Coach’s idea allows teams to ‘ease in’

Coach’s idea allows teams to ‘ease in’

CHAMPAIGN — Cross-country meets, in and of themselves, are not inherently different.

The terrain is occasionally altered from meet to meet. The layout can vary. But the basic concept remains unchanged.

A starter’s pistol is fired, signaling the start of the race, and all competitors run as fast as they can to be the first to finish the 3-mile course.

St. Thomas More cross-country coach Dave Behm introduced the area to a different way to reach the same destination in Saturday’s first Saber Corn Classic.

Instead of having all varsity runners take off at the same time, the nine-school unscored meet had races for freshmen only, then sophomores and then juniors before finishing with seniors.

“It’s a no-pressure race and a nice way to ease into the season,” Behm said. “A lot of times, in a big invitational, the expectation is to ‘hit it’ right away.

“For freshmen, this is great. They can be competitive in their first race in high school rather than back in the pack.”

Bismarck-Henning ninth-grader Aaron Inda showed he would have been a challenger regardless of the class of competition.

A junior high state champion on the track in the 800- and 1,600-meter races, Inda made his prep debut and beat all other freshmen. His time was 17 minutes, 58 seconds.

“My plan is always to feel the pace the first mile, book it the second and get a good lead to take into the third mile,” Inda said.

Among all boys who ran Saturday, Inda’s time tied for fifth. Inda has a twin brother, Andrew, but they didn’t get to hang out to start their weekend. Andrew Inda had a football game.

Behm said the feedback from coaches was encouraging.

“Everyone said they liked it,” Behm said, “and other coaches have shown interest. I want it to grow, but not too huge. Then it gets into that pressure category. I’d like to have about 15 teams.”

Two Sabers excelled on their home course.

Eliza Kramer beat all sophomore girls (21:01), and David Horn (18:19) was first in the division for junior boys. Horn is the final member who ran at state with the 2012 STM state championship team. Saturday’s win was his first in a varsity invitational.

“He had a pretty good race,” Behm said.

Kramer had mixed feelings about the meet.

“I like to have my team run with me,” she said, “and I’m the only sophomore girl.”

Running at home means not needing to travel, but there is also a drawback.

“I like that the course is nice and smooth,” Kramer said, “but I don’t like running it three times (in a 1-mile loop) because you have to pass the finish line three times and have it teasing you.”

Kramer’s time was a minute quicker than she posted Thursday during a tempo run and the girls’ second best Saturday.

“(Saturday), I told them to push the pace,” Behm said.

Other area winners were Mahomet-Seymour’s Lauren Whitehouse, first among junior girls (19:12), Argenta-Oreana’s Sawyer Sprague, first among senior boys (16:19) and Clinton’s Raeann Huffman (22:05), first among senior girls.

Whitehouse ran nine seconds faster than she did in her opening meet Thursday.

“I’m not where I want to be,” she said, “but I’ll get there. I feel pretty good.”

Sprague intensified his summer training, and Bombers coach Carrie Simonson Jennings said “it has helped him significantly.”

Sprague has not let up since practice began 18 days ago.

“Every day, he wants it more and more,” Simonson Jennings said.

Sprague’s time was a career-best by 14 seconds and nearly two minutes faster than where he was at a comparable time as a junior.

“From last year, I learned I needed to train over the summer, and I made it a reality,” Sprague said. “It’s paying off.”

As Behm scanned the course, taking note of the cornfields near  the layout on the north and west sides, he quipped that next year’s meet may need a name change if farmers rotate their crops.

“It might be the Saber Bean Classic,” he said.