I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed by this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never—“
“You lie,” he cried
And ran on.
In less than a decade, the Twilight Invitational has become one of the wonders of the Illinois Cross Country season. Titans of the sport and teams of conquerors collide in a tilt that climaxes on a Naperville North track lit brighter than an O’Hare runway. It’s a test of fitness, training, and preparation, but also of faith. After all, the most critical moments in the race take place deep in the shadows. ILXTF Recap MilesplitIL Recap Results Video of all races Kevin Daneliak Interview
We arrived at this year’s meet besieged and beleaguered. After a difficult race at Lockport and the social marathon of Homecoming, many of our athletes felt leaden and slow. Yet each race showcased Wildcats rising to the moment’s crisis, ready to pursue the horizon.
The Open Race unfolded first. A unique contest combining all four classes and an eclectic mix of backups, neophytes, and recently-injured, it summons champions in unlikely figures. There are few athletes we could find more deserving of the individual title than the 2018 Open Champion, Erik Thompson (17:52), who has stoically soldiered on these past four years, often running workouts on his own, in pursuit of his own quiet excellence. Joining him on the awards stage were sophomores William Fu (18:47) and Austin Burke (18:51), and freshmen David He (18:59) and Jacob Nauman (19:09). Their combined efforts helped snag the team title from a noisy field, putting a cap on strong races from Nick Rokosz (19:16), Andrew Scholderback (19:22), Jack Wharton (19:29), Corey Papastathis (19:30), Avik Vaish (19:32), Alex Del Genio (19:47), Ethan Smetana (20:51), Andre Park (21:01), James Teune (21:02), Evan Restuccia (21:02), Chase Parkhurst (21:04), Neel Pai (21:13), Henry Golden (21:16), and Patrick Conniff (21:51).
The Freshman/Sophomore team lined up without Nick Dovalovsky and Vasant Fong (recently promoted to Varsity) or Leif Anderson (still injured from tussling with a crumple-horned snorkack). Nonetheless, they still raced as though they expected to catch the horizon. Led by the Captain of Clout, Brian Jett (16:36), the team managed to secure a second place finish. Jett was trailed by sophomores Ryan Horn (16:45) and Luke Mennecke (16:48), as well as the surging freshmen Noah Schalliol (17:13) and Sachin Fong (17:19). Stephen Smilie (17:31) and Charlie Rook (17:43) rounded out the top seven, with mid-distance phenom Max Mitchell (18:16) making a promising debut. The young ‘Cats will now shift towards tapering to prime them for one last charge at the light.
By the time of the JV race, the sun had set and darkness blanketed the fields. The team slotted themselves into the box like bullets in a chamber. They surged in the first 100 meters, rolling into the half-mile with the aggressiveness of a showboat gambler. Though other teams broke our pack in the second mile, the Wildcats fought for a one-point victory, led by Kevin Daneliak (16:21), Quinn Kennedy (16:41), Jack Orengo (16:41), Blake Storoe (16:44), and Ramsay Johnson (17:23). Juniors Sam Stuart (17:38), Josh Rodriguez (17:59), Ethan Lockwood (18:40), and Joey Spencer (18:52) finished next, with followed by a trio of seniors with rad hair--Sahil Yemul (19:03), Nate Spencer (19:12), and Joey Klaips (19:23).
The Varsity Race, of course, was the main draw of the evening, with several of the top 3A teams and individuals vying for dominance. Glenbard West’s twin terminators set a blistering pace, with a broad chase pack pacing the first mile to see if they’d come back. When it became clear that they wouldn’t, every member of that pack faced the hard choice—surge or submit. After all of the claims about training and culture and trends are stripped away, this is what racing truly is—a struggle between faith and doubt. For one night, at least, ours was rewarded. Chris Keeley (15:13) led the way, with Michael Madiol (15:27) in close pursuit. It was the ragged pack of Matt Jett (15:54), Michael O’Connor (15:54), and Nick Dovalovsky (15:55) that sealed the team championship, with senior Spencer Teske (16:03) not far behind.
As we boarded the bus singing songs and spinning legends, the light towers came down, one by one, over the fields of Naperville North. In just a few short hours, no one would be able to tell that an enormous meet had glowed like a moon in the middle of Naperville. When it’s dark like that, it’s difficult to see the horizon at all. But, like so many other teams in this running state, we don’t need to see it to pursue it. You can tell us we’re wrong, foolish, mistaken. We’ll call you liars, and run on.
While it’s not a course that yields many PRs, the legendary Lockport race at Dellwood Park is unmatched for sheer variety. Its layout has changed many times over the years, but its 5000 meters roughly breaks into three distinct and daunting sections: a flat, fast first mile, a twisty, obstacle-laden second mile, and a long, slow climb of a third mile. Combined with a peerlessly efficient meet crew and some endearingly weird quirks (the races are started by a cannon!), Locktoberfest has remained one of the highlights of our racing calendar for two decades. RESULTS
The 2018 iteration was no different, as the three races each featured several stirring performances. In the Freshman/Sophomore race, we began with a last minute scratch of team whimsy-factory, Leif Anderson, who joined teammate Brian Jett on the inactive list. Undeterred, the sophs went hunting for low sticks. Nick Dovalovsky (16:39) became the first Wildcat since Brendon O’Connor in 2011 to win the individual F/S title, seemingly determined at several points to catch the pace car. Vasant Fong (16:59) paced the first mile with him, gapping the rest of the field to finish second. He was joined with breakout races from Luke Mennecke (17:13), Ryan Horn (17:22), Luke Suman (17:27), Stephen Smilie (17:29), and freshmen Charlie Rook (17:31) and Sachin Fong (18:04). The squad outlasted a talented Glenbard West crew to come away with several caramel apples and the team championship.
The Varsity team was similarly undermanned, running only six. Yet here, too, the harriers finished the job, placing all six in the top 20. This time it was Chris Keeley’s (15:42) turn to lead, trailed closely by Michael Madiol (). Matt Jett (16:05) matched 2017 graduate Danny Winek’s previous Lockport PR, while Michael O’Connor (16:12) finished this year with both shoes, and Nick Drechsler (16:15) and Spencer Teske (16:23) popped in soon after. It was our best 1-5 Varsity split of the season, and the fact that it came on Dellwood’s grueling 5k augurs well for the future.
But the highlight of the day was the Open Race, where we were proud and fortunate to post a perfect score. Seniors Blake Storoe (16:50) and Kevin Daneliak (16:58) led the way, followed by junior Quinn Kennedy (16:58), running his best race of the year. Jack Orengo (17:14) and Ramsay Johnson (17:28) finished things off, joined soon in the chute by Noah Schalliol (17:49), Josh Rodriguez (17:52), Sam Stuart (17:53), and Nathanael Howard (18:03), all in the top 10. Other apple-winners included Daniel Gutierrez (18:12) and JD Hastings (18:26), with Aidan Stone (18:40), Ethan Lockwood (18:42), Austin Burke (18:47), Dominick Grammarosso (18:48), Jacoub Letourneau (18:50), Jacob Nauman (18:52), Sahil Yemul (19:07), Corey Papastathis (19:10), and Alex Del Genio (19:10) showing Open prowess. Other noteworthy performances came from Nate Spencer (19:23), Nick Rokosz (19:45), Avik Vaish (19:51), Andrew Schloderback (20:03), Andrew Gutierrez (20:05), Erik Thompson (20:21), Ben Serna (20:46), Ian Kim (20:47), James Teune (20:52), Kevin Shaffer (21:23), and Patrick Conniff (21:24). Freshman Nick Rohlwing (22:17)—in his first race—summed up the Lockport experience thusly: “I ran it. I’m proud. And now I can’t walk.”
He’ll get up soon; he’ll have to. Twilight is only a few days away, and Conference soon after. The season started flat and fast. We’re passing through the obstacles. Let the long climb begin.
On Saturday, we made another trip out of Illinois, this time heading East to Culver, Indiana for the Culver Invitational. With a squad of only Juniors and Seniors, we looked compete with some of the best teams in Indiana and Illinois despite the fact that some of top runners would not be present.
Our Varsity squad raced first and quickly set the tone for the meet. From the gun, our athletes were engaged. Michael Madiol (Sr.) and Chris Keeley (Sr.) were right in the front pack for most of the race and had their first major taste of being front runners. However, Michael O’Connor (Sr.), feeling great with the 30 degree temperature difference compared to earlier this week, was chasing and determined to grab a top 10 spot as he worked his way through the fragmenting top pack late in the race. Madiol (15:56) would cross the line first for Neuqua Valley and took 4th. O’Connor (16:07) and Keeley (16:08) came in together in 7th and 8th places, respectively, for some great low scoring positions.
Nicolas Drechsler (Sr.) (16:29) and Spencer Teske (Sr.) (16:32) found each other during the race to round out the Top 5, placing 19th and 21st. Given that this course runs about one minute slower than Detweiller Park in Peoria, this is a great step forward for both of these athletes and they kept great focus and posture to finish stong. Blake Storoe (Sr.) (16:47) and Jack Orengo (Sr.) (16:55) were together for most of the race with Storoe pulling ahead later in the race to take 38th while Orengo took 45th. Quinn Kennedy (Jr.) (17:16) and Ramsay Johnson (Jr.) (17:24) both kept charging forward to put up 5000 m personal bests.
In the end, it was a team from Illinois, 4th ranked Lyons Township, that took the team victory for the day, while Neuqua Valley took 2nd by a margin of 43 to 59. However, it is still early and there is much work to be done.
In the Reserved (Open) Race, we saw the same engagement from these athletes and some impressive personal bests. Sam Stuart (Jr.) (17:55) came from behind, passing athletes to snag the last of the Top 10 spots, running one of the best races of his career thus far. Josh Rodriguez (Jr.) (18:05) actually took the lead for a short time during the race, showing that he was ready to put it all out there but fell back to 11th in what would still be a great and courageous effort. Erik Thompson (Sr. ) (18:18) would be next at 15th place with a little disappointment that will fuel his next race. It has felt like forever since David Tassone (Jr.) has raced as he dealt with injury issues. With his first race back, David took 20th in a time of 18:32 and the knowledge that the first race back is a rough one. Sahil Yemul (Sr.) (19:03) completed our Top 5 in 25th place and a huge personal best for 5000 m. In another outstanding personal effort, Ethan Lockwood (Jr.) (19:17) broke his personal best for 5000 m by 2 full minutes! Finally, in the friendly brotherly competition, Nate Spencer (Sr.) (19:29) edged out his brother Joey Spencer (19:32) by a mere 2 seconds but both brothers achieved personal bests.
The team effort in the Reserved Race was good enough for 3rd place as a team with the promise of juniors that will return next year, ready to step up to the Varsity, just as so many of the Varsity athletes did.
Our next race is next Saturday at the Lockport Invitational!