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updated: 11/1/2013 3:54 PM

Family ties run deep in the Kaneland cross country program

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  • Kaneland's Brianna Bower takes fifth place at the Kaneland Invitational cross country meet in Elburn on Saturday, September 21.

      Kaneland's Brianna Bower takes fifth place at the Kaneland Invitational cross country meet in Elburn on Saturday, September 21.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


Look at a family with children and there is probably a sibling rivalry, no matter what age.

Kaneland has a couple of them crisscrossing its boys and girls cross country teams. Each unit as a whole actually seems to motivate the other.

Both Knights teams are running Saturday at their respective Class 2A Belvidere sectionals, but an example of this occurred last spring after since-graduated Amanda Lesak and returners Aislinn Lodwig, Jess Kucera and Sydney Strang took ninth in the 3,200-meter relay at the girls state track meet.

A week later in Charleston, Connor Johnson and returners Kyle Carter, Luis Acosta and Nathaniel Kucera, Jess' older brother by a year, won that event in the boys 2A meet.

That, Kaneland boys cross country coach Chad Clarey said wryly, "is because that's the way it has to be. They pay attention to how the other has done."

"I think we've always been competitive with each other, and I think we always want the other to do good," said Jess Kucera, a junior. "I think we're close, and we like messing with each other and egging each other on, but we just do it for fun."

That spirit extended into summer and fall for Jess.

"It made me want to push myself a lot harder," she said. "It also made me real proud of (Nathaniel) because he did so well, and they did so well as a team. But it made me want to push myself harder to do as well as him."

Unfortunately for Kucera and the Knights girls cross country team as a whole, she may have pushed too hard. She ran her last race this fall at the Burlington Central regional, as it was finally confirmed she was running on a stress fracture in her right leg.

Kaneland's defending Class 2A individual state champion Victoria Clinton has also been battling an injury she suffered during triathlon training over the summer. Girls coach Doug Ecker said a twisty, up-and-down regional course at wind-swept Burlington Central didn't help.

The Knights girls, like the boys, are pretty deep, ranked No. 6 in last week's final Illinois Track and Cross Country 2A Coaches Poll (the boys were 14th). Along with Clinton, Strang and Lodwig, Ecker has seniors Erika Carlson and Anna Piazza and freshman Abby Shaw in the mix as well as sophomore Brianna Bower who, especially if Clinton's not 100 percent, gives him something like a No. 1 and a 1A.

Seventh in the 3,200-meter run in 2A track last spring and 32nd overall in cross country as a freshman, Bower had the highest regional finish among Kaneland girls, sixth-place to pace a fourth-place team finish.

She's the younger sister of senior Ryan Bower. A senior, he joined Carter, Acosta, Nathaniel Kucera, Andrew Lesak, Sean Spaetzel and Phil Custinger on a third-place regional team at Burlington Central. At the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference meet Kaneland's top-five split was 29 seconds.

"Probably one of the best pack teams I can remember having in 19 years," Clarey said.

Like the Kuceras, Ryan and Brianna Bower indulge a little back-and-forth.

"We definitely support each other, that's for sure," said Ryan Bower. "We both talk about our runs in the car. Whenever we get a chance to talk that's usually what we talk about. Sometimes we argue a little bit, but that's just the rivalry. We don't really compare times, but we just talk about each other's races."

"They're really sweet," Jess Kucera said.

Ryan Bower and Nathaniel Kucera -- who recently visited Stanford, based on his fast 800-meter times in track -- are angling for their second straight appearances on a state-bound team. Carter and Acosta are attempting to become the fifth and sixth Knights runners to go down for at least a third straight year.

Ecker said his goal for any meet is simply have his girls run their best and avoid mental mistakes. Ryan Bower is of the same mind.

"If you always try your hardest you're always a winner," he said. Perhaps his sister would agree.

Clearing hurdles

Speaking of people who run a lot, Aurora Central Catholic senior track athlete Patrick Lefevre has been named one of 20 Illinois finalists in the 20th annual Wendy's High School Heisman Award competition saluting academics, athletics and leadership. He made the field out of 1,071 applicants in the state; nationwide, about 48,000 high school seniors applied.

On the sports angle, as a junior Lefevre qualified for the Class 2A boys state track meet in the 110-meter hurdles, the 300 hurdles and as part of the Chargers' 400-meter relay. He advanced out of the 110 hurdles semifinals to claim fifth place.

Lefevre is now eligible for the next stage, that of state winners. On Nov. 4 one male and one female will be selected from each state. Of those, 12 will be chosen as national finalists, who get a trip to New York City for the final stage on Dec. 13.

Yardage sale

The St. Francis Fathers' Club sponsored its fifth annual "Rush for the Cure" during the Spartans' Oct. 18 home football game against Guerin. The club pledged $4 for each yard St. Francis gained on a running play. That money benefitted Children's Oncology Services of Illinois, targeting its One Step summer camps for pediatric cancer patients.

A teenage cancer survivor who had attended One Step camps joined St. Francis coach Greg Purnell and team captains Mike Andelbradt, James Butler and James Kalfas as an honorary captain for the coin toss. He then spent the rest of the game on the field as a ball boy and was guest of honor at the Fathers' Club's inaugural Spartan Family Spirit Rally held after the game in the old-school Slant Dome.

The Spartans dads picked the right game to "Rush for the Cure." St. Francis ran for 342 yards and, perhaps feeling a little giddy, the Fathers' Club raised a total of $1,500 for charity.

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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