After a week of no meets but impressive workouts (don't forget how awesome you all did at the hills of Wadsworth), we headed into a home meet and Warren. What a great week of competition!
Tuesday, September 12th--Senior Night @ Home with Lake Forest, Lake Zurich, and Stevenson:
Before I talk about the actual racing, special thanks to Brionne, Lauren, and Adam for giving up their study hall to help the coaches load up all the gear for our course. And thank you to Brionne and Lauren for reversing the same process after the meet was over. I appreciate you all! Thank you to you all for helping get the course set up, too. The coaches cannot do it alone, and we appreciate all of your energy. Special shout out to the guys for taking down the course--they handled most of it, and I am appreciative! Finally, thank you all for making such great signs to honor our seniors. This tradition was born out of our Covid season, and I'm glad you all helped to keep it alive! I also give thanks to Estrella, class of 2023, for continuing to support our bees. Not only did she show up to wish everyone luck, but she also brought flowers for the seniors! <3 What a great example of being linked for life! Thanks, Estrella!
I truly enjoyed watching you all race today. Here's what stood out the most:
First, I was really impressed by our collective risk-taking, especially in the first 800. As you are all getting more fit, it's cool to watch you believe in your fitness and race accordingly. By getting out well, it makes it easier to be pulled along by people who are slightly faster than you. Once you are there, you start to believe that you belong! I was particularly taken by the aggressive starts by Jana, Alivia, Dani, Alisia, and Crystal. Nice job trusting yourselves!
Second, I was so happy to see EVERYONE use the course to their advantage. I was able to see everyone after the first 800 in what I like to call the "Sectional Loop," named thus due to its similar configuration as the small loop behind the Busse Sectional starting line and bus parking. The Busse Loop is hard because it's a rare quiet spot on the course where it's easy to fall asleep as well as being too far out, featuring too many tight turns to begin a serious kick. Our Sectional Loop is tricky for similar reasons. The first time you hit it, your adrenaline from the start is gone, and you are hit with a tight turn, a hill, and this year, a tree branch right in your face (sorry everyone...). The two tight turns are away from the eyes of fans, too. What I loved was watching you all charge the uphill coming off the turn. You looked assertive and locked in! The best part was watching you all come out of this loop. You used the downhill to fuel you into the senior sign alley. I really noticed that Mary, Tyla, Joi, Norah, and Fia used this section to their advantage. Awesome work, bees!
Third, I caught most of you either entering Shiloh Woods, coming off the volleyball court, or exiting Shiloh Woods. This section of the course is tough because it is generally devoid of fans. Everyone I saw looked SO GOOD in this section, especially the turn going back to the trees after the volleyball court. In particular, Juliana, Rachel, Lauren, and Sasha did a great job of whipping around that turn and changing up their cadences. Proud of you all!
Finally, our last 400 was SO STRONG. Honestly, this team has to be the best group of finishers I have ever seen, and that's not hyperbole! So many of you used the Sectional Loop downhill to whip to the 400 mark, and then kept that momentum! I didn't see every finish, but Aniya, Cici, Eva, Jasmin, Norah (especially when she threw her sunglasses!), Brionne, Tati, and Crystal looked great!
Overall, I was so happy by the way we raced as a collective. We had 24 finishers today, and 21 either earned a lifetime or season PR. The other three were very close and raced hard! PRs don't happen by fixating on times. They happen by racing hard and staying focused in the most difficult moments. Congrats to the following earners of LPRs: Crys, Alisia, Jana, Sasha, Mary, Jazmin, Eva, Melanie, Joi, Dani, Tyla, Tati, Annie, Alivia, Norah, Cheyenne, Liz, and Brionne! And congrats to Aniya, Cici, and Lauren for earning SPRs. Breaking through these boundaries feels GREAT, but don't forget what got you there--racing with confidence!
Finally, shout out to Lauren for moving up on the Top Ten Board. She is now in the #4 spot, unseating her sister Kelsey, with a time of 19:14. Lauren made this happen by using her energy wisely in the first half of the race, staying focused in the woods, and finishing strong. Awesome work, Lauren!
Overall, I am so stoked about the energy from this meet. We were not ready to beat Lake Forest, Lake Zurich, or Stevenson YET, but I like our odds when we meet at the end of the season! There were a lot of important breakthroughs today, and it was fun to watch.
Before I sign off for this meet, I want to give our three seniors a shout out, too. Brionne has been a dedicated member of our team for three seasons now. Her growth since her first season is remarkable. Although she was dedicated from the start, her race today was an important moment. She closed the last mile so impressively by letting herself be in the moment and just embracing her three years of strength and knowledge. It was awesome to see! Congrats on a great race, Bri! This is Liz's second year of XC. When she started, she was in the 29s/30s at Waukegan's course, but she made some important breakthroughs since then. Today was no different. Over the summer, she said she hoped to break 24 before the end of the season, and I promptly informed her she would do it near the start of the season. Today, she did just that! Congrats on a gritty race, Liz! Finally, Anesa only saw the light this summer, but she has been an important addition to our team. Not only has she been practicing and racing like a senior, she also has the positive energy we need to keep fighting throughout the season. Although she was too sick to race today, she was here to share her support. We know she will be back to racing strong soon! Thank you to all three of you for your dedication to the sport and team and willingness to lead us to greatness! Love you all, seniors!
Saturday, September 16th @ Bill Dawson Invite--Warren:
I knew that we were ready to run fast, and Bill Dawson smiled upon us with some great weather; however, I am still stunned by how great these races went, even 24 hours after the fact. Before we celebrate, let me take a moment to honor my friend Bill Dawson. Coach Dawson was the leader of both the XC and Track & Field teams for decades at Warren. I distinctly remember the first time I met him, our boys' coach at the time (Coach Davis) simply said, "Di Grazia, let me introduce you to Dawson. He's one of the good ones." Davis was so right. Over the years, Coach Dawson offered me advice from workout plans to managing personalities to life advice. He genuinely cared about runners becoming great humans, and I found that guiding principle so important. In the fall prior to Covid, COach Dawson found out that he had cancer. He tried everything, but the cancer unfortunately won out shortly after the XC season started in the fall of 2020. His team wore "Do it for Dawson" shirts all season, and they narrowly missed making it to State, despite racing so well all season long. I'll never forget the last thing he told me while we were at the Deerfield meet only days before he died, "Di Grazia...I don't have much longer, but I'm really proud of how I lived my life." What a thing to be able to say about one's own life. This meet is a way for me to take some time to remember my good friend and to celebrate something he loved: the purity of our sport.
Frosh/Soph Women: This race was DEEP. Several new schools have joined this meet, and when I looked at my watch after the first 800, I was in shock. The leaders were running FAST. And then I saw that we were running fast, too! I can honestly say that ALL TEN women in this race embraced the go zones. In particular, I loved the way Juliana, Jazmin, Mary, and Alisia zoomed down the mini-hill by the shelter. Coach Hamilton reported to me that Eva, Joi, and Tyla really embraced the go zones right before the gravel trail. Honestly, this continuous zooming is why our bees did so well! I also was just floored by the kicks in this race. Norah was FLYING in the last straightaway; Mary nabbed at least two girls in the final 300; Alisia was in flight the whole last section; Tyla's arms were so impressive in the final stretch; Jazmin worked the first straight so hard, and then doubled down in the last straight; Joi and Annie worked so well together at the finish to push one another, with Annie nabbing a girl in the final meters; Eva's open stride was so impressive; and Sasha's speediness showed in the WHOLE 300! Whew...it was so much fun to watch this race! EIGHT out of the ten women in this race ran LIFETIME PRs: Juliana, Mary, ALisia, Tyla, Joi, Eva, Annie, and Jazmin--congrats! Norah and Sasha weren't far off and still had great races. I was SO PUMPED after this race, and I know that our other racers were, too!
Varsity Women: Our six were quiet at the start. Maybe it was because the Wisconsin girl kept puking right next to them. Maybe it was because they were thinking about the table that the F/S women set. Or maybe they were just locked in. I'll take that kind of quiet if it is going to produce the races that these six unleashed! Like the F/S women, our six got out HARD and didn't flinch at the time. It is easy to see a time that is near your season mile PR and think, "Oh, snap, I need to slow down." NONE of these bees did that. Instead, they leaned into their go zones and stepped UP. I loved that Lauren went out hard with the lead pack, putting herself in a position to let the top girls push her to a lifetime PR and a 10th place medal--huge growth over last year's 20th place! Awesome work, Lauren! Rachel did the same thing, getting out strong and racing GRITTY in the middle of the race. She did such a great job of embracing the downhill go zone EVERY TIME. It was great to see! What impressed me most was her kick. She has talked about improving it, and honestly, she was IN FLIGHT at the end of her race. Congrats on a big breakthrough into the 19s, Rach! Fia's race was the best I have ever seen. Period. She got out hard, running only seconds off her mile TT from Thursday, then pushing hard in the go zones in the second mile. Her last mile was the most impressive, though. She knew that Brionne needed help, and she STEPPED UP. So many times in the past, she was scared to break out of her comfort zone, but she did it in a huge way today. She caught Brionne and gave her a visual to pull on in the last half mile of the race. Her kick was outstanding, too! All of this combined into a huge PR for her! So proud of your grit, Fia! Speaking of grit, Brionne's race was just that. She reported that she felt good in the first mile, and it showed, with her leading Fia at first, and then only two clicks behind her at the mile. Mile 2 was when her stomach started messing with her, but she fought through that pain for her team. I'm not sure how she brought her time back down in the last mile, but she did, finishing with an impressive kick that left several competitors in the dust! Running a lifetime when you feel good is far easier than when you are struggling with a distraction; Brionne did just that, smashing her LPR from last year at Conference. So proud of you for fighting for your girls, Bri! Liz was our fifth bee today. Prior to the race, she told me that she felt intimidated to run Varsity, and that she wanted to feel what it was like in the front of the race. She set those fears aside and let herself show off her fitness today, smashing her LPR from Tuesday! Like her teammates, she got out hard and did a great job of pushing the go zones. She looked really strong on the second downhill, working to reconnect with a pack that was just ahead of her. Her finish was also fantastic! Great work, and congrats on the new LPR! Finally, Anesa just floored me today. After catching the plague that hit so many of us in the last few weeks, Anesa rebounded with a great workout on Thursday, and an even greater performance in this meet. Like Liz, she was wary of racing Varsity when I proposed it, but she stepped up to the challenge, letting her competitive nature take hold. She kept pulling on Liz's lead to guide her. Like Liz, she also ZOOMED the downhill go zone, working to pass sleepy racers. Her kick was beautiful--tall and speedy! Congrats on a new LPR, Anesa!
Overall, these six raced so crazy-good that it brought tears to our eyes after the race. If you can surprise yourselves after such a heavy week (big emotional race at home plus a challenging workout on Thursday), I simply cannot wait to see what you do later in the season. Keep remembering what got you here: beelieving in your fitness despite going to scary, new places! SO PROUD OF YOU ALL!
Open Women: Our last four bees got the chance to soak up all that good energy from the prior two races as well as the men's. They didn't have a choice but to PR, too! Chey was our leader in this race, getting out so hard and ignoring her knee issue. She looked so strong on the downhill go zone (I know--a repeating theme in this blog). The first pic I took of her sums up her race: she looks confident, tall, and strong! I loved watching her looking so powerful. She has come such a long way since her freshie season! Her finish was fantastic, and she earned herself a big LPR. Awesome work, Chey! Aniya was our second finisher, and her picture is much like Cheyenne's--she looks powerful! Aniya has the distinction of running her last mile the fastest today, which is impressive. It shows how mentally tough she has become over the seasons! She ran a significant season PR today, and it was great to see her looking more like her self in a race. So proud of your grit today, Aniya! Tati was our next bee with a HUGE RACE. Since joining last year, Tati has been quietly getting stronger, thinking about how this sport could help her with track. Today, she became a true XC racer. Not only did she smash the 30 minute boundary, but she did it despite tight hip muscles that plagued her all week. Like her teammates in this race, she got out hard, running significantly faster than her mile time trial best of season! She worked hard through the middle of the race, and fought to bring down her last mile time. Her kick was glorious, too. Congrats on the new LPR, Tati! That was so fun to watch! Finally, Melanie had a huge day, too! She got out harder than she ever has, running a lifetime PR in the first mile! What? From there, she fought hard to work through a sleepy foot, and finished with an impressive kick that had the Warren coach turning his head! This is Mel's first time under 30, although she came close on Tuesday. I love that she smashed this number obstacle, and I love that she did it with gritty racing. Out of everyone, she really listened every time I saw her in a go zone. Awesome work, Mel! Overall, these four looked SO GOOD from gun to chute. They really embraced the energy of the day and rose to the challenge! Proud of you all!
In closing, one last shout out to Candy and Crys for getting splits for us today. You can see them if you click here! Your goal is to run as evenly as possible while being competitive. That's a tricky balance, and some courses (like this one) lend themselves more to consistency! We want these two racing with us ASAP, but it was great that they were able to contribute in a different way today. Overall, the energy today was so GOOD. I loved how you cheered for each other, and I love that the bus was quiet after shout outs. You spent all your energy at the meet, and I appreciate that! Let's stay focused on that same mindset as we head to Stevenson's course and back to Grant!