Hersey hungers for big finish
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The Hersey boys cross country team started last season with high expectations -- before it ended it with a thud.
This year the Huskies are primed to finish the deal.
Hersey enters Saturday's Class 3A state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria in the mix for its first state trophy since the Huskies finished second in 1972.
Hersey entered last season with high expectations but ran a state race that left them disappointed with a 19th-place finish in Class 3A.
This year, the Huskies are looking to erase that disappointment.
"I am feeling really good about toeing the line on Saturday," said Hersey third-year coach Jay Renaud. "We're definitely hungry to go and extra motivated to run those 3 miles."
Former Hersey coach Tim Phillips laid the foundation for the program, and Renaud has continued to raise the bar for the Huskies. Senior Andy Philipose and junior David Rodriguez are the twin engines that power the Huskies' attack.
Seniors Eric DeLoera, Matt Stadnicki, and Jack O'Neil combine with juniors Grant Von Der Lippe and Kevin Ziegenhorn to keepthe line moving and give Hersey one of the deepest teams in state.
Since the end of August, Hersey has not been bashful in stating its goal for this season.
"Since the beginning of the season we've been eyeing a trophy, and you hear us talking about it every single week," Philipose said. "We don't stop talking about it. We realize if we have our best race, there is no possible way we can lose."
Hersey has backed up its talk in rolling through the postseason; the Huskies won their first Mid-Suburban League title since 1972, continued with a regional title, and didn't stutter in winning its first sectional title at Busse Woods last weekend.
"We've been working toward this goal since last year," said Ziegenhorn. "I feel like state is the last hurdle."
The seeds were planted on the ride home from last year's state meet on a quiet bus, where the lingering disappointed fueled the Huskies motivation.
It continued during a strong spring track season, in which the Huskies took fourth in Class 3A in the 3,200 relay.
And the hunger to excel kept growing during summer training, which included a trip to Estes Park, Colo.
"It wasn't easy," said Rodriguez, whose team ran close to 80 miles a week during the summer in anticipation for the impending season. "It was one of the hardest summers we had, but it felt good knowing it would be worth it."
Hersey once again entered this season with high expectations. The Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Poll had the Huskies ranked No. 7 in the preseason.
"The experience at state last year fueled the fire for the year-long training," said Von Der Lippe, who has elevated his performance this season. "Coming into the fall we definitely had a chip on our shoulder."
Hersey answered the bell this time, despite having Philipose slowed due to an early season injury.
O'Neil stepped up to help Hersey take third at a loaded Peoria Notre Dame Invite in mid-September.
Then, with Philipose out, DeLoera and Von Der Lippe picked up the slack by helping lead the Huskies to a third-place finish at the Palatine Invite in late September, just 5 points behind Kentucky power St. Xavier.
"We've been steady all season," Renaud said. "But the Palatine Invite really opened some eyes, especially with Philipose out."
"When one guy is down, we know there will be another guy stepping up for the team," said DeLoera, whose return to the team after a one-year hiatus of playing varsity soccer has given the Huskies a lift. "We have more confidence coming into the races working together as a team."
Since it last trophy in 1972, Hersey has offered glimpses of hope, including three top-10 state finishes since 2000. And individually, Kevin Havel gave the Huskies plenty to cheer about, including four top-five finishes at the state meet from 2004 through 2007.
But this year's squad is looking to cement its place in history and hoping to cap off its historic season with a state trophy.
"It would mean a lot," said O'Neil. "But we would also be leaving a legacy at the school."
"We've been thinking about a trophy and state title since freshman year," added Stadnicki. who has become a key member of the Huskies' pack. "The pieces have been there and now it's about putting it together."
Hersey figures to have its hands full on Saturday in a wide-open field that includes defending state champion York, which has won 28 state titles, 2012 runner-up O'Fallon, a talented Hinsdale Central, New Trier, Downers Grove North and Wheaton Warrenville South.
But the Huskies are looking to fulfill their high expectations this year.
Rodriguez considered the distance the Hersey squad has traveled since its disappointing finish at last season state finals.
Despite all the historic marks it set this season, the Huskies junior realizes there is one more mark that needs to be checked. "
"This is it," Rodriguez said. "It's all on the line November 9."
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