Coach: Deerfield cross country works hard to continue winning tradition
After talking to Scott Friedlander, the young head coach of Deerfield's boys cross country program, and feeling his genuine love and enthusiasm for his program -- and for the sport in general -- I was ready to log off the computer, stop writing, and crank out a quick 3-mile run.
He was that motivating.
I even thought about going for a 10k jaunt, using Coach Friedlander's inspiration to achieve a possible personal best time, but then reality struck. Back to the computer.
Clearly, there is something special going on with Deerfield Cross Country. Not just this year with Friedlander in charge, but for many years. The program has been blessed with a long tradition of not just winning teams, but even more importantly a unique sense of camaraderie and a rare connectedness, allowing so many of the Warrior runners to really cherish their time in the program.
Where did this feel-good all start? How did this unique program cohesiveness develop? The names and the teams responsible make for a long list.
You could, first, go all the way back to 1976-77, when the Warriors fall runners won back-to-back state championships. Back then there were no classes; all schools competed together, regardless of size, and Deerfield still was best in show for 2 years in a row.
Names like Tom Stevens, Todd and Mark McCalister, Keith Hampton, Dane Rutstein, Greg Less and Craig Bauer all led the charge to greatness back then.
Or you could look back at the turn of the century, some 22 years ago when, after a long stretch of down years, a special group of runners decided they would change things and turn around the Warrior Cross Country program.
"That group set the tone," says Friedlander. "They were just sick and tired of losing, and they dedicated themselves to changing it. They changed the entire culture of the program and started the tradition now where the seniors welcome in the freshman, and everyone feels like they are part of something special."
Names like Zack Hermann, Nick McConnell, Ken Mansfield, Scott Mansfield and Jeff Bailey were all instrumental.
"That group did a complete 180 over the three years they ran for the varsity, and their sphere of influence over so many kids through the years is truly amazing. I hope they know how much they accomplished, because really it all started with them." says the current coach.
You could also look to last year's squad, where 22 years of winning and successful cross country teams all culminated with them, as the 2021 group shocked the running community and finished second in state.
"Couldn't get past Fenwick," says Friedlander. "But what a phenomenal group we had. All seniors, too, who had been in the program for years."
Names like Lucas Moskowitz, Ryan Bernstein, Cole Bernstein, Carter Levinson, Evan Morris, Eric Lakemaker, and David Fisher led the way and provided all those thrills down in Peoria -- but really all season.
"Ryan Bernstein was a classic example of this group's grit and determination," says coach. "He injured himself and had to sit out most of the season. All he could do is therapy running in a pool. Then, the last three weeks, he is finally able to get out there, and his competing helps us at conference, sectionals and, finally, in the state meet where he finishes 35th place overall. Just an amazing comeback story."
So now it is on to this year: The sequel to last year's heroics. How does the 2022 squad keep the momentum going? Will they be able to continue the great tradition and program dedication that Deerfield Cross Country has developed?"
"Oh, they're ready," says Friedlander. "This is a talented group, many of whom could have run varsity top seven for a lot of schools last year, but they had to bide their time behind our talented senior class. Now it is their turn!"
Three juniors lead the way for this year's squad: Dane Brown, Dylan Cohen, and Jon Wool. But they will have plenty of support behind them, including seniors Drew Spiegel, Fisher Houston, and Jeremy Landon, juniors Edwin Shi, Ryan Jones, Eric Hogankamp, Matt Solovy, and a couple of young guns in sophomore Nick Dowell and freshman Jamie Chandler, all of whom will push for top seven spots and make for some good, healthy competition.
Solovy is a great example of the dedication in the Warriors running program.
"This kid, as a freshman, was probably our slowest runner, I mean literally like 74th out of 74!" says coach, then proudly explains "But now Matt is challenging to be one of our top varsity runners. An amazing story really -- he did it all through hard work and dedication and support from his teammates, and that is what our program is all about."
Coach Friedlander's own path to becoming head coach is actually a pretty amazing story as well.
"I ran in the program, for Coach Kauffman back in 2004 to 2008, and I absolutely loved it. It was a life changing experience for me, so I wanted to return and give back to the program that gave me so much," explains coach. "At first, I just came back to help out when I could and volunteered when college life, or then work, would allow. I enjoyed working with the guys, but never really thought of coaching, because I had a regular job"
"But when Coach Kauffman decided to go to Lake Zurich to coach his two daughters and the position became open, some of the parents came up to me and said, 'why don't you coach the team?' I hadn't really thought about it but decided to give it a shot. My boss at work was an ex- Big Ten decathlon champion, so he had a track connection and that helped," Coach added.
He was an assistant the first year, but one year later when the job opened up again, athletic director Robert Ruiz made the call and offered the young coach, just a few years out of college, the top job.
"It's all about keeping it in the family," says Friedlander. "There is something special about Deerfield Cross Country, and I intend to keep that going and grow it even more. The only place I would ever coach at is here at Deerfield, and I am totally dedicated to the program that gave me so much."
Speaking of keeping it in the program, Friedlander has two assistants helping him and both are (naturally, as there is a theme here) graduates of the Warrior run team. Billy Anderson (DHS '15) and Danny Rosen (DHS '16) both are on board as coaches and a big part of the program.
So, how do the Warriors follow up last year's second-in-state finish, after a group of seven seniors graduated?
"New group, new runners," says coach, "but they are ready for sure. They have put the work in to be successful."
One of the streaks to keep alive is three consecutive CSL North conference championships.
They will go for a fourth this year, and whether they make it or not, one thing seems certain: With the complete dedication and enthusiasm that permeates the entire program, it won't be for lack of effort.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.