One reason high school cross country is such a great sport is the blessing of the summer training season. As our athletes’ work loads are lightened and their concerns simplified, they narrow their focus to long runs, punishing tempos, and the spirited camaraderie of hundreds of miles. The sameness of weather and the ease of days can lull us into a certain comfortable rhythm. Yes, you will be physically tested. But there’s little to stress your spirit during mid-July strides.
All that tranquility is violently upended by the first invite of the season. Suddenly, the athlete remembers-- the burning lungs, the retreat of mind, the seemingly untiring foe. There’s no simulating this heat in the summer. The testing has begun.
We are proud that our first test every year is at the Hornet/Red Devil Invitational, where some of the state’s most disciplined, decorated programs unveil their seasonal ambitions. Dozens of legendary athletes have left their mark on the field (including two-time champion Blake Evertsen), and it’s a familiar measuring stick to project into November. This year we disembarked without three of our most important runners (seniors Scott Anderson and Matt Milostan, and junior Danny Winek), uncertain as to what the race would reveal about their absence.
The Varsity race yielded some early positive returns on our summer’s preparation. A smart, flinty race by senior Jake McEneaney (3rd, 15:05) set the tone, eclipsing Connor Horn’s 2015 mark by a second. He was trailed by senior Josh Mollway (15:19)-- the “good captain” bettered his previous year’s time by more than 30 seconds. Sophomore Zach Kinne (15:22) and senior Jackson Jett (15:23) surged in their last mile, while junior Ryan Kennedy (15:37) dutifully closed the door for a first place finish. Other noteworthy performances included a cold-ridden Tyler Bombacino (15:53-- breaking 16:00 for the first time!), junior Alex Johnson (16:04), Evan McVittie (16:51), Keanan Ginell (16:57), Erik Huenecke (17:10), Quinton Quagliano (17:16), Dakota Getty (17:29), and DJ Sauer (17:30).
Compared to the smooth efficiency of the Varsity team, the Sophomore race was a madcap caper. For the first time since 2012, the sophomores were led by a freshman, rising star Rodrigo Alvarez (16:26), who negative-split his final mile in a smart race that belied his youth. Trailing behind were Nick Drechsler (16:54) and Matt Jett (16:55). Jett, whose flair for the dramatic is perhaps eclipsed only by his older brother, lost his chip shoe early in the race; it was handed off to him by an intricate relay of juniors. Although Matt carried the shoe across the line, the sensor did not read his finish, playing havoc with the official results. Fortunately, teammates Spencer Teske (17:01), Michael O’Connor (17:24), and Jack Orengo (17:44) finished close enough together to nail down a third place finish. Two other noteworthy races belonged to sophomores Kevin Daneliak (18:16) and Erik Thompson (18:24), two team favorites for their amiability and dedication.
The patient maturity of the Varsity team and the steady resilience of the Sophomores was contrasted by the wide-eyed inexperience of the Freshmen team. Despite repeated instructions throughout the week and on race day, the newest Wildcats couldn’t disguise their lack of familiarity with invitational conduct (“When do we warm up? Should we change into spikes now? How many laps is it?”). Yet from the starter’s pistol, the team showed a willingness to challenge the field, hazard pain, and engage the race. Led by a trio of program legacies (Quinn Kennedy--10:54; Daniel Conway--10:55; Dylan Bushelle-- 11:08), the tenderfoots achieved a sixth place finish. Notable debuts belonged to Ramsay Johnson (11:13), Josh Rodriguez (11:20), Rahul Kohl (12:08), Sam Stuart (12:12), Adam Gutierrez (12:30), and James Teune (12:44). Pouring over the results, the coaches came away convinced that somewhere in these times was the next Michael Widmann or Scott Anderson.
Nowhere was this truth more obvious than in the race by senior Jeremy Hayhurst (15:44). Hayhurst finished 147th in the freshman race in 2013; he was our 16th best freshman on that day. Yet sometime between his sophomore and junior seasons, Jeremy fully dedicated himself to the life of a runner. He has emerged as an inspiring symbol of the power of discipline, commitment, and belief, proof that it is more than genetics and natural efficiency that makes a great runner. “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.”
We resume our training with Hayhurst’s challenge hanging in the air. Like always, the Hornet/Red Devil was punishing; like always the road ahead is steep and fraught with challenge. But we learned on Saturday that we are ready. Summer is over. It’s time to be tested.
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