Saturday @ Adler Park, Libertyville
WE GET ANOTHER WEEK OF ZBXC, and I cannot stop smiling! Three years in a row, baby! Advancing as a team, you are now part of a proud group of ZBXC women who have been striving for team eliteness over the years. :)
All last season, I kept pinching myself as we navigated what felt like a magical season. Against the odds, we kept performing beautifully. We kept growing as a team. For the most part, we kept healthy. We kept making the most of ridiculous situation. And I kept reminding myself as I looked at our incredible senior class that teams like this don't come along very often. A coach is lucky to get a collection of cool humans like that maybe once in a coaching career. So this summer, I tried to temper my expectations about the upcoming season. I couldn't compare this small, and young team to its predecessor. To say that this season has been a lovely surprise is an understatement. All season long, I have revelled in your ability to step up on workout days and race days. I have been amazed by your abilities to handle the stress of the new, different, and challenging school year coupled with difficult training. I have been pleasantly surprised by the way you have leaned into each other as the season progressed. And I have been so impressed by your honesty and vulnerability. And today? Welp, you amazed me again.
Going into Regionals, I knew we had a solid chance to advance. Two different "projection" websites predicted that we would take 6th based on our previous performances as well as that of our competitors. But I knew that Stevenson held out their top runner last week at Conference, and I was concerned about how teams like McHenry and Grant seemed to be getting hot at the right time. But all of the data and past performances really don't matter once the gun sounds, and I had confidence in our ability to step up on race day because we had done it SO many times this year.
So when I arrived at school, I was feeling optimistic. And then I took the temperature of our group as you all sat in the South Commons. The air felt heavy, and everyone was quiet. When we settled on the bus, I asked, "Is this nervousness or sleepiness?" I appreciated your honesty about the nerves, and I hoped that simply acknowledging it out loud would help, and that getting to the course and seeing the beauty of the trees would finish it off.
Watching you begin the warm up, I felt a bit better, and seeing the looks in your eyes during the breakdown, I was even more confident that we would be ok. When the gun sounded, we got away well, and I raced to the path to see you at the 800 mark. Audrey was boldly and comfortably sitting with the leaders, Riley and Lauren were roughly in the 30s with Marisa in sight in the late 30s, and then our pack of Katelin, Natalie, and Sofia were sitting about 50th and working together. Clearly, the race had gotten out hot, and you all were being smart about your starts. I watched with pride as you each wisely used the downhills to your advantage and cruised along with the pack. I raced down the road to catch you just before the mile. I could see our pink sleeves emerge from the river and start the climb to the grass, and I was pleased that everyone looked strong. I was worried about the team race, though. Stevenson was looking good, as was McHenry. I kept miscounting McHenry runners because their jerseys were so similar to the clearly dominant Libertyville squad (they ALWAYS run so well on this course!). I cut over to the short downhill as you exit the woods and kept my fingers crossed.
When you all came by me the next time, I was edgy! Everyone was moving up, but I wasn't sure if it was enough. I was impressed by how well you each took the hill...you looked effortless as you floated down the woodchip path, and you seemed to use the momentum to help you along the road crossing and into the tent area. I debated about staying in the same spot or moving more into the woods so that I could cut across and see finishes for the final loop. I decided to move and pleaded with Illy, Brionne, and Aubrianna to get on you all to pass. I moved past them and awaited your arrival. At this point, you all had done some WORK. Audrey was sticking strong, Riley had moved up into the low teens, Lauren up to the 20s, Marisa to the mid 30s, and Katelin and Natalie were doing WORK within steps of each other, with Sofia pulling on their pink power not far behind. My mood was buoyed as I darted out of the woods, hoping to make it to the river. As I emerged from the trees, I could see pink emerging from Bertha, and it was Riley already! I was going nuts at this point, trying to figure out how far up she had moved since I almost missed her finish. I scooched as close to the trees as I could get and saw Lauren pop out of the trees, digging in to kick in the final stretch. She was followed by Marisa only moments later, who looked fierce in her kick. Katelin and Natalie came within seconds of each other, hot on the heels of Stevenson's #3 & #4. I knew we were in good shape versus Stevenson at that point, but I was frantically counting how many Highland Park girls were coming out of the woods. Had we put them away, too? Mundelein had run very well, especially their top two runners, but I was confident that we had put enough runners ahead of their 3-4-5 to be ok. As I was counting, Sofia emerged with a huge kick, looking amazing all the way to the finish line. In my mind, we were through, but I wanted to see the scores to confirm.
When Coach Washington came running over with his phone aloft and a smile on his face, I was relieved that we had done it again! 5th place! I knew we had run a great team race, but my Sunday analysis illustrates just how much you all stepped up. We raced at Libertyville on October 5th--only 18 days ago. Audrey, you ran 34 seconds faster than that Tuesday, despite fighting a cold all week. Riley, you didn't get a chance to race this course this season, thanks to your selflessness, but compared to last year, you dropped an inconceivable 5:00! Lauren, you ran 17 seconds faster, nearly breaking the 20 minute mark on this challenging course! Marisa, you have raced Adler five times, and you saved your best performance for your girls today, knocking off 32 seconds compared to your October 5th performance (which was a course PR). Katelin, despite battling an angry knee tendon on this unforgiving course, you dropped an incredible 1:22, while challenging Natalie and Sofia! And they both responded. Natalie you had your best race of the season BY FAR--running a season PR that was 7 seconds faster than your impressive race at Sterling, and dropping 1:41 from your previous best on the course. What?? And lil' freshie Sofia...what a day! After I challenged you to stay with Natalie in the workout on Tuesday, I asked you to do the same in the race. You courageously went out with her and Kate and stuck for half the race. Those two were just having monster races, so the fact that they had the strength to pull away in the second half says more about their experience and power than it does with your will to pull on them. You ran an incredible race, too! Only 2 seconds off your LPR from last week on our FAR easier course and a huge 1:40 drop from your performance at Adler a few weeks back. Let's talk about a little more context. The winner of the race, Aly from Grant, is tremendous runner. She was racing for real today, pushing to ensure that she would win her FOURTH Regional Title. Her season best is 16:54--a speedy time that she ran at Detweiller in near perfect conditions (remember the great weather we had at Warren this year? And the course was in great shape that day, too). That course is known for being fast in general (just like Warren), so that time is a good indicator of what she can do. The fact that she ran 36 seconds slower on Adler shows the lack of speed on this course. If I subtract 40 seconds from each of your times (I'm rounding up a few seconds because she is faster than all of us), it puts you all right around either your SPRs or LPRs OR FASTER (looking at you, RIley and Sofia!).
What more can a coach ask for than for 7 runners to give their absolute best efforts on a tricky course under stressful conditions? I am SO proud of the way that you raced for one another, and I cannot underscore how excited I am to see you race at Busse. We will face 17 other schools as well as individual qualifiers. The top seven teams advance as well as the top 10 individuals. I'm getting greedy, though, so here is my two-part challenge to you all: First, since we made it to the Sectional, we are in a great position to take a big risk. Why not simply go for it on Saturday? Go into the first mile smart and under control, and then just take a risk for the last two miles? Hunt people down. Run negative splits. Make people wonder who that is in the anonymous black uniforms and pink sleeves. I think we are ready for another amazing team race. Let's go! Second, let's surround Eric with some love and support this week. He ran a gutsy race to advance as an individual. Let's help him feel fast and ready for his race! #linked
Shout out to Illyana, Brionne, and Aubrianna for their dedication all week as well as their encouragement all race. You three really have proven what it means to be linked. Thank you thank you thank you! :)
Oh, and one last thing! Rizzo gets the final thought: "My human was really happy when she got home. If she had a tail, she would have wagged it a lot. So you runners should keep being awesome!"