When next fall rolls around and for the first time in 34 years Mike DiDomenico isn't coaching the Batavia boys cross country team, he already knows he'll be enjoying the next chapter of his life.
DiDomenico will become a grandfather in January, the latest transition that began when he retired from teaching this year.
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His Bulldog cross country team gave him quite the retirement gift Saturday at the Class 3A Waubonsie Valley sectional when they qualified for state for the first time in school history.
"Our kids ran great, 16-second split," DiDomenico said. "Our top runner didn't run his best, so we know we can do better down state."
Batavia will take part in the state meet Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Not only did the Bulldogs' top five run within 16 seconds of each other at the sectional, their entire seven were only 24 seconds apart: Mitch Zabka (16:06), Ryan Wieties (16:08), Jorden Berendt (16:20), Mitch Voellinger (16:20), Patrick Redmond (16:22), Chris Orlow (16:26) and David Morrison (16:30).
"We had a game plan, we knew what we can do," DiDomenico said. "We knew there were spots available it was just a matter of putting it together. We knew we had beaten these teams before and of course they beat us as well. It was a matter if today we could put it together. A lot of it had to do with belief in each other. Sometimes it's just when you do it and this was the right time to do it."
Of that group, Vollinger in particular impressed his coach.
"Mitch did fantastic, probably his best race," DiDomenico said. "I saw that earlier during the week, he was taking control speaking up at meetings and obviously it carried over."
No matter how Saturday goes at state, DiDomenico knows how much he has enjoyed being around this sport for all these years.
"I love cross country and track," DiDomenico said. "I'm sure I'll be involved in some capacity. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to take some time off and spend time with my wife."
Keeping good company: The Kaneland boys were the only other local team to qualify besides Batavia.
The Knights are in the 2A state field after taking fourth in the Belvidere sectional led by Kyle Carter, Nathaniel Kucera, Brandon Park, Andrew Lesak and Ryan Bower.
Individually, Mooseheart junior Wal Khat won the Class 1A Lisle sectional in 16:41.
Girls race: Geneva and St. Charles North both made it out of a rugged Waubonsie Valley field won by the No. 1 ranked team in the state, Naperville North.
The defending state champion Huskies have been so much better than the competition this fall that it appears at times everyone else is racing for second place.
"We're certainly not going in with that mentality," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "We want to run our best race next week. Times today (Saturday) will be tough to compare because of the course. Our places look good. We ran well together."
One positive for Geneva heading into Saturday is that five of its seven runners ran in last year's state meet.
Those top seven at the sectional were sophomore McKenzie Altmayer, senior Kathryn Adelman, sophomore Emma McSpadden, junior Brooke Nusser, freshman Gabrielle Thomson, senior Sydney Geils and freshman Emma Ehrhardt.
"You are not trying to tell them something they don't know," Bob Thomson said. "If there's any issues to overcome from last year now we know because they have the personal experience. Next week it's going to be even more good talent. We've got to bring our best. We've got experience running at state.
"It will be a good experience for the newcomers, and our alternates have been working really hard."
St. Charles North's Ashley England is making her fourth and final appearance at state. She took 40th as a junior last year and is hoping to crack the top 25 Saturday.
"I want to try to place all-state, that's my main goal," England said. "We've got to taper this week and just go for it, let everything go."
Three other area teams qualified in the smaller classes. Sophomore Karina Liz (sixth) and junior Irene Crown (14th) led Aurora Central Catholic to a third-place sectional finish and a spot in the Class 1A state field.
Rosary and Kaneland both are racing in 2A after taking fourth and fifth, respectively, at their sectionals. The Royals' top five were Madison Ronzone, Shea Vero, Emi Martin, Abby Hammer and Abby Michel while the Knights were led by Victoria Clinton, Brianna Bower, Erika Carlson, Abby Shaw and Aislinn Lodwig.
Fab four: Four local Class 3A runners grabbed the final four individual spots at the Waubonsie Valley sectional.
St. Charles East junior Torree Scull (18:29), Batavia sophomore Dakota Roman (18:34), West Aurora freshman Taylor Truckenbrod (18:39) and Batavia junior Miranda Rea (19:10) will join the Geneva and St. Charles North teams in the girls 3A race.
"Her training was very good this year. She's taken another step. She's moving along," Batavia coach Chad Hillman said of Roman who has now qualified for state both years with the Bulldogs. "We're a totally different team than we were five or six weeks ago."