No state title to defend, but St. Charles East glad to be back on the course
When we last saw Micah Wilson wearing his St. Charles East cross country uniform, the then sophomore helped the Saints win the Class 3A state championship last November in Peoria with his seventh place individual finish.
Wilson and the Saints kicked off their 2020 season Monday at Camera Park in Glendale Heights. He called the quad with Lake Park, Glenbard North and Geneva a "rust buster," though the Saints didn't show much rust easily winning both the girls and boys races.
While glad to be back in action, especially after the uncertainty this summer if there would even be a season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday was a great look at just how much will be different for the defending state champions.
It starts with the defense of that title -- there will be none. The IHSA announced last week that the postseason will not include a state meet.
"It's really disappointing," Wilson said. "We really thought we could do something this year, and nationals was canceled too and that was really fun last year. I know it was really hard on the seniors but we are looking forward to the rest of the season and we are going to make the most of what we have."
With only 50 runners allowed on the course, there's far fewer teams at each meet, which means not as many elite runners to test the best like Wilson.
Wilson won Monday's race in 14 minutes, 48 seconds, and was followed by teammates Luke Schildmeyer and Zack Loomis. Lake Park's Nate Jorgensen broke up the Saints pack in fourth, then came three more St. Charles East runners -- Tyler Tobin, Mitch Garcia and Connor Murphy.
"There's less people to push me," Wilson said. "It's harder to get a faster time. We're lucky because we have some of the top talent on our team. No matter what race we run we are going to have some top guys push each other."
Wilson told me all that while both of us wore masks and stood 10 feet apart. Glenbard North officials set up the course to keep spectators well away from the runners, with signs reading "No spectators beyond this point" and "Face masks required beyond this point."
The spectators who showed up followed those guidelines, staying well away from the runners. It was a contrast to past cross country meets when fans walk or jog from spot to spot along the course to get the best vantage point as the race develops; on Monday they stayed in the same spot.
Everyone seems focused on doing their part to give the runners as much of a season as possible.
"It was good to get back into this," Lake Park girls coach Jay Ivory said. "It's been a long time. There's been a lot of questions marks. Would we even have a season and what it would look like? It's a different feel but at end of the day I totally understand why we are doing it this way."
The crowd size is another big difference. St. Charles East's annual Leavey Invitational at LeRoy Oakes to kick off the season would be Saturday; this year they will have four schools instead of the 15 to 20 teams of past years.
Lake Park sophomore Kelci Saele, who set a PR on Monday, noticed the small crowd.
"Usually it is packed so it was a little weird with everyone being more spread out," Saele said. "But the racing is pretty much the same."
St. Charles East's girls started the afternoon with the first seven runners into the chute, led by freshman Marley Andelman, second in the IESA state meet as an eighth-grader last year, winning in 18:37. Teammates Morgan Sandlund, also in her first high school race after playing tennis last year, took second followed by another freshman Mackenzie Loomis and sophomore Ava Abbott. Geneva's Lauren Hasty was the first non-Saint in eighth in 20:00.
"The girls were very happy, they were very nervous, Feb. 29 was our last race," Saints coach Brad Kaplan said. "I did not think (cross country) would get this far. We talk about it daily to make sure we are doing the right things to keep this thing going."
The Saints boys followed with another victory, the start of what will be a unique season for all.
But at least it's a season.
"Just trying to get these guys geared up and ready to go in an environment they are not used to is going to take some time," Saints coach Chris Bosworth said. "But I think given the opportunity to race and compete we are going to seize the day."