Boys Cross Country runs at state finals

Lane qualified as a team for the first time in nine years and finished 27th in 3A after a muddy race. “I think it was a fitting way to cap their season,” said Head Coach Kristopher Roof.

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Paul Neely

Will pushes through pain to place 95th in state

By Finnegan Keely, Reporter

In cloudy Peoria, Ill., at 1:59 in the afternoon, 234 anxious high school runners lined up shoulder to shoulder, ready to race. Of the entire crowd, seven of them were Lane runners. They waited in anticipation at the starting line, bracing against the cold wind and shaking the mud off their spikes. At 2:00 pm, the starter pistol fired, and the runners took off.

On Friday, Nov. 4, the Lane Boys Cross Country team left for Peoria for state finals after qualifying as a team. Qualifying for state was a culmination of many factors; countless training hours, staying healthy, and staying positive. 

“Every meet we go to has a purpose,” Head Coach Kristopher Roof said. “And that purpose always leads up to the state championship meet.”

The team went into state finals with a city championship under their belt as well as placing well at regionals and sectionals. Additionally, they accomplished this without their star runner, Hunter Whitney, who suffered various injuries, including muscle imbalances, according to Roof. 

“Well, because we lost the number one runner as good as Hunter, an all-state athlete, other guys were forced into new roles,” Roof said. “So they had to kind of reevaluate their new position or new standing on the team. And that often times, you know, it’s a little scary for them. And they did a great job embracing it.”

Senior Tommy Stecz, in his fourth year running for the Cross Country team, revealed why their season went so well. 

“We just made sure that everybody was held accountable,” Stecz said. “Every day at practice we made sure that everybody was healthy and that everybody was getting the workouts done and getting rest when they needed to.”

With every race, the team got closer to state. A significant milestone was placing first at city. Their biggest contributor was Will Kozlowski, who ran a 15:27.5 three-mile and placed third out of 219 runners. Anan Bauman and Stecz also performed well, placing seventh and ninth, respectively. This boosted the team above Jones College Prep, who was their main competition. 

“Beating Jones is always a treat,” junior Paul Neely said.

Next was regionals, where Kozlowski continued his impressive postseason, placing seventh with a three-mile time of 15:52.5. Stecz was next best at tenth place and Bauman right behind him at 11th. This won them second place and a spot at sectionals.

 “We were seeded ninth, and only the top seven teams made it out,” Stecz said. “So already we had kind of like a mental block because we were not favored to make it through.” 

Stecz also mentioned that the hot weather at sectionals made the race even more challenging. Nonetheless, the runners prevailed.

“Our last mile was really where we got our work done,” Stecz said. 

Junior Brendan Bradish passed 15 people in the last mile of his race, according to Stecz, to finish 75th out of 139 runners. Bradish’s 3-mile time of 16:35.4, along with Bauman placing 18th, Kozlowski placing 23rd, and Stecz placing 34th, earned them a sixth place finish overall, and a qualification for state. 

Two days before the race, the team went on their last practice run. 

Just before, Bradish said, “This is the first time going to state in almost nine years, and we qualify as a team, we do well as a team, and at the end of the day…we’re going to go down there together — we’re going to come back together in one piece.” 

Down in Peoria, Lane placed 27th out of 28 teams at the 2022 IHSA Class 3A State Cross Country Championships. Kozlowski placed 95th in a field of 234 runners. 

While this was a disappointing outcome for the team, Stecz said the race was a beneficial learning experience. He said that just getting to state was a big enough accomplishment. 

“I’ve been on the team for four years, and there’s always issues delivering on the goals that we set at the beginning of the season,” Stecz said. “So having everybody step up, even people who weren’t in the top seven at the beginning of the season…and  making a really big contribution to getting us to state, was super valuable.” 

While Roof thought they might have left some “muddy seconds on the course”, he was not disappointed considering their whole season. 

“I know they’re a little disappointed,” Roof said. “They would have liked to have done better. But ultimately, I think it was a fitting way to cap their season.”