CHAMPAIGN — Regular-season cross-country races mean different things to different people.
Tuesday’s Uni High Potluck Meet was important on multiple fronts. Not just to the kids and teams involved, but also to Illineks officials who were testing out a new course at Dodds Park.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda junior Ryder James and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond senior Layton Hall weren’t dismissing the showcase, but they also spent the afternoon looking at the long term.
James focused on running at a specific pace that wasn’t his quickest. Hall didn’t even toe the line alongside friendly rival James, instead traveling with the Knights and engaging in a solo workout.
Yet James walked away the boys’ champion and ALAH won the male team title on Parkland College’s campus.
“My overall pace was about 5:30, so I was about a second slow. But it’s not that big of a deal,” James said. “Still got in the workout.”
Even without frequent competitive partner Hall by his side, James dashed to a 3-mile victory with a time of 16 minutes, 53 seconds.
His second mile wasn’t quite up to snuff, as James began feeling the effects of lactic acid buildup as a result of a challenging 11-mile run the day prior.
“Last couple miles I ran just about what I ran at this meet (Tuesday). So I pretty much matched my time from the last three miles of the long run,” James said. “Felt really good (Monday) night and kind of paid for it (Tuesday).”
Not on the final leaderboard, of course, as James continued a stellar campaign that included him nearly breaking the PBL Invitational’s course record last Saturday with a clocking of 15:18.99. That mark is held by current Illinois distance runner and former Oakwood standout Jon Davis.
“I’ve been pretty happy with it so far, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” James said. “Really need to get that time down into the 14:40s, 14:50s as soon as I can. I plan to try to break 15 on Saturday (at St. Teresa) to get started on that direction.”
Coach Lyle Dorjahn’s ALAH boys, meanwhile, didn’t suffer without No. 1 athlete Hall in the fold. Nor did the Knights falter despite the added absences of sophomores Logan Beckmier and Connor Edmonds, whom Dorjahn said are ALAH’s No. 2 and 7 runners, respectively.
ALAH held off PBL, Uni High and Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 43-49-57-64 in the team hunt behind sophomore Lyle Adcock (third, 17:22), sophomore Jacob Adcock (seventh, 18:17) and junior Jace Green (ninth, 18:23).
“We’ve only got nine boys on the team to start with, so we’re kind of down to bare bones right now,” Dorjahn said. “But these guys step up. They always step up.”
A shorthanded performance like this, Dorjahn hopes, can be a nice resume builder for a planned state cross-country event. The IHSA will not be hosting such a meet, but ShaZam Racing in coordination with MileSplit Illinois is attempting to conduct such a gathering in early November, and entrants need to apply and be selected from a field of applicants.
“I told the kids early on that these meets, they mean something,” Dorjahn said. “I’m old enough to remember when we picked state champions in football by a poll of sportswriters.”
The Illineks’ boys were led by junior Henry Laufenberg (second, 17:21) and senior Ray Jones (fourth, 17:27), while the Blue Devils’ top time came from junior Emerson Thorlton (fifth, 18:07). Chrisman/Georgetown-Ridge Farm senior Eli Johnson wasn’t far behind, taking sixth in 18:14.
There was nothing deeply surprising about Tuesday’s girls’ individual and team winners at Dodds Park. Uni High sophomore Kate Ahmari pulled away for her second triumph in three tries this season, canvassing the 3-mile layout in 19:01.
And the Illineks maintained the pack mentality that’s served them well thus far in 2020, snagging six of the top nine positions en route to a 22-63-73-78 win over PBL, ALAH and BHRA.
Sophomore Mikayla Blanke placed third in her first race of the season, crossing the finish line in 19:34. Junior Stefania Dzhaman (sixth, 21:29), junior Cadi Hu (seventh, 21:47), junior Maxine van der Donk (eighth, 21:48.19) and junior Erin Smith (ninth, 21:49.06) also fared well for Uni High in a meet that was supposed to be held at the U of I Arboretum.
According to Illineks athletic director Tim Bicknell, college officials aren’t permitting races at the arboretum this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
No matter, as Uni High’s girls made themselves comfortable at their new, temporary home.
“They are looking strong,” Illineks coach Rachael Brewer said. “They just keep stacking themselves together and just working well as a team, and it’s really good to see.”
Brewer credited assistant coaches Karl Knox and Dean Kamps for doing heavy legwork in creating Uni High’s revised home course, saying the duo “walked over 10 miles” on Labor Day in an attempt to find an appropriate setup.
“I was a little worried because we didn’t have a lead vehicle or a lead bike or anything, that people were going to get confused,” Brewer said. “But, otherwise, it went pretty well for a first run.”
A newer presence on the prep cross-country scene offered Ahmari a strong test for at least the first 2 miles.
BHRA freshman Gabriella Moreman couldn’t quite keep in step with Ahmari down the stretch but still landed second in 19:14.
“It was a pretty fast course,” Moreman said. “You’ve just got to have the right mindset or else you won’t do what you came out here to do.”
And Moreman didn’t mince words: She arrived in Champaign on this afternoon intending to defeat all of her opponents. So she’s already setting out to make the necessary adjustments for that to be a future reality.
“I expected me to do better, not give up, not let people gap you,” Moreman said. “I just want to show everyone what I’m capable of.”
PBL’s top effort came from sophomore Trixie Johnson (fifth, 20:47), and ALAH received a 10th-place showing from sophomore Charley Condill (22:26.06). Judah Christian freshman Aleigha Garrison nearly tracked down Uni High’s Blanke but ultimately placed fourth in 19:44.