Boys cross country state tournament preview: Redemption for Maine South
Loyola's Matt Scherer (161) competes in the Niles West Sectional boys cross country race Saturday afternoon in Skokie. He came in 120th (17 minutes, 19.97 seconds). Visit skokie.suntimes.com/sports to view a photo gallery from the meet. | Kevin Tanaka for
Updated: April 29, 2013 10:45PM
SKOKIE — What a difference a year makes for the Maine South boys cross country team.
The Hawks left the 2011 sectional devastated after not qualifying as a team or having any individuals reach the state meet. That their ouster came in somewhat controversial circumstances – an opponent’s fall at the finish line, a question regarding a computer timing chip, a perceived hasty ruling by IHSA officials – made the pain even worse.
But Maine South has put those memories in the past with last Saturday’s stellar performance at the Class 3A Niles West sectional. The Hawks had four of the top-20 runners, scored 70 points and finished second behind York (29 points). The top-five teams advanced to Saturday’s state meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.
“We’re really happy how we did. It feels great right now, like a huge brick was lifted off our shoulders,” said Maine South senior Jon Vaccaro, who finished sixth (15:17.74). “All our guys ran well. To have three in the top 12, that’s a winning formula for a sectional.”
Maine South senior Kevin Dolan was 10th (15:35.02), senior Robert Taylor was 11th (15:35.82) and junior Jack Carpenter came in 18th (15:50.09).
Hawks coach Greg Nordahl said the painful memories of 2011 still lingered into last Saturday’s race, but he urged his runners to put those aside and focus on the present.
“We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because of what happened last year. But at the same time, we didn’t want to dwell on it,” he said. “For today’s race, we had our plan, which was to mix it up with York. They are one of the best teams in the nation, and if we can mix it up with them, that means we’re not too bad.”
Nordahl said expectations remain high for state.
“Our goal is to be a top-five team with a chance for a trophy (top three),” he said.
The Trevians may have had last year’s state champion in Leland Later, but the team finished a somewhat disappointing 11th at the 2011 state meet.
Later has moved on to the University of California Berkeley, but New Trier coach Dave Wismer believes his 2012 team is capable of a higher finish because of the Trevians’ ability to run together.
“We’re able to keep together more as a pack this year, and that’s really what’s going to be successful in any big meet. If we cans stick together, we’re going to score well.” said the coach, whose team scored 119 points and finished third at the Niles West sectional.
Wisner continued: “Our goal (at state) is to keep together. Obviously, we also want everyone to get out fast, which hopefully won’t hurt us too much, and then roll in the last two miles like we did (at sectionals). That’s the recipe, we’ll see if we can execute.”
At the sectional, senior Ethan Kaplan (seventh, 15:25.79) led the Trevians. Junior Connor Trap (20th), senior Ben Rosenkranz (26th), junior Chase Silverman (32nd) and sophomore Austin Santacruz (34th) also did their part.
Kaplan ran only 3 seconds below his personal best despite losing a shoe in the middle of the second mile.
“I’ve lost a shoe in track before, but that’s the first time in cross country,” said Kaplan, after the race just before returning to the course to look for his missing footwear. “Normally, I keep them tight, but I must have been in such a hurry to get to the (starting) line. I’ll probably double knot my shoes (at state).”
Back surgery doesn’t hold Cheung back
Spartans senior Dan Cheung was one of the more inspiring stories of the sectional.
Ten months after having back surgery to repair a herniated disk, Cheung ran a 15:43.57 and earned the third of five individual qualifying spots for state.
“I exceeded my expectations,” Cheung said. “I thought I was on the bubble and finished at least two qualifying spots higher than I expected. It was a good day. It’s just amazing and a great feeling.”
Beller going by himself
Senior Micah Beller finished ninth (15:27.81) and will make his first appearance at state. But he will be the only Vikings runner competing after Niles North (231 points) finished seventh at the 21-team sectional.
“It’s horribly disappointing. It would have meant so much more to qualify as a team,” Beller said. “That was our goal all season. It was a step in the right direction compared to last season (when the Vikings struggled at the sectional and had no qualifiers), but it’s horribly disappointing.”
Huskies boys run ‘Normal race’
The Huskies (231 points) equaled Niles North’s points total, and finished eighth on a tie-breaker. Coach Jose Sosa said his OPRF team ran well, but his runners were unable to elevate their performances to an elite level.
“The times were comparable to what they’ve been running all season,” he said. “It was their normal race, and sometimes you have to run a little beyond that. You have to get out of your comfort zone, throw caution to the wind, and just run.”