last week, Poe became the eighth member of his class to break 16:00.
Patel had been the 7th. But after a sterling 2015 campaign, Josh spent much of the summer and early fall training through injury. Yet his commitment to the team’s vision never receded, and he became something of a mascot for the hamstrung and infirmed. Like many in the top 7, Patel’s parents weren’t high school runners, and he is something of a generational pioneer. He set out into the unknown, and in the process discovered what was truly great within him.
Unlike Patel, Austin Vandersteen’s family knew all about Cross Country. As the son of head coach Paul Vandersteen and grandson of legendary XC figure Ray Vandersteen, Austin had been around runners since he could walk. Yet an unprecedented series of injuries-- from broken legs to undiagnosable ligament tear-- robbed him of three years of competitive running. The interruption of his familial tradition challenged Austin to uniquely define himself, yet even as he expanded into other interests, he never stopped supporting, encouraging, or defending his teammates. When Austin crossed the stage on Saturday, he was carrying forward the family legacy, yet he was doing so as his own man.
There were, of course, many other seniors who deserved that moment on stage-- the endlessly optimistic Rishi Pandey, or the unfathomably introspective Paul Neubauer, or the inimitably rhapsodic Joe Letourneau. They were all there-- they and dozens more-- cheering, celebrating, sharing the moment. This was their story, too.
Winek is the third of three Wineks to run for Neuqua Valley, a talented gene pool that seemed ready to reach its zenith in the form of the gifted, driven Daniel. Like his prodigious brothers, Danny is lithe, quick, and ambitious, but his competitive flames were turned up a degree higher, and his ability to focus on the more subtle aspects of training is more acute. After running well at NXNs the previous year, Danny approached the 2016 XC season with a zealot’s fervor, literally traversing the country with Jake McEneaney on a pilgrimage to the Olympic Trials this summer.
But, as is often the case with great athletes, Danny’s furnace burned too hot for his frame. Following a summer of intense training, Danny was diagnosed with a rare stress fracture unique to his stride. With every stride he ran this summer, Danny was literally breaking his own back. It wasn’t his fault; he was simply built this way.
He has spent his subsequent months training alone-- in a pool, on a bike, and most recently on a treadmill. He has had to relearn habits of discipline, rethink approaches to training, and reteach his feet to strike the earth. Yet Danny’s contribution to the season is hardly invisible-- by pursuing our shared goal in lonely rooms and empty pools, he galvanized the rest of the top 7. They couldn’t afford to approach training lightly, to back away from challenges. Danny was counting on them.
It is rare that a freshman infiltrates our top 12-- to a coach, runners like Zach Kinne, Jake McEneaney, or Connor Horn are like winning lottery tickets. Being an elite runner requires more than elite talent-- it also requires elite discipline, toughness, courage, intelligence, and luck. Excellence is more often learned than gifted.
Yet Rodrigo Alvarez is not like other 14-year-olds, a point made obvious almost immediately after meeting him. For starters, he is a talented writer, thoughtful and introspective. He has an easy sense of humor, lobbing jokes back at his teammates as effortlessly as a tennis pro’s volley. He is ambitious-- he learns the names of his chief competitors and considers their racing strategies-- but he is also cagey, canny, and realistic about what he is capable of. He switches between Spanish and English as easily as most people blink, and it is clear after watching him that for years Rodrigo has been moving between different fields and worlds, never content to simply ‘go with the flow’ or fade into the background.
One of the marks of genius is the effortlessness with which they carry their greatness. Wherever he goes and whatever he does, he is distinctly, simply Rodrigo. Of course he stands out. And that is how he made our top 12.
Like Danny Winek, sophomore Chris Keeley has only one setting-- ludicrous speed-- and has often been mangled by his body’s inability to keep pace with his will. His 2016 Track season was dominated by a stress fracture whose stubbornness matched Chris’s own. His 2016 XC season very nearly went the same way, as more than once this summer his bike careened out of control, Keeley maniacally pushing himself to achievements commensurate with his ambitions. “Why does this keep happening to me?” he asked one day in July as Coach Rossi and Coach Janota cleaned his wounds and bandaged his cuts. The unspoken answer hung in the air-- “Because you’re Chris Keeley, and you want to win so badly that it’s literally tearing you apart.”
Yet 2016 was the year that Chris learned temperance, patience, and moderation. He slowly worked his way back into the rotation-- first on easy days, then in harder workouts, and finally into races. The results weren’t a straight, ascending line-- he had setbacks, tough days, and disappointments. Yet by season’s end, Keeley was where he wanted to be, where he belonged-- among the best runners in the state.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice credited his career and his work ethic to a fear of failure. “I came from a small, predominantly black school, and I didn’t want to let them down,” he said. The thought of Rice, a prodigiously talented player, running route after route with metric precision, terrified of missing his chance, brings Keeley to mind. But what he seems to have mastered this year is that failure and setbacks do not end a runner-- they guide him.
Then there is the dignity of brilliantly doing your job, day after day, without parade or fanfare. That is the story of junior Alex Johnson, who is not a legacy like Danny Winek or a coach’s son like Ryan Kennedy or a phenom like Tyler Bombacino. He is the face of NVXC by being just another face in the pack. But to overlook Alex Johnson for his quiet steadiness is to miss the greatness of introverts. He is no less tortured, afraid, or complex than his teammates. He simply processes things differently.
In many ways, the story of Johnson’s 2016 season is apropos. Noting a slight inefficiency in his stride, Coach Vandersteen worked with Alex to refine his form. Changing a runner’s stride is the hardest challenge in coaching-- it requires rigid discipline, tedious drillwork, and a sort of zen-like approach that makes unthinking what is actually a highly intricate motion. A runner must work against the thousands of steps he’s taken in pursuing his craft to unlearn something that is as fundamental as breathing.
Yet day after day, Alex did the work. He executed workouts, lifted weights, performed drills, and dutifully logged it all. He thought about the thinking of running, met disappointment, made adjustments, and persevered. This was a different challenge than overcoming injury; it is overcoming the inertia of one’s design.
When he won the Open Race at Twilight by several seconds, Alex was greeted by surprise and raised eyebrows. “Where did that kid come from?” one spectator remarked. But of course he’d been there the whole time.
One of the problems with being driven to improve is that the satisfaction for doing so has too short a season. Almost immediately after achieving a PR, a runner’s eye turns towards the next mark, and the previous time loses the intimidation it once inspired.
Few runners are less satisfied by his own achievements than Tyler Bombacino. He has PRed more often and more regularly than almost any other athlete currently on the roster, yet it is just as familiar a sight to find Tyler brooding afterwards, interrogating his race for moments when he might have squeezed more from his body or held firmer with his will.
Much of this is born from his fast-twitch physiology, which thrives on rest and peaks inconsistently. But it is also rooted in how relentlessly Tyler drives himself. Like Winek and Keeley, Tyler’s engine sometimes threatens to overwhelm him, and he has slowly learned to moderate its torque.
Yet his race at Regionals showed that Tyler’s impatience with himself belies a previously unsuspected potential. On a rolling, uneven course, Tyler outpaced senior teammates Jeremy Hayhurst and Scott Anderson to finish as our fifth man. Tyler has always seen himself clearly, and that race finally revealed what he had been looking at for years, what he was pushing towards in the future.
At Detweiller on Saturday, Tyler finally let himself enjoy a moment he had helped bring to fruition. HIs friends, family, and teammates cheered as the announcer called his name. And Tyler crossed the stage, smiling.
No matter how big you get, your father is somehow always bigger. This fact is most powerfully felt by teenagers, who are eager to define themselves as individuals, even as they are guided by standards of excellence established for them by their predecessor.
There were few in attendance on Saturday who understood Soren Knudsen’s achievement more keenly than Ryan Kennedy. As the son of Head Track Coach/Assistant Cross Country Mike Kennedy, Ryan has been around first-class athletes his whole life, and, like Austin Vandersteen, he has never had the privilege of competing anonymously.
Yet this season, Ryan has worked to define himself apart from his family name. Encumbered by the longer summer that kept allergens in high circulation all season, Ryan struggled to meet his personal expectations. Yet with two races in October, he began to shape a legend all his own. He won the Open Race at Conference all by himself, racing against the disembodied times of the Varsity squad. And at Regionals he posted the top Junior mark of the season, finishing just a step beyond Josh Mollway as our fourth man. He is never far removed from stories of other athletes who walked his path or times that compare to his progress. But increasingly, Ryan Kennedy is writing his own story.
As he warmed up on Saturday with the Top 7, Ryan was prepared to step in should a teammate falter at the last moment. He was without fear or doubt or trepidation, at peace with his present task because of how definitively he’d shaped the moment. Everyone wordlessly understands this about Ryan. It’s who he is.
The first time Jeremy Hayhurst ran Detweiller, he finished 515th place, just barely sneaking past the 22:00 mark (21:59). There was no suggestion in his freshman campaign that he would one day be the fastest seventh man in the history of the IHSA 3A State Meet. The highlight of that 2013 season was a 5:59 mile time trial and the modest cessation of growth-spurt-induced knee pain.
His next trip to Peoria shaved more than three minutes off his mark, but in a deep field he remained largely undistinguished. Jeremy ran 18:31 as a Sophomore. He was the eleventh best runner in his class. In his best race he finished more than three minutes behind Jake McEneaney.
But something happened to Jeremy between his sophomore and junior seasons. Yes, he grew taller, stronger, leaner, and more efficient. It’s also true that he began to trust his coaches and teammates more, investing his training with increased regularity and conviction. It’s hard to find one grain of sand amidst a beach and say, “This, this right here was the one that made the difference.” But somehow, one day Jeremy looked at himself in the mirror and not longer saw a boy who ran. Instead, he saw a runner.
The change was easy to miss given our astonishing depth in 2015, but Hayhurst had unmistakably arrived. In the Open Race at the Richard Spring Invitational, he finished 6th, turning in an eye-popping 16:14. He made our State travel team and cemented his reputation as the ‘plebeians champion,’ rising from obscurity to race with royalty.
By the time he was a senior, Jeremy could simply not be deterred. Every race, he beat runners with a longer pedigree, a more celebrated name. Every race, he somehow got faster, bolder, more efficient. He became the exception that proves the rule explained to freshman at the beginning of every season: You do not yet know what you can become.
He capped his race at Hornet/Red Devil with a simple address that rang through the season. “You guys want a speech?” he asked after our team picnic. “Let’s get after it this season. Let’s see what we can do.”
Well, now we know, Jeremy.
Scott Anderson can remember the results of every teammate in every race in his four years at Neuqua. That’s not hyperbole-- he has an astonishing head for minutia. Often, when coaches struggled to place times and places into context, we would summon “Scandy” to rattle off previous marks, often belonging to athletes who preceded him at Neuqua. In a sport governed by tiny details, Scott was determined not to let any escape his attention.
But an awareness of detail can work against runners, too. Rehabbing from his broken leg last fall, Scott grew increasingly sensitive to the rhythms of his stride and the motions of his body. He educated himself in the science of the sport, going deep on the interrelationships between systems that govern the mechanics of running. There are secrets there that can help good runners become elite in their training. Yet there are also dozens of variables that can keep a runner up at night, worrying about what could go wrong. Knowing where your food comes from can enrich the eating experience. But it can also make a man lose his appetite.
So it went with Scott this season. As the calendar turned from August to September and from September to October, Scott had yet to lace up for meaningful racing. It was the Twilight Invitational that returned him to the fold, and Scott picked up right where he left off, helping secure a emboldening victory for the Varsity squad. Yet despite strong races at Conference, Regionals, and Sectionals, Scott remained dogged by doubts about pains in his legs, uncertain about if each race would mean the end of his season.
Finally, during the week of State, Scott made peace with uncertainty. There was nothing left to do, and nothing more to fear. Whatever was to happen on the day of the race, he had attended to every imaginable variable in preparation. He spoke with candor and affection in our team meeting the night before the race, and he pinned his bib and jersey with the meticulous care of a surgeon. He was late(ish) for warm ups, last(ish) to the line, just like always. His race was as technically sound as a watchmaker’s timepiece, and as he crossed the line, he already knew the results. “14:55. Same as last year,” he smiled. “But this year I was 6th [for the team].”
Myopic, stubborn, particular, and quixotic-- all of Scott’s weaknesses are also his greatest strengths; they made him extraordinary. We have never had a runner like him, and it is doubtful we will ever see his like again. Yet he was always Scandy, our Scandy, who understood more than anyone that all the details matter.
NVXC hasn’t had a team captain since 2003. Runners are by their nature often non-confrontational, and pecking orders are easily determined by times. But 2016 was different. A team defined by alpha dogs and heterogeneous training needs, clashes over pacing and workouts were as inevitable as dampness in a thunderstorm. What was needed was a consensus figure, an athlete understood as impartial, nonpartisan, and judicious. A man respected by all.
Enter Josh Mollway. Like Winek, Mollway is a legacy figure, following his older brother Nathan’s path to NVXC. But by Junior Year, Josh had ascended to heights his brother never achieved, and with these elite times came elite responsibilities. Josh was trusted by coaches to find the click off the right splits, to execute the race plan, to reign in the overzealous and galvanize the ambivalent. Throughout the season, he finished first, second, third, sixth, and-- most pivotally on Saturday-- fifth in the top seven. Josh was whatever we needed him to be when we needed him most. It began to seem that week by week, whatever leak we sprang, Josh had the exact shape to plug the hole.
At the Richard Spring Invitational, he was the first runner this season to dip under 15:00. It was Josh who executed the team race plan that provided the blueprint for the State Championship-- get out relaxed and conservative, then bury the final mile. His race became the template for every PR that followed. It was Josh that kept the team focused on training and oblivious to chatter outside our bubble.
Sitting outside Alexander’s Steakhouse following the trophy ceremony, Josh Mollway led the seniors in an off-key rendition of Styx’s legendary ballad, “Come Sail Away.” It was pretty pitchy to listen to, but over the din of caterwauling, you could make out Josh’s defining voice:
I'm sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I've got to be free free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board I'm the captain so climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try oh Lord I'll try to carry on
We’ve never actually explained why Matt Milostan is called “Goose,” so here’s the story. On our first long run in August of 2013, we quizzed the incoming freshmen on their nicknames. When we came to Milostan, we had this exchange:
“Do you already have a nickname?”
“Anything that people call you? Like, for short?”
“Anything that stands out about you? Any details or stories?”
“Okay, we’re going to call you Mongoose from now on.”
That was it. There’s no event, no hidden joke. He doesn’t particularly look like a Goose. Yet like Flounder from Animal House, he got stuck with a sobriquet without any say in the matter.
It was Milostan’s blankness of canvas that invited a nonsensical nickname, but what he quickly revealed was that he was anything but tabula rasa. Despite a relatively unremarkable running resume, Milostan possessed an absolutely lethal kick, and an uncanny sense of when to unleash it. More critically, he was absolutely unshakable. On the Thursday before the York F/S Invite, we held a mile-and-a-half time trial to determine a freshman top seven. Despite a searing fever and a whooping cough, Milostan gutted out six laps on the track that kept him right in the heart of Mollway and McEneaney, Vandersteen and Jett. They could not beat Milostan, even with his body on the verge of collapse. There’s a word for that-- indefatigable. It’s just not alliterative like Mongoose.
By the State Race, Milostan’s finish was a fait accompli-- there was only the matter of how many bodies he would pick up in the final, furious 200 meters. By the time the results were tabulated, Milostan’s 14:47 stood as the 18th fastest Detweiller time ever run by a Neuqua runner, ahead of such luminaries as Michael Widmann, Nick Bushelle, and David Wing. As he stood on the stage, an All-State medal draped around his neck, one thing was clear: No one would ever forget the name Matthew Milostan.
Jake McEneaney won his first race in a Neuqua uniform. A week later, he won his second race, this time beating a field of more than 500 runners, including, allegedly, Dominic Dina. He won his next race, too, comfortably outkicking former USATF teammate Emerson King. He won these races because he’d prepared to, mentally and physically. He was tough, talented, and determined. He won those races because he expected to.
What Jake did not know at 14 years old-- what no one knows at that age-- is just how little control we have over our race. We don’t control the other runners, their preparation, investment, or will power. We don’t control our teammates, whose view of the contest can differ radically from our own. The weather, the terrain, the noise of the crowd-- these factors demand adjustments on our part as they are beyond our command. Our very bodies are vast mysteries, even to an athlete as focused as Jake. One never knows which step it is that sends the tremor through muscle and tissue that fissures bone. When it happens, the variable often most unchecked is our reactions to our own small, sad frailties.
So Jake learned about disappointment, about falling short. About pushing all your chips to the center of the table, only to bust on the next hand. He learned about falling down, getting trampled. He learned that humility comes from an awareness that we are all just one heartbeat, one loose step, one lapse away from oblivion and the long climb back. He learned that winning the argument isn’t the same as winning the point, that sometimes the best comment is silent reflection. He learned to accept chaos.
Jake didn’t win another XC race until Conference his senior year. By then, he’d built himself into a formidable runner feared across the state, not just because of his body, but because of his mental preparation. “I rehearse everything, everything,” he told the freshmen that September. “What do I do if the race gets out too fast; what do I do if I lose the pack. I prepare for every contingency.” There was no one on the team more prepared for the mantle of greatness. There was no one more aware of the cost.
Cross Country wasn’t done teaching Jake, however. At Sectionals, he faltered-- his body seized up at the two mile mark, marring his usually impregnable confidence. For the first time in nearly two months, Jake wasn’t at the front of the medal sequence. He was just another pack runner.
Jake didn’t lead the team at State, at least not in place or time. But his 14:46 earned him 21st place in the race, a spot in the All-State circle. He hoisted the State Championship trophy over his head, just as he had always expected to, just as he promised us all he would. He didn’t know how much it would ask of him when he made that promise, how hard it would be. That is what makes him great-- almost singular in our program’s history. He paid the price even after he learned its cost.
Jake McEneaney came to the program a winner. And he leaves, having made himself a champion.
Nick Bushelle was one of the biggest, sturdiest runners we ever coached. When he reached the 2.5 mark, we would see him pop up on his toes, stick out his chest, and hammer the final 800. What bystanders don’t realize is what it feels like to be in that moment. It is pain without bottom, exhaustion without respite. Your nerves blaze, your lungs panic, and your heart shifts to red alert. You descend into a pit of suffering that seizes your imagination long after the race is done. After one race his sophomore year, Nick was so spent due to dehydration and fatigue that he could not go back to that mental place for several races. Even the toughest runners fear it.
It’s a rare runner who can lower himself into that zone again and again, each time extracting his utmost effort. You can see the toll in their eyes immediately after they cross the finish line-- the dead eyes, the stooped posture. After his final race in Track and Field, Connor Horn could barely stand an hour afterwards. Knowing what you’re about endure minutes before a race can cower the most valiant and blunt the most resolute.
Perhaps no other runner in our program’s history understands this more deeply than Zach Kinne. As a freshman, he pushed himself so hard at Sectionals that he had to be carried to the bus, his body hypothermic and his will absolutely spent. He didn’t fully recover for a fortnight. His wiry frame and diminutive stature comically diverge from Bushelle or Nick Dunn, and he would be forgiven if he raced this season with timidity or restraint.
But on Saturday, there were few runners taller than Zach Kinne. He out-planned cagey veterans, out-paced seasoned competitors, and out-kicked faster adversaries. After supplanting Horn as the top freshman Detweiller time in program history, he edged out Aaron Beattie for the top sophomore mark. He packed more pain into his 14:41 than any man should reasonably undertake, and what’s most remarkable is that Zach perfectly understood what such effort would ask of him, and still he exceeded the threshold.
For an hour afterwards, he was completely poured out. There was nothing left for him to give. As he wobbled around on unsteady legs, like a deer just learning to walk, a stranger would be confused about the enormous smile spread across his face. He’d never understand by looking at him the refinement of this young man’s conviction, the mettle of his character. And no one who wasn’t there-- who hasn’t run-- could truly grasp that for fifteen minutes in November, there was a fighter named Zach Kinne who stood big as a mountain, strong as an oak.
The term sui generis means “Of his or her own kind; unique; in a class by itself.” More broadly explained, it is a self-made man, without precedent or context. A true sui generis is someone whose greatness defies explanation. People like Nikola Tesla or Howard Cosell or Elon Musk think and behave in ways that do not fit the conventional paradigm and can only be explained with themselves as reference. More than any other runner we’ve ever coached, Jackson Jett is sui generis.
Now, Jett would laugh if we compared him to Elon Musk (and everyone else would groan), so we’ll try and compare him to an athlete for whom he might have greater affinity: Allen Iverson. Here’s what sportswriter Bill Simmons said of Iverson:
The league had never seen anything like him: brash, unapologetic, stubborn as a tree stump and twice as hard. He’s listed at six feet but couldn’t be taller than five-foot-ten, so every time he attacked the basket, it was like watching an undersized running back ram into the line of scrimmage for five yards a pop. He took implausible angles on his drives (angles that couldn’t be seen as they unfolded, even if you’d been watching him for ten years) and drained an obscene number of layups and floaters in traffic. He had a knack for going 9-for-24 but somehow making the two biggest shots of the game. And he played with a furious intensity that only KG and Kobe matched (although MJ remains the king of this category). For years and years, the most intimidating player in the league wasn’t taller than Rebecca Romijn. His coaches loved him to death even as he made them age faster than the president. You couldn’t invent Allen Iverson. He simply existed, and that’s enough.
That’s the basketball equivalent of Jackson Jett. He always had the tools of a great runner-- lean but powerful frame, a high motor, a sense of theatrical brio, and an instinct for the big moment. But for as many aspects of Jackson that are quintessential in champions, there are just as many that left his coaches and teammates scratching their heads. He can be pathologically intractable and hotheaded; he could get in a fight with a nun if he believed she doubted him. Watching him do lunges is like watching a baby gazelle discover its limbs.His races could be maddeningly inconsistent; he could lose to Jake by 22 seconds at Lockport only to nip at his heels a week later at Twilight. Yet somehow-- inconceivably-- he now owns the seventh fastest Detweiller time in our program’s history.
In many ways, Jackson’s State Race perfectly sums up his existence as a runner. He PRed by more than 20 seconds. 20 seconds! How is that possible? How many All State athletes can ever say that? He beat runners he had never beaten before, and he did it as convincingly as Muhammad Ali laid out Sonny Liston, as surgically as Michael Jordan destroyed Clyde Drexler. It’s not that he hadn’t prepared for the moment, for Jackson had worked hard to ready himself physically and emotionally. It’s that we had not prepared for a race like this. No one had. It was without precedent.
And perhaps that is the best thing to say about Jackson Jett. Like Chris Derrick, Danny Pawola, Taylor Soltys, and Aaron Beattie, there has never been anyone who has worn the Neuqua colors quite like Jackson. From now on, any story that is told about him will be immediately believed. Jackson swam the English Channel? Sure, that sounds right. He won a bullfight in Valencia? Of course he did.
He was the top finisher on a State Champion Cross Country team?
Naturally.That’s our Jett.
In many ways, what’s most important about the stories of these athletes is how unremarkable they are in Illinois. Every team has their myths and lore, and although there are no tales quite like Soren and Jim Knudsen, every runner on the course has a father whose relationship is no less complex, rich, or meaningful. The Trojans of Downers Grove North will be telling incoming freshmen about Alec Danner and Andrew Marek in the reverent tones that Lake Zurich reserves for Brian Griffith and Matt Pereira. Cross Country produces heroes as reliably as Illinois grows corn, and the folklore that come out of the State Meet is one of its greatest recommendations.
But then again, 2016 will always be a story like no other. Because of a boy who got seven minutes faster, and a teammate who never forgot a split. Because of a once-and-future captain and a mongoose named Matt. Because of Jake McEneaney’s heart, Zach Kinne’s grit. Because Jackson Jett existed, and that’s enough. The parents and coaches who stay behind will tell these stories, over and over again, as though they could conjure the battles again through words because they stay ever-young, ever-fresh, ever-triumphant.
The race lasts 15 minutes, thrice around the field, and its done. But a legend? That stays forever.
Results Dyestat Recap Video Daily Herald Article Tribune Article Naperville Sun Article MilesplitIL Recap
Runners plan for everything. The night before, they carefully pack their uniform and supplies for every eventuality. They obsessively review their race plan and rehearse contingencies and counter-contingencies. The bib is pinned precisely; the jersey is tucked neatly; the spikes are laced tightly. And then the gun goes off, and everything is chaos.
As the saying goes, races are not run on paper, and our Sectional race was full of surprises. For the second straight year, we were proud and fortunate to leave Stuart Sports Complex as champions. But while the results were the same, our script was an improvisation from previous races.
Take Jackson Jett (1st, 15:12). Over the past four years, the hard-charging senior has run races that seemed like instant-classics, but in the same season will throw in a clunker that fades from the memory faster than a David Spade movie. But Saturday, following the example of teammates Jake McEneaney and Matt Milostan, he won his first Varsity race. This was Jackson’s most complete performance from gunshot to chute, and he seems to be peaking at precisely the right moment.
Or consider Scott Anderson (8th, 15:30). In a season frustrated by injury and stride irregularities, Scott has lived with uncertainty from week to week about whether his body will respond to his commands. Everyone knows what Scott can do, yet, like last year, we waited anxiously to see his Sectional results. Seeing him returning to form has been one of the highlights of a dizzying season.
Then there’s Jeremy Hayhurst (11th, 15:36). Going into 2016, no one was talking about Hayhurst as a top-5 finisher at Sectionals, yet with each race he has stubbornly inserted himself into the conversation, bringing his times down week by week through sheer force of will. No one knows what he’s capable of at this point, yet no one is willing to bet against him.
The rest of our team submitted similarly quixotic results to greater or lesser degrees. Matt Milostan (2nd, 15:19) reminded Josh Mollway (3rd, 15:20) of his lethal kick. Ryan Kennedy (14th, 15:43) was hampered by a cold, while Jake McEneaney (16th, 15:48) was hampered by dehydration. Each of these athletes had carefully readied themselves for the moment, familiarizing themselves with every jot of the race. Yet like every other runner in the race, the 15 minutes between those three miles was a great unknown.
And that--ultimately-- is the thrill and terror of racing. Because it’s out of our control. Because anything can happen. All that you have is the intensity of your preparation, the fervor of your faith, and the tenacity of your bonds.
Next week, there’s a great cliff at the edge of the starting line. We’ve done everything imaginable to ready ourselves. Now all that’s left is the leap.
Results Daily Herald Article
It’s fitting that the Cross Country State Series parallels the browning of the leaves. In the long yawn of summer, legs feel loose and shoulders are light. But as the ground turns hard and the air crisps, a runner’s gaze sharpens and his breath goes hard. Gone are the airy July runs. As the Starks of Game of Thrones would say, “Winter is coming!”
With the senior valediction of Conference behind us, we focused our attentions on the Regional Race. Returning to the Kress Creek Farm in West Chicago, our squad hoped to repeat the results of the previous year, where alumni Aidan Livingston led the Wildcats to a 7th straight championship. Frontrunners Jake McEneaney and Jackson Jett earned the day off, throwing JV stalwarts Ryan Kennedy and Tyler Bombacino into a fierce melee that would feature several probable all-state athletes.
However, it was sophomore Zach Kinne who took the race out hardest in the first two miles, flanked by senior speedster Matt Milostan. The pack cruised through the mile with seven under 5:00 and through the two mile mark with all under 10:00. In the end, it came down to a final kick by Milostan (1st, 14:50) to claim the Regional Championship, his first victory as a Varsity athlete. Kinne (3rd, 14:51) closed hard behind him, with senior Josh Mollway (5th, 15:11) breaking into the top 5 soon after. However, the strongest races may have come from Kennedy (6th, 15:12) and Bombacino (9th, 15:17) who both ran enormous PRs to score for the team. Seniors Jeremy Hayhurst (15:18) and Scott Anderson (15:19) streamed in a few ticks later, allowing us to join the Girl’s Team as Regional champions.
Cross country runners look almost comical in mid-October: thin, naked legs supporting narrow torsos in the brisk fall wind. But our advantage lies not in the training with which we’ve prepared those legs so much as the layers of with which support we’ve surrounded them. This past week, for instance, we were hosted by Naperville Running Company, which leant us space to train and commune. We were fed and cheered repeatedly by generous parents on Saturday, Monday, and Friday. We were treated by alumni families—the Duncans and the Peters—who have stood by our program for more than a decade, reminding class after class that NVXC is a family bound by values. And our band of brothers—freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors—continues to train, resolved to put in their miles to support and inspire the week’s chosen seven.
Next week returns us to the Stuart Sports Complex in Montgomery, the site of the coldest, harshest meet in our program’s history. The miles ahead are increasingly numbing, brisk, and arctic. But though we are bedecked in only a singlet and short shorts, our runners are insulated by our family. Tell winter we’re coming.
Results Naperville Sun Article
In a sport that’s governed by time, it’s always surprising how relative time can seem. Fifteen minutes can feel like a geolithic age within the heat of racing; it can pass like a hiccup once you cross the finish. Runners train to recognize what a five minute mile feels like but it feels like something else after you’ve already run two. There’s an unpronounceable gap between the clock and the body.
The Conference Meet is special because we arrive and race with bodies in peak condition. Every muscle is set; every capillary is open. For all but twelve of our guys, the season ends in the chute, so they arrive prepared to push themselves through a hard 15-25 minutes, regardless of how it feels.
The afternoon began with the Freshman/Sophomore Race. Our youngsters entered the meet coming off a pair of narrow victories the past two invitationals and eager to extend their streak to five straight conference championships. Hammering the mud-rutted trails and leaning hard into the turns, Rodrigo Alvarez-Gonzalez (2nd, 16:00), Chris Keeley (3rd, 16:02), and Michael Madiol (4th, 16:06) broke the lead chase pack in the last half mile. Nick Drechsler (7th, 16:20) put an exclamation mark on his season, and Michael O’Connor (17th, 16:37) finished a gutsy race on 1½ working hips. Matt Jett (16:37), Spencer Teske (16:40), and Jack Orengo (16:45) ran tall, and season’s best times came from Quinn Kennedy (17:26), Ramsay Johnson (17:27), Kevin Daneliak (17:29), Blake Storoe (17:46), Luke Huenecke (18:26), Dylan Bushelle (18:29), Sam Stuart (18:32), Josh Rodriguez (18:44), Rahul Kohl (18:47), Chris Guo (19:08), Aditya Sathyaprakash (19:17), Joey Spencer (19:29), Adam Gutierrez (19:38), Nate Spencer (19:45), Hadi Moukallad (20:27), James Teune (20:33), Kevin Shaffer (21:47), Ethan Smetana (21:53), and Trent Sebring (23:31).
Coming off their seismic performance at Twilight, the Varsity squad was tasked with defending a decade-long championship streak at Conference. Few wildcats have ever prepared as intensely for battle than Jake McEneaney (1st, 14:51), who won his first ever varsity race to claim the crown as Conference Champion. He was trailed by sophomore Zach Kinne (2nd, 14:59), seniors Jackson Jett (3rd, 15:00), Matt Milostan (4th, 15:04), and Scott “Scandy” Anderson (6th, 15:17). “Captain” Josh Mollway (7th, 15:18) and Jeremy Hayhurst (8th, 15:19) closed out the race with a near-perfect score of 16, our third best conference finish ever.
The highlight of the day, however, was the Open Race, which proved a fitting capstone to the high school XC career for many of our seniors. Ryan Kennedy submitted one of the most impressive races of the day, running 15:25 all by himself to claim the Open title. Fellow juniors Tyler Bombacino (2nd, 15:45) and Alex Johnson (4th, 15:59) finished shortly after, and a recuperating Josh Patel (13th, 16:27) and flinty Evan McVittie (16th, 16:34) sealed the team title. The ordinarily serene Erik Huenecke (16:39) thundered in next, and Alan Poe (16:44), Keanan Ginell (16:47), and Dakota Getty (16:48) shot into the chute seconds later. Several juniors ran sterling times, including DJ Sauer (16:57), Daniel Speckels (17:08), Quinton Quagliano (17:10), “Professor” Matt Lindell (17:34), Paul McIntyre (17:34), Michael Dy (17:43), John Kubicki (17:45), Austin Nguyen (17:53), Calvin McIntyre (17:58), and David Botos (18:10), and Blake Reichert (18:30). But the day belonged to the seniors, who made the most of their last trip around the field. Season highlights came from Joe Tarszowicz (17:17), Paul Neubauer (17:17), Isaiah Robinson (17:29), Wookie rights activist Rishi Pandey (17:40), Michael Vivo (18:00), Nick Mitchell (18:08), Nick Pemberton (18:28), Josh Covarubias (18:35), Jairaj Narendran (18:37), Homecoming luminary Sam Ellis (18:41), Cory Harland (18:42), Javed Mohamed (18:43), Garrett Hazdra (18:47), Mason Crockett (18:48), Soham Soha (18:54), Conrad Tkacz (19:14), Jake Anderson (20:08), Nick Beatty (20:10), Omna Berhane (23:39), and Shiv Nigam (23:58).
Watching Joe Letourneau—a middle-of-the-pack runner who changed the NVXC culture with his humor and camaraderie—was one of dozens of moments of quiet revelation from the senior class. Letourneau ran himself to exhaustion, collapsing in the chute, only to be swarmed by his friends, his teammates, his brothers. They hauled him to his feet, holding on to one another—and the moment—for just a little longer.
And ultimately, that’s the lesson of four years of Cross Country—time and distance are relative. When you’re a freshman, a five mile run can seem a vast desert, but a few trips through the calendar can shrink it to a patch of sand. And a high school career which began miles and years from fruition yields its harvest in too short a season. Runners know this, as do their fathers and mothers, brother and sisters. The race goes by quickly, and every second counts.
As a general rule, runners are not nocturnal creatures. Running at top speed across uneven fields dappled by shadow and silhouettes invites rolled ankles, and increases the likelihood of collisions and pileups. Most runners’ entire metabolisms are built around mornings—the early practice, the race held before drawing the sun’s full attention.
That’s what makes Naperville’s annual Twilight Invitational so electric—it combines an unnatural glow with an irregular schedule and a carnival atmosphere lifted straight from some neon Mardi Gras. With a whole day to build anticipation, our teams take the line in an unfamiliar situation, uncertain of what to expect. Though guided by towers of light, they are truly racing into the darkness.
Fortunately, the results of the 2016 Twilight Invite proved incandescent. Our Freshman/Sophomore crew faced off against several teams that had bloodied them in the past—like Naperville North and Hinsdale Central—and some (like Glenbard West) whose reputation was growing more intimidating with each result sheet. This was the first meet we had our full complement of runners, and we were fortunate that this was the case as the race proved even more intense a scrap than Lockport. A resurgent Chris Keeley (6th, 16:16) led the way, summoning a fearsome kick to stride past teammates Rodrigo Alvarez (7th, 16:17) and Michael Madiol (9th, 16:20). Spencer Teske (16th, 16:36) continued to ascend, and Nick Drechsler (17th, 16:38) recorded another PR. Matt Jett (24th, 16:57) and Jack Orengo (28th, 17:02) rounded out the top 7, with Kevin Daneliak (17:35), Ramsay Johnson (18:02), Sam Stuart (18:46), Rahul Koul (18:55), Joey Klaips (18:56), Nate Spencer (19:54), and many others all running significant PRs.
The J/V Race proved a showcase for one of our programs more diffident and dependable drones. Alex Johnson (1st, 15:59) led from gunshot to finish line, finally cracking the 16:00 barrier. Season’s best performances were also submitted by Dakota Getty (8th, 16:29), Alan Poe (11th, 16:30), Evan McVittie (17th, 16:37), and Josh Patel (18th, 16:39). Keanan Ginell (16:51) submitted his usual gritty, steady effort, while seniors Erik Huenecke (16:56) and Paul Neubauer (17:02) made the most of their last race under the lights. Season records were demolished by DJ Sauer (17:27), “Professor” Matt Lindell (17:29), Rishi Pandey (17:33), Isaiah Robinson (17:37), “Private” Austin Nguyen (17:41), Danny Speckels (17:46), Paul McIntyre (17:50), Joe Tarszowicz (17:55), Michael Dy (17:58), John Kubicki (18:00), and David Botos (18:21), among others.
The lights glowed brightest on the Varsity Race, which was a heavily hyped, highly anticipated tilt between some of Illinois’ most decorated programs. After several weeks of split squads and injury rehabilitation, no one was certain how the team would race together. Yet it was evident early on that something special was unfolding, as a disciplined Jake McEneaney and an ambitious Jackson Jett surged into the lead pack. For both, it proved the most complete race of the season, but it was what followed that proved most exciting. For the second week in a row, Jake (14:49) finished second to a probable all-state athlete, only to pivot and watch a tight line of gold stream across the finish line. Jett (4th, 14:55), Josh Mollway (5th, 15:00), Zach Kinne (6th, 15:01), and Matt “Mongoose” Milostan (7th, 15:01) all finished within six seconds of one another (and all-state runner Blake Evertsen!). Most excitingly, a rehabilitated Scott Anderson (10th, 15:10) looked close to old form, and hot hand Jeremy Hayhurst (13th, 15:15) has never looked better. Sterling efforts by juniors Ryan Kennedy (15:24) and Tyler Bombacino (15:42) yielded season’s best marks, with hard-luck Bombacino PRing on a miserable blister (after previously PRing with a miserable cold). The results were eye-popping and exhilarating, but a full month away from the brightest lights of all. There is still much work to do.
As the clock neared 10 PM and we boarded our buses, we tried to enjoy the night for a just a few seconds more. For some of us, the season ends in ten short days; for a select few, there’s an impending date in November. We rode home together, singing and cheering, the bus’s headlights cutting shafts through the darkness. So much remains hidden, shrouded, and uncertain. But after tonight, the path forward shines ust a little bit brighter. Results DyestatIL Recap Video Jake McEneaney Interview FS Video Spikes and Flats Twilight Video NCTV Recap
It was the best of (race) times, it was the worst of times; it was the course of hills and gullies, it was the course of straight lines and trapezoids; it was the epoch of steady deluge, it was the epoch of overcast-yet-calm skies; it was the season of mud-laden plodding, it was the season of quicksilver racing; it was the spring of PRs, it was the winter of “We’ll get ‘em next week,”; we got an apple at the finish line, we got a limp granola bar on the bus ride home; we were all going east to Lockport, we were all going two and a half hours south – in short, the Saturday was so far like any other Saturday of a suburban family, that it scarcely bears mentioning. Of course, if it’s a Saturday where we are fortunate enough to win one varsity race and finish 4th in another, a few sentences recalling the day seem appropriate.
On October 1st, 2016, we split our squad between two races, with Coach Vandersteen leading a crew of seven back to Detweiller and Coach Janota marching the rest of our forces to Dellwood Park for Lockport High School’s annual Locktoberfest Invitational. The clouds opened early in Lockport, accelerating the schedule for what was already a tight and well-managed race. It’s hard to put into words the sight of 500 runners, muscles tensed, leaning across a painted line in a storm, waiting for a cannon blast, but if we had to pick one word, it would be epic.
Peoria Invitational. Our focus for this meet was to give some underclassmen an opportunity to experience a varsity race. We had some guys run really well, especially since they got out way faster than they are used to doing. As Coach Hartner, my son, and I stood at the mile, we watched in amazement as freshman Rodrigo Alvarez and sophomores Michael Madiol and Chris Keeley came by the mile between 4:55-4:59. Considering all of their mile pr's are within 4-5 seconds of this, we wondered if they could hang on. Rodrigo and Michael both managed to do so and ran great races. Rodrigo pr'd by 30 seconds to record one of the fastest freshman performances in our history. His 15:49.6 ranks as #3 all-time. Michael ran almost a minute faster than his best, running 15:54.2. Chris did not fare as well. He has lacked training due to a shin stress fracture, and the fast pace was too much to handle for his current fitness. Once things started to spiral out of control physically, the mental side also took hold and he faded badly. However, we all know Chris will rebound and run much better in his next race when he is in control of the first mile.
Speaking of sophomores, Zach Kinne recorded the 2nd fastest sophomore time in our history, running a solid 9th in 14:50.9. Only Aaron Beattie's performance in the 2007 State meet (14:46) is better. Zach has a huge upside, and once he starts to be a little more aggressive that 2nd mile, he will only lower this time. Our final three performances were recorded by a senior and two juniors. The only senior of this seven, Jeremy Hayhurst, continued his meteoric rise and finished 24th in 15:14.1. For a young man who could not crack 18:00 as a sophomore, this is truly an amazing performance. Junior Tyler Bombacino ran a better race than last weekend, and ran a pr of 15:36.5. Once we get him some rest, the faster-twitched Tyler will run the last mile with fresher legs, and run much faster. Junior Ryan Kennedy did not run the race he is capable of running. Luckily, there is nothing physically going on, and he has a pattern of running well at the end of the season. It is time for him to latch on to our pack and let them take him for a ride!
We ended up finishing 4th as a team in this loaded invitational. Without five of our top eight guys, we are looking forward to putting it all together as we begin the last phase of our season.
Overall Results Team Results
Lockport Invitational The Freshman/Sophomore Race began the festivities, fitting into their box without frontrunners Chris Keeley, Rodrigo Alvarez, Michael Madiol, or Michael O’Connor, dispatched to Peoria or the injury report. It fell to our second pack to try and keep the scores low, and on a grueling 5k spread out over a considerable field, the race came down to a single body. Steady-Eddies Nick Drechsler (5th, 17:36) and Spencer Teske (6th, 17:36) had their best races of the season, finishing 0.2 of a second apart. They were trailed closely by a stubborn Matt Jett (13th, 17:49), whose race almost perfectly mirrored his older brother’s. Human-whimsy Jack Orengo (25th, 17:59) fell behind early, but kept he himself close enough to the lead pack to stave off oblivion. However, the day’s heroics belonged chiefly to Blake Storoe (71st, 18:58), who kicked down two competitors before outleaning a third at the finish. As it turned out, the Sophomores defeated Wheaton North’s squad by a single point, a stirring reminder that amidst 5,000 meters and 500 bodies, every place and second counts. Kevin Daneliak (75th, 19:00.0), Quinn Kennedy (78th, 19:00.7), Erik Thompson (93rd, 19:13.5), Joseph Klaips (129th, 19:45), and Luke Huenecke (131st, 19:45.6) rounded out the team’s efforts.
Less than a half hour later, the Varsity Race was underway, the rain steadier and the hills slicker. Senior Jake McEneaney (2nd, 16:02) broke his pack in the third mile, while Jackson Jett worked his way up (16:24) to a 5th place finish. Josh Mollway-- whose breakthrough race came a year before at Dellwood-- finished 11th in 16:36. Junior Alex Johnson (40th, 17:08) muscled through a chase pack, while the redoubtable Evan McVittie (66th, 17:28) closed the door, beating a competitor by less than half a second. While not as close as the Freshman/Sophomore Race, the Varsity tilt also required a second pack to race with aggressively and uncomfortably. Dakota Getty (86th, 17:41), Alan Poe (89th, 17:44), Erik Huenecke (92nd, 17:47), Keanan Ginell (107th, 17:57), and DJ Sauer (112th, 18:02) met that challenge.
By the time of the Open Race, the trails of Dellwood had dissolved into streams the color of oatmeal and melted chocolate, pockmarked by 1,000 sets of spikes. Yet in the slowest of conditions, our Open runners still recorded some of their best races of the season. Senior Josh Patel (13th, 18:26) triumphantly returned to the lineup, while classmate Paul Neubauer showed greater grit and patience (21st, 18:43). “Professor” Matt Lindell (18:49) broke through in 23rd, while fellow junior Austin Nguyen (27th, 18:53) proved himself a happy warrior. Other noteworthy efforts were submitted by Danny Speckels (18:56), John Kubiki (19:07), Ramsay Johnson (19:13), Calvin McIntyre (19:31), Michael Vivo (19:49), Sam Stuart (20:22), Jairaj Narendran (21:04), Javed Mohamed (21:59), and Luke Janek (23:47).
After two weeks of split squads, different schedules, and separate buses, we eagerly anticipate Wednesday’s Twilight Invitational. We have yet to see how our full lineup fits together at any level. It’s time to start putting these disparate chapters into one volume about one team, telling one story. If these early sections are any prelude, 2016’s book could potentially end with a far, far better race than we have ever run, leading to a far, far better bus ride than we have ever known.