URBANA — Henry Kraatz and Aryan Lalwani were preparing for the 2019 boys’ cross-country season as one might expect a pair of team leaders to.
The Uni High senior Kraatz isn’t sure exactly how many miles he and Illineks junior Lalwani logged during the summertime, but Kraatz knows it was in excess of 500.
Outcomes were solid for Kraatz, Lalwani and their Uni High cohorts, but not quite at the level they had hoped.
The Illineks turned in a sixth-place team showing at last November’s Class 1A state meet, with Kraatz and Lalwani pacing the pack in 10th and 11th positions, respectively.
“Especially after the cross-country season, we were really looking forward to coming back to track and having some success in the state meet,” Kraatz said. “At least that’s how we were feeling between cross-country and track seasons.”
Two things occurred that diluted those optimistic thoughts, which were centered around the Uni High boys returning all but two of their state track and field qualifiers from the previous campaign.
First was Kraatz dealing with a left foot injury that caused him to miss all of the Illineks’ activities.
Second, of course, was the COVID-19 pandemic halting Uni High track and field exploits before Kraatz could possibly return.
“It is tough. Kind of a disappointment,” Kraatz said. “I wish I would’ve been able to go out on a higher note, but all things considered it could be a lot worse, and we did a lot of good stuff (previously).”
Such as in Kraatz’s junior track and field stint, when he and pals Alex Dolcos, Izzy Gray and Matty Tang — Gray one of those two aforementioned seniors — raced to fifth in the 1A 3,200-meter relay.
In the same meet, Kraatz finished one spot shy of the 1A 1,600 run podium by notching 10th place.
“I was really hoping I would be able to break 4:30 (in the 1,600),” said Kraatz, who clocked 4 minutes, 37.20 seconds in the state final. “But then in the 4-by-8, that was really exciting. I hadn’t even run under 2:05 (for an 800 split) until sectionals, and then to run a 2:01 split, that was really exciting.”
Kraatz indicated that Nicolas Ramkumar, another senior this year, likely would join Kraatz, senior Tang and junior Dolcos in gunning for an even better 3,200 relay finish this season. And Kraatz wanted to shift up at least one place in the mile to earn his first individual state track medal.
But Kraatz, who still is hampered by the foot injury, is being realistic in a situation filled with emotions.
“It wasn’t a huge, crushing disappointment for the rest of the season to be canceled, ultimately,” Kraatz said. “It would’ve been nice (to have it), but we’re all handling it well.”
Kraatz also has college running to look forward to. He’ll be toeing the start line for St. Olaf College, a Division III institution out of Minnesota.
The first reason he looked to that school was Jonah Herzog, an Illineks senior when Kraatz was a freshman.
In fact, Kraatz admired many of his Uni High elders, including Herzog, Grant Allen and Isaac Freund. Kraatz ran alongside all three as a ninth-grader at a 1A sectional cross-country meet.
Kraatz said he learned the value of leadership from that crop of Illineks. And he’s since formed a present-day group of Uni High leaders with Lalwani, Dolcos, Tang and Ramkumar.
“There’s really nothing like it,” Kraatz said. “I’m always looking forward to the five of us running together.
“It’s encouraging to ... have other people around you thinking about the same goals.”
Not all of them could be obtained before Kraatz had to hang up his Illineks royal blue, white and orange. But that’s not what he’s focused on these days.
“(Distance running) has been one of the most positive parts of my time at Uni,” Kraatz said. “Just going to practice every day and having meets to look forward to has been something to keep you going, even when other things aren’t going great.”