Saturday @ Hoffman Estates Sectional
I did not sleep well on Friday night. I was nervous because I wanted you all to have the races that you deserved. I have so much respect for all eight of you because you have embraced the process and you have not shied away from the work. You have leaned on one another all season, and watching the bonds form has been nothing short of beautiful. As I kept trying to fall back asleep, I tried to remind myself that I had no control over what you all would do at Busse, but I suppose my competitive mind just could not rest.
My nerves were unfounded. When I saw you all in the South Commons Saturday morning, my worries vanished. And once we climbed the bus and settled into the tradition of letters, any lingering concerns slipped away. I knew what brilliance was in those letters. I knew the depth of wisdom and love and faith in the words. And I knew that it would mean as much to you as it did to me that Kelsey, Ezra, Taylor, Jenna, Maya, Illy, Nat, and Coach Wynn took the time to send you their hearts. And I knew it would fuel you all.
The energy, like all season, felt good as you headed into the warm up. I need to take a moment to talk about Aniya. Although she was not afforded the opportunity to race, she was ready to go in case Brionne was not feeling well due to her run-in with a weight tree in PE the day before. I'm sure that none of you would be surprised to hear that when I asked Aniya to warm up and act as if she was racing that she took this job seriously. Once we knew that Bri was good to go, Aniya switched seemingly effortlessly from race mode to support mode. This selflessness is not shocking. Anyone who has observed Aniya for even a moment knows that she is the epitome of beeing linked. Niy--thank you for being ready to step up, and thank you for being everywhere on the course for our seven.
After our breakdown, I was anxious to see the race unfold. When the gun sounded, I watched to make sure our pack got through the concentrated crowd of talent without incident, and then I darted up the steep side of the hill to see our placement after the first 800. The race unfolded as I expected: Audrey was out well up front. Riley and Lauren were sitting back a pack in great position. Rachel was out well, looking fantastic. Brionne was out hard, pushing Sofia and Kate to stay locked in. Our seven looked amazing in the new uniforms as they used the free energy on the first downhill.
After the first loop, I stood by the road, waiting for the pack to emerge. Brooke rounded the corner first, then the chase pack, and then Audrey's pack. Audrey was in a great spot, working with some of Prospect's mighty pack and looking strong. Riley had moved up a tad closer to Audrey and looked focused. Lauren had the best downhill of this loop. She seemed like she was being pulled down the hill, drawn to her racing buddy Riley. Rachel looked so poised at this point in the race--our freshie was handling the pressure of the big race! She did a great job of responding to my pleas for 10 hard steps. Sofia looked so powerful in her bright, new spikes. I could see that she was stepping up for her team! Kate was so determined as she pushed down the hill for the second time, pulling on Fia's power. And Brionne was only steps away, locked in on Kate's star, pulling hard for her team.
In the final loop, I was holding my breath that we could stick or steal spots. I could see Audrey was laboring a bit, trying to process oxygen through her cold. She was in a great position--she just needed to hang onto the girls around her. I could see that Riley was close to the right pack, but she was going to need to have a Riley finish to secure a spot as a qualifier. I will always bet on Riley's finish, even if she is battling stuffed up sinuses. Lauren was SO locked in, fighting hard through her sickness for her team. I cannot say enough about these three. Starting last week, Lauren fought through her early symptoms to help us not only secure a Sectional berth but also to place 2nd as a team. She kept a positive mindset all week, listening when she needed to rest and pushing when she needed to push. Proud of you, Ginger Snap! When Audrey and Riley started to show symptoms, they were smart about getting rest and keeping their mindsets in the right place. There was no panic or negativity--just focus on the goal. To race 3 miles at an elite level is one thing; to do it with a respiratory infection is quite another. You three are just gritty!
I was proud to see Rachel pressing hard in the last loop, using the downhill wisely and challenging the girls around her. Sofia looked so strong pulling on Rachel, working hard to shorten that gap. Kate looked like the veteran that she is, embracing the last part of her race and looking fierce. And Brionne was bravely working through her eye pain and headache in order to finish strong.
I darted over to the finish and saw the last moments of Audrey's impressive kick. I am SO impressed by her fight in that last mile. She did not give up an inch, pressing through the finish line with that same veteran wisdom of Kate. I saw Riley whipping past girls in the final 400, fighting for another week. Moments later, I saw Lauren's second-best kick to date (I don't know if she will ever top her kick at Deerfield, but I will happily watch her try!), and I was amazed by her scrappiness! She definitely had the worst case of the respiratory bug, and I was simply wowed by her ability to set that nasty cough aside and simply race like she did all season. Rachel fought so hard to the finish, working to hold off challengers and help her team! Fia looked great too, pressing a girl from Glenbrook North and finishing hard. Katelin had a tremendous kick, leaving two Fremd girls behind. And Brionne whipped around the corner only seconds later, finishing powerfully with her perfect sprinter form.
As I tried to weave my way through the fans to get to the finish area, I was simply in awe. Our seven had faced the pressure of the biggest meet of the season and performed like champions. I was SO proud that every single one of the seven stayed focused on a course where it is easy to sleep on the second lap. I was SO proud that every single one of the seven used the course to their advantage. I was SO proud the every single one of the seven listened to our fans and pressed hard to pass other teams. And I was SO proud with the way every single one of the seven finished on empty.
After spending some time to get Brionne (who REALLY finished on empty!) back to the bus, I was surprised to feel the mood at our camp. We had raced SO impressively, and yet the energy did not match that truth. As I started to talk with our runners, I could see that they knew that they had run well...they just wanted more. Well, here are the truths:
Audrey ran an impressive PR on this course, racing 17 seconds faster than last year (and last year was a pretty impressive race). More importantly, she QUALIFIED FOR STATE FOR THE SECOND TIME. No other woman has repeated as a qualifier, and I could not be more proud of this woman! I know that she didn't feel great after her race, but I hope that being a two-time qualifier helped her to feel a bit better. :)
Riley ran a ridiculous last 800, fighting with all of her might to catch anyone in her path. She was within seconds of her LPR, but as I have said all week, times don't matter. She found a way to snag the LAST qualifying spot. She is only the fourth woman in ZBXC history to qualify for State, and I could not be more proud of her effort!
Lauren ran a brave race, fighting through sickness for her fellow stars. She ran 28 seconds faster than she did last year on the same course! I am stunned by her ability to close the way she did, and I know that she will walk through the door that Audrey and Riley opened for her next year. I KNOW IT.
Rachel ran an awesome race as a freshie. I know that she is going to follow Lauren's lead next season! She placed in the top 100 at the most competitive race of the season. She also owned her greatness when we talked post-race. Awesome work, Rose!
Fia was our lone PR-earner today. Not only did she drop 21 seconds, she also said goodbye to the 21s in her last race of the season. Additionally, in her continued story of growth, she dropped 1:11 from last year on the same course. More importantly, Fia found a way to set her nerves aside and simply race for her team today. It was beautiful to see!
Kate had a tremendous last race to her high school XC career. Not only was she within seconds of her LPR, she also set a course PR, all while battling an angry nerve/hip! More importantly, Kate KNEW that she raced hard. She lit up when I went to hug her post-race--she OWNED her greatness! Proud of you for that, Katelin!
Last, but not least, Brionne fought hard for her girls today. Like Kate, she was within seconds of her LPR, despite not feeling great. She has evolved so much as a racer this season, and I look forward to watching her lead our pack next XC season. So proud of you, Bri-Bri!
TOGETHER, these seven placed 10th, our best finish at the Sectional. EVER. We beat our 11th place seed by one. All these numbers are impressive, but I am more proud of HOW we did it. All season, you women faced adversity by leaning into each other. You lifted one another all season long, and it has been beautiful to watch. I am proud about the way you conduct yourselves as people, and I am proud of how you handle the stress of racing. I am thankful for how you have all supported Audrey and Riley so far this week, and I am SO looking forward to our Peoria trip. I love you all, and I am thankful that your names are forever engraved in ZBXC history!
Before I wrap this up, I want to thank all of the bees who supported our journey. Illy, Estrella, Ashley, Melanie, Sheila, Tyler, Alex, Ryan, Cesar, Jimmy, Jarek, Orion, Jay, and Collin: THANK YOU for giving your love to our runners on Saturday! They needed your energy and positivity! Coaches Anderson, Hamilton, and Tolliver--thank you for your guidance and support for these varsity bees all season long! You have helped lift them up when they needed it, held them accountable when they needed it, and cheered their successes when they needed it. Thank you for your tireless enthusiasm for all things ZBXC!
I am thankful that we still have one more week's worth of stories to write. Until then, I will be sleeping easy, knowing that all of you raced without regret!