Though our schools are separated by less than six miles, few of Neuqua’s athletes or coaches were familiar with Waubonsie Valley’s home course, the site of our 2017 Sectional. When we last raced there in 2003, senior Ryan Kennedy wasn’t even four years old, and Coach Rossi was still in college. Despite our long rivalry with the Warriors, we knew very little about their grounds—the alleyways between fields, the adjacent grounds still verdant with prairie life, the mammoth hill towering over it all. In a season where so much seemed a reprise of previous seasons, this was new.
Fortunately, our effort, luck, and finishes prevailed again, and we were proud to claim our third straight Sectional title, and our seventh as a program. It was not an easy day—the field of runners trickled out of the chute wet, chilled, and splattered by mud. But as we all made our way back to the fieldhouse, our spirits lifted. October was ending, and we were headed back to State.
Much of the credit belongs to Kennedy (15:36) who, despite never quite finding his rhythm, made a series of critical in-race decisions that secured him a 4th place finish. Chris Keeley (15:43) showed similarly canny instincts, breaking from the pack at the midpoint to mount a furious charge on the second loop. From there, it fell to the trio of Alex Johnson (15:53), Tyler Bombacino (15:54), and Michael O’Connor (15:54) to shut the door. Followed by seniors Danny Winek (16:00) and Keanan Ginell (16:17), the Wildcats fended off an impressive challenge from a determined Naperville Central.
In some ways, this all feels familiar. This is our 16th straight trip to Detweiller. Danny will be the third Winek to race at State in blue and gold. Ryan’s been around high-stakes competitions for as long as his father’s been coaching. Yet, like so much of this gray-skied day, everything is new. Michael Madiol, O’Connor, and Ginell weren’t even in our top 12 a year ago. Six of our top 7 have never raced the first weekend in November.
Like so many athletes they’ll share the line with, State racing has thus far been only a hypothetical, nothing more than a square you circle on the calendar in June. But the now mud is real. The cold, the wind, the distance from the chute. ‘We’ve never been here before,’ they’ll all think before the gunshot. ‘Let’s see what all the hype is about.’