Saturday--NSC@Lake Forest West
After a strong week of practice, I was excited to see our final race as a full team. When I woke on Saturday, I felt nervous because of the delayed start time of the meet; it felt weird to be at home so late on a Saturday morning. My nerves were allayed when I arrived at school and saw the beauty that is our team. Juniors furiously recruiting teammates to sign posters for the seniors. Others asking how to help get the gear on the bus. Still others offering to grab the tent. This spirit is what has felt like home all season, and this has been the key to our continuous improvement this fall.
When we arrived at Lake Forest, the sunny skies and solid footing (well, everywhere except the woods) felt reassuring as we walked the course. As our varsity group warmed up, I had a feeling of deja vu: the group was reserved and pensive as they took the line for dynamic, just like the previous week at Sterling. And just like the previous week, the sound of the gun shifted our women from thoughts to actions. While it is likely that the first mile is a smidge short, especially with the ability to run the course flag to flag, we still got out very well. By the bridge heading into the second loop, Kelsey, Audrey, and Maya were all in the top 25, with Natalie and Kaila working well together in the 30s. Katelin, Karen, Marisa, Julien, and Lesly were further back but looking focused and ready to work the middle section of the race. Everyone's first mile splits were what I asked for--speedy and aggressive: Kelsey 5:39; Audrey 5:51; Maya 5:57; Natalie 6:20; Kaila 6:21; Katelin 6:34; Karen 6:43; Julien 6:44; Marisa 6:46; Lesly 6:48.
In the second loop, our bees worked on passing, each runner shrinking the gap between herself and her next teammate. We paid a bit for our quick start, and like I have been preaching all season, we need to do focused work on that middle mile next week. (Kelsey 6:30; Audrey 6:54; Maya 6:54; Natalie 7:11; Kaila 7:10; Katelin 7:55; Karen 8:12; Julien 8:15; Marisa 7:59; Lesly 8:47). Quick note: You can see that Nat and Kaila were able to make up a little ground on Maya in this loop, as did Maya toward Audrey. Additionally, Marisa started making a leadership move in this loop, working toward Katelin. Thankfully, our squad bounced back in the last mile, working the tangents well and pushing the last 800 hard. I was impressed to see Kelsey move up a spot in the last loop and start pressing at the 800. Audrey and Maya did some great work in this section as well, securing their spots in the top 22. And Kaila and Nat worked well together, switching leads and pushing to catch jerseys. I did not make it back to the final stretch to see all of the kicks, but my spotters reported that we looked strong across the board. :)
Our team effort resulted in some great stats. We placed 4th as a team--our best finish in my tenure as coach. That was delivered by three great performances up front by Kelsey, Audrey, and Maya, who each earned All-Conference honors...also a team first! They did it by running some great PRs; Kelsey ran a 22 second season PR despite catching a mini-plague this week; Audrey dropped 13 seconds from her gutsy performance last week at Sterling; and Maya dropped a whopping 30 seconds for a new LPR, too. Impressive work, women! A team score is not decided by three runners, though. Natalie and Kaila stepped up big today, each earning new PRs today, too: Nat dropped 28 seconds from Sterling, and Kaila dropped 39 from Sterling. This tandem fed off each other's energy, helping our team score significantly. Our remaining pushers had strong days, too. Katelin was our sixth runner again. followed by Marisa as our seventh with a huge PR. She dropped 25 seconds from her strong Sterling race. Nice work! Julien was not far behind with an impressive 42 second drop that was helped by a great kick. Lesly, who has bravely battled injuries all season, gritted through considerable pain to finish her race with pride.
Post-race, Agee and I were all smiles as we met up with this group. I knew we had raced well, but looking at the results was thrilling, too. Another fourth place finish--just like last week! By far, this was our best team finish at Conference, but much like last week, I know we have some more to give. This group's mission this week: get healthy and sharpen up what we have already been working on. I'm excited to see us race at Lake Forest again next week! We will be facing many of the same teams, plus a few others for the regional: from Conference--Lake Forest, Libertyville, Mundelein, Stevenson, Warren, Waukegan; and from elsewhere--Deerfield, Highland Park, and Wheeling. Our mission is to do what we have done the last few weeks: race for each other, enjoy the process, and take 4th place again. ;) Ok, seriously...we need to rank in the top six in order to have another week of XC. I don't know about you all, but I have really enjoyed this season, so I'd like to extended it as a team. Let's go! :)
I know that I was pumped after the Varsity race, but the Open women had even better energy than me. They arrived at the line looking confident and ready. Like their Varsity sisters, they too got out hard and raced with grit. Angie and Loula were our leaders, working with each other for much of the race. On the bus, Loula explained that Angie acted as an inspiration to her, offering leadership pace-wise, especially in the middle mile. Spotters tell me that Angie had her signature kick, earning a new season PR by 41 seconds (7:11, 8:18, 8:00), and running the kind of race she had been looking for in the last few weeks. She finished with a smile, and she kept that energy the entire afternoon, pumping up her teammates in the F/S race. Loula finished a few ticks after Angie with a new LPR by 49 seconds! What a way to finish her XC career (7:13, 8:17, 8:06). Delilah was our third runner with an incredible breakthrough. She ran a huge LPR, dropping 44 seconds and looking joyous with every step (7:20, 8:24, 8:18). Each time I saw Delilah, she was grinning ear to ear and pushing to pass someone new. All that positivity paid off with a great race! Congrats, Delilah! Jenna was not far behind, grinning just as wide. She keyed off Delilah for much of the race, pulling along to an LPR by 46 seconds (7:21, 8:27, 8:18). Awesome work, Jenna! Jayla, another senior with a great race today, was our fifth bee for the day. Not only did she get out strong, but she had a strong kick to run a big SPR by 35 seconds (7:37, 9:06, 8:32). Proud of you, Jayla! Elyssa was close to Jayla, running a gritty race like Lesly. Working through rehab the last few weeks, Elyssa warmed up with the intent to run this last race. She got out well in 7:14, and she fought through hip and quad pain the entire race, showing her team what it means to be tough. I know the time does not meet her expectations, but here positive mindset all season, not to mention her in-race grit are to be respected (9:02, 9:14). Proud of you, E! In a huge breakthrough, Ixa was in sight of Elyssa at the finish. I know you remember that Ixa had a big race last week at Wheeling, hitting the 26s for the first time in her career; apparently she did not want to stay there long because she ran a seedy 25:45 today, smashing her previous PR by 1:04 (7:47, 9:03, 8:55). What a great comeback after her frustrating race at Lake Forest earlier in the season! Great work, Ixa! Bianca followed Ixa's lead, looking strong and sneaking into the 25s by one second. She keyed off Ixa for much of the race (8:05, 9:05, 8:49) and closing hard with a great kick. Most of last season, Bianca struggled with injuries, but this season has been different. She has gotten so much stronger this season, and her racing reflects that strength--proud of you, Bianca! Ashley, Crizaber, and Jenni rounded out our squad today. Although none of them were able to set a new PR, I saw a lot of great things out of these three. On the bus, I watched Crizaber craft and hand out inspirational cards for each of her hive members. During the Varsity and JV races, I saw Jenni yell herself mute for her team. During the Varsity race, I asked Ashley to try to pull Lesly from the race after she refused to let me pull her. Ashley said sure, then ran to the woods and encouraged Lesly to finish, knowing that Lesly could and would. All of that beautiful teamwork aside, these women ran solid races; they were within 20 seconds of their PRs, and they looked gritty. Ashley got out hard and did a nice job of surging in the middle loop. Crizaber did a great job of using the slight downhills to gain momentum. And Jenni fought through her late-week illness in order to come within 19 seconds of her PR. Overall, this group looked awesome, and I am proud of their gritty races!
Our final racers of the day were the Frosh-Soph women. Much like racing in the afternoon, it was equally weird to have this group race last. We are used to watching their energy set the tone for the day, but they were happy to act as a great conclusion to the day. This group seemed a bit nervous pre-race, but the gun changed everything, especially for Mel. As she confessed on the bus, she was not in the right headspace pre-race, but she ended up being our #1 racer today with a huge PR. She dropped 2:28 from her previous best, showing what she has really been capable of all along. She hit the 23s for the first time in her life, and she looked awesome doing it. Normally, Mel has a grimace on her face and looks tight; today, she looked happy and free. Her splits were sweet: 7:14, 8:11, 8:10. Congrats on a great race, Melanie! Kelly was not far behind, running a strong race and dropping 8 seconds from her previous best too finish in 23:50. Kelly has been bravely battling hip tightness and pain, not to mention a relentless cough. Her gritty mindset earned her a trip to Sterling last week, and a new LPR this week(7:21, 8:21, 7:58). Proud of you, Kell! Joceline had a huge breakthrough like Mel today. She got out strong, finished with a great kick, and dropped a crazy 2:16 for her final race as a sophomore (7:26, 8:29, 8:09). I'm glad you raced today, Jocy (you know what that means), and I'm proud that you took the opportunity to show your teammates what this season means to you through your actions. Our fourth finisher, much like Kelly, has been bravely battling hip issues for the last several weeks. She ran a tough race, getting out strong and finishing well (7:36, 8:47, 8:20). I know with some rest and strength, she will come back to track in the spring ready to race hard (hint!) I was proud of her honest speech on the bus, as well as her gutsy racing all season. Aubrianna had a stellar race today, breaking through some boundaries. She got out hard in 7:32, and finished with a huge LPR, dropping 1:35 from her previous best. (8:48, 8:36). I'm so excited that Aubrianna came out for XC; I know it will help her times in the spring to have such a strong base, and she was an important part of the fresh-soph squad. Proud of your progress this season, Aubri! Naiomi was not far behind, running a gutsy race today. She got out much harder than usual, running a PR in the mile and setting a new LPR overall by 1:11! Im proud of her growth this season, and I can't wait to see her race during track (7:34, 9:14, 8:40). Sam was our next racer with a huge breakthrough. She looked amazing, dropping a whopping 2:02 for a new LPR of 25:57 (7:56, 9:19, 8:42). Beautiful work, Sammy! :) Stacy was not far behind, looking gritty, working through sore shins to run an equally impressive PR drop of 1:53. She finished with a new LPR of 26:32--proud of you, Stacy! Blanca was not to be outdone. With speed-braids on her head and a great pre-race mindset, Blanca was on a mission. She dropped a crazy 2:32, earning a new LPR of 26:39 (8:18, 9:26, 8:55). Blanca is officially a runner now! :) Illyana was on the same wavelength. She has been ready to pop a good race, and today was the day. She looked awesome, dropping 1:36 to run 27:09 (8:06, 9:44, 9:19). Way to, go, Illy! :) Sarah learned to lean into the race today. She ran a beautiful race, dropping the most time out of this whole group: 2:51. She finished in 28: 47 (8:16, 10:40, 9:51). Proud of you, Sarah! :) Nataly was only a second beyond Sarah in terms of PR drops. She shaved 2:50 off her previous best to reach her season goal--to get out of the 30s. She finished in 29:05, well beyond her goal. So proud of you, Nat! Finally, Zowie finished out her XC career with a strong race. Surrounded by her teammates all over the course, she shaved 16 seconds from her previous best, running 39:18. Proud of you Zowie--for your race and your insights on the bus ride home.
Overall, we had TWENTY THREE lifetime PRs and THREE season PRs. More importantly, the busride home made my heart and soul sing. We are on the brink of a new era in ZBXC. Your shared love of this sport and this team is clear. We need to keep striving for that elite status. We need to keep supporting one another. We need to keep on this trajectory of growth. It starts with Monday. Let's slay the time trial, recognize one another's greatness during the link ceremony, and vote for our 2019 MVP and Leadership Awards. Please be thinking hard about where you want your vote to go.
In the meantime, get your laundry done. :) I can't wait to see you all tomorrow!