When the Class 3A girls cross country state meet concluded three seasons ago, there was a lot of scarlet and gray shaking the ground at Detweiller Park, at the home of the state cross country meet.
On that day, Palatine captured its seventh state title led by trio of veteran all-state runners. Ruth Allen, Sarah McIntosh and Courtney Brown formed an impressive line in taking 13th, 15th, and 19th place leading the Pirates to the title.
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Not too far off pace was a perky freshman. Tess Wasowicz, who was competing in her first state meet, aided the title drive with a solid 34th-place finish.
At the time Wasowicz just hitched a ride with the veteran trio and let them pull her along for the ride.
Three years later and it's Wasowicz doing the driving and hoping to key another deep state run for the Pirates.
"It's been a remarkable journey," said Wasowicz who has accumulated four state medals in cross country and track and also was an important member of the Pirates' second place finish at the Class 3A cross country meet in 2010.
"It's been really cool seeing how much I've developed with my team from freshman year to senior year. It's so cool to see things change, but see the desire of our team stay the same"
Wasowicz earned all-state honors her sophomore year by taking 15th place individually and helping Palatine to a second-place finish. The Pirates senior has also earned three state medals in track, as member of the 3,200 relay team that has earned two fourth-place finishes and a third-place finish in the last three years.
She also participated at the Nike Nationals in 2009 and 2010.
Wasowicz has helped Palatine to three consecutive Mid-Suburban League titles in track, and won both the 800 and 1,600 titles at the MSL meet last spring.
And she's kept the run of success going this season taking fourth at the MSL cross country meet, and following it up with a regional title last weekend.
"She's done about it all," said Palatine coach Joe Parks. "She definitely sets the tone and has had this energy where she has been kind of the spark."
But that spark flickered a bit last season when Palatine barely escaped out of the Schaumburg sectional, tying Hoffman Estates for the fifth and final spot last fall. Wasowicz then just missed all-state honors finishing 26th, with the Pirates taking 10th in Class 3A.
There were multiple reasons for the Pirates' setback season after two straight state trophies, including an injury to No. 4 runner Liz Cox and no-clear cut fifth runner.
But most importantly was the Pirates missed the leadership that Allen, Brown, McIntosh, and Becca Sund provided for the two-year run.
"It was a big adjustment," Wasowicz said. "I was use to letting other people carry me and I had to mature just like that."
But the Pirates erased those doubts right from the beginning this season. A healthy Cox and the emergence of sophomore Amy Kieliszewski powered the squad to an impressive third-place finish at the season-opening Hinsdale Central Invitational.
But more importantly Wasowicz looked more comfortable, more confident, and much stronger in driving the Pirates' attack.
Wasowicz finished sixth at Hinsdale and didn't back down the rest of the season. She's finished in the top 10 at each of the major invites.
"She's always been use to running on the big stage," said junior Cassidy McPherson. "Last year it was a little harder for her to take on that leadership role, but this year she believes in herself."
"She's definitely taken on more of a leadership role," said Jessica Lincoln, "and she's much more confident."
And Wasowicz keeps learning. After leading the MSL race the first mile, Barrington freshman Lauren Conroy, Schaumburg sophomore Caroline Kurdej, and Buffalo Grove freshman Kaitlyn Ko passed her in the final 2 miles.
The following week the Pirate senior turned the tables by coming from behind to win the Grant regional.
Wasowicz readily admits her faith has been a guiding force, and she has shown discipline in the classroom by posting 3.8 GPA. But she also is not afraid to let loose, especially at the Friday pasta parties combining with Cox to lighten the team mood.
"I think it was a tough transition," said Parks of Wasowicz's junior year. "I think she has done a good job of learning what it means to be a leader and focusing more on her team this season."
And that is a good thing for a Palatine team that has qualified for 27 state meets and has captured 15 sectional titles.
Yet the Pirates know there are two big steps left for this season, including a rugged Schaumburg sectional that awaits them on Saturday and a loaded state field that will include defending state champion New Trier, an emerging Glenbard West, Lake Park, and Naperville North.
But this year the Pirates once again have a savvy driver in Wasowicz.
"It's been a process for her," said Parks of Wasowicz growth. "She's had such good girls ahead of her she was able to key off them."
"Now she's the one everyone has to work off and key off."
Wasowicz is just as frisky and playful as she was as a freshman. But now she understands she also holds the key to the Pirates' success."
"I learned I can't be afraid to be great," said Wasowicz. "When it comes down to it I need to realize that I'm not just racing for myself, but I'm racing for the team. That's driving me to bigger things."
And with Wasowicz's hands firmly on the wheel, the Pirates are ready for the stretch drive.