Having graduated six of our top seven, the Neuqua Wildcats arrived at Katherine Legge Park dogged by thoughts of ascension, tradition, and legacy. Amidst a quiet warm-up and the busyness of tying laces, several questions went unspoken: how do we follow last season? What will they say about us when we’re gone?
Of course, all of that is so much nervous energy; when the gun fires and the stampede begins, there’s no time for anything other than the next breath. And so memories were filed away to make room for the immediacy of green hills and gray dirt, a merciless hill and an infamous creek. Same as it ever was, but somehow brand new.
The Freshman Race was its usual mix of comic pratfalls, jangled nerves, and thrilling suggestion. With little sense of pace and just a few months of training under their soles, the new kids set out to earn the logo on their jerseys. They responded with an encouraging 2nd place finish behind 3rd place finisher Vasant Fong (10:35), the surging packof Colin Searls (10:54), Ryan Horn (10:55), and Leif Anderson (10:55), and the hero-of-the-people Daniel Gutierrez (11:35). Brian Jett (11:53), Stephen Smilie (12:14), Aleksandras Majus (12:15), and Luke Suman (12:19) all ran races commensurate with past all-conference and all-state Wildcats, and the furious finishes of Guilherme Reginatto (12:44), Jack Ashby (13:09), Jack Wharton (13:09), Akshat Maheshwari (13:44), and Evan Schmidtgall (13:47) showed that though they may not yet know the stories, they understand the team’s legacy. It’s worth noting that their second place finish to Naperville Central mirrors the results of the same race, five years ago, by the Class of 2016.
The freshman cool-down was full of laughter and storytelling, as the events of the previous half-hour were slowly set down as mythology. They were establishing their own stories, their own traditions, claiming an ambition and path for themselves, even as it follows a familiar course well-traveled by runners they’ve never met. So be it. The past is names, times, and memories. This is a new team, and their race has just begun.