Batavia gave its coach Mike DiDomenico quite the retirement present Saturday at the Class 3A Waubonsie Valley sectional.
The Bulldogs' top five runners turned in a 16-second split. That teamwork was just what Batavia needed to score 174 points and snare the fifth and final spot and qualify for state for the first time in school history.
"It's a great gift, it's tremendous, it's special to make history," DiDomenico said. "I can't say enough about our kids. What a great gift for them and Batavia cross country. It's exciting."
The accomplishment was all the more sweeter considering this is DiDomenico's final season in a 34-year coaching career.
"I just retired from teaching, I wanted to stick it out for one more year because I wanted to finish out with these seniors," said DiDomenico. "We knew we had the potential to do some good things. We thought we had a good year. Our only setback was the conference meet (taking second to St. Charles East by 1 point). This sure made up for it and then some."
St. Charles East wound up as one of the teams on the outside looking in. Wheaton Warrenville South won the sectional with 58 points followed by Naperville North (80), Wheaton North (144) and Naperville Central (148).
Marmion took sixth with 189 and the Saints seventh with 199 while St. Charles North's string of state appearances ended with its eighth-place finish.
"We went in thinking we should be one of the top five but we knew anywhere from three to eight the teams were going to be tight," said Saints coach Chris Bosworth whose squad returns nine of their top 12 next year and got one individual through to state Saturday, Max Rowland in ninth. "As long as they ran as hard as they could you couldn't ask for anything else. Last year we were 16th. It's a progression, it's a process."
Marmion also put a couple runners ahead of Batavia: senior John Graft in 13th in 15:50.3 and junior Brady Bobbitt in 15th in 15:50.6. Those two will also race at the state meet next Saturday in Peoria.
Batavia was able to finish ahead of both Marmion and St. Charles East thanks to its tremendous teamwork. Sixth runner Chris Orlow (50th, 16:26) and seventh runner David Morrison (56th, 16:30) both finished ahead of the Saints' and Cadets' fourth and fifth runners.
The Bulldogs top five were senior Mitch Zabka (25th, 16:06), junior Ryan Wieties (27th, 16:08), senior Jorden Berendt (38th, 16:20), senior Mitch Voellinger (40th, 16:20) and junior Patrick Redmond (44th, 16:22).
"They stuck together as a pack," DiDomenico said. "I think that was the key and they fed off each other. That's our best split all year long. We lightened the workload this week and threw in a couple motivational videos and a couple motivational talks. Combination of a lot of factors. Support from parents at home. Just not giving up on each other and believing in each other and what we are doing and obviously that was a great result."
It also was a great result for Greta Havey's Tigers who were sweating the team results after one of their normal top runners finished out of their top five. But the Tigers showed their depth with junior Gabe Lightbody moving up to 41st place, saving 40 spots over what their sixth score would have counted.
"That becomes a little more of a confidence builder that if somebody is off we're still there," Havey said. "You get a little nervous but the great thing we tell the boys is you step up and you believe that you have that (depth). It takes all seven guys."
The Tigers' top four were dynamite with a new No. 1. Senior Luke Schroer (second, 15:20) edged teammate Nolan McKenna (third, 15:29) while Kyle Cepeda (fifth, 15:37) and David Dillon (seventh, 15:42) both finished ahead of Naperville North's top runners to help seal the win.
"Luke is always right there," Havey said. "He had a great race. They complement each other very well. They work well together. They train well together. There's a huge respect there. It's not a dogfight thing. They are willing to switch off the load.
"And Kyle and David beating Naperville North's first guys, that sets us up very well. It was a great day."
Senior Jake Pecorin (10th, 15:47), junior Kerry Gschwendtner (11th, 15:48) and junior Jon Klaiber (16th, 15:52) led Naperville North.
Sectional champion Joe Emmanuel from Wheaton North won quite a duel with the Tigers' top two runners to lead the third-place Falcons.
Emmanuel also won the DuPage Valley Conference meet by outdueling the Tigers' McKenna and Schroer.
"I knew Nolan and Luke would be with me and make it hard for me to win," Emmanuel said. "It was exciting with the fast competition."
Emmanuel didn't break free from the Tigers until the final 50 yards.
"I honestly thought it was going to be Nolan dueling it out the end," Emmanuel said. "I was a little surprised Luke made the big push at the end."
Senior Wes Noyes followed Emmanuel for the Falcons in 14th place.
"I'm really excited we got third because I thought we'd get fifth or maybe outside of state as a team," Emmanuel said. "To make it to state again and keep the tradition of making it to state for Wheaton North is exciting."
Huntley sophomore Keagan Smith (fourth, 15:35), Bartlett senior Dan Cotton (sixth, 15:41) and Jacobs senior Matthew Johnson (12th, 15:49) all qualified individually.
"Besides the course being all muddy and not being able to do my race I'm happy I qualified," Cotton said. "But I feel I could have done better if the conditions were better. Probably the roughest race of the year."
Cotton had a good idea of what awaited him while watching the girls before him but still was able to stay close to the three Wheaton front-runners for much of the race.
"After watching the girls race and watching girls wipe out we knew that it was going to be treacherous," Cotton said. "I tried going around it (the muddy parts), then went straight through it the second mile and that worked better. The first mile I was exactly where I wanted to be, I was in the chase following those three (Wheaton) guys. When we hit the second mile he (Emmanuel) went for it and I just let him take it. I couldn't go that fast, there was no way."