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IL AAA Boys State Meet Wrap Up

A look at a remarkable race

by Michael Newman
[email protected]

In pre race analysis, it figured to come down to a couple points between 4 schools. What we received last Saturday was one of the greatest races perhaps in Illinois State Meet History. The electricity was in the air as teams checked in at the starting around. Fans were milling around looking at their favorite school and looking at their competitors. It was a who's who of Illinois running behind the starting area. Craig Virgin was walking around chatting with fans. Jim Spivey and Mike Durkin were in the crowd awaiting the start of the race. The temperature was around 35 degrees...wind about 15-20mph coming off the west hills of Detweiller Park. A snow flurrry was in the air. York was in Box 8...Naperville North in Box 15...Neuqua Valley in Box17...Geneva in Box 34.

At the start of the race, the runners roared off the line with the exception of York, who tookk a thousand and 1 and left the line and veered towards the right. Theis squad has used this technique before and proved successful. At the quarter-mile, a slew of runners passed at 56 seconds, Naperville North's pack was around 62, and York's between 64-66. At the half mile, The leaders passed in 2:08, with Naperville North passing between 2:12 to 2:14 and passing between 2:14 through 2:16.

At the mile, the race favorites started to show themselves at the front of the pack. The York duo of Jordan Herbert and Steve Sulkin were there. Kyle Gibson of Naperville North was there. Nico Composto of Loyola was there. Jeffrey Thode of Conant was there. Danny Pawola of Neuqua Valley was there. Andrew Nelson of Geneva and Zach Dahleen of Sandburg were bunched in the front. They all passed by in 4:44...the jockeying for the lead had just begun. Over the PA on the course, it was announced that Naperville North was leading the team race, Neuqua Valley and Geneva was fighting for 3rd. York was a close 4th.

The triangle of the course did not settle much. Each runner knew their competition. Each runner was not willing to make a move that early. The leaders came out of triangle and proceeded down the home stretch. Each runner jockeying for position. The lead group passed by 2 miles in 9:38. The race was ready to begin...GAME ON!

As the pack passed Lacroix Rock by the start/finish area, Steve Sulkin made a move to surge away from the pack. His teammate Jordan Herbert followed. Kyle Gibson of Naperville North would not let the duo get away. Gibson had missed a day of school with possible strep throat. The illness did not show in him. Pawola made a surge to take the lead, then Composto. Andrew Nelson seemed to drop off the pack. Coming down Rt 29, the lead continued to change between Gibson, Herbert, Sulkin, and Pawola with Jeffrey Thode tucked in the pack.

Right around the 2 1/2 mile mark, Thode made his move. "I was worried it was a little early to move," said Conant Coach John Powers."But he was the one running, he was the one making the decision." Thode made a move that the pack could not respond to individually at first. Coming down the home stretch, Thode powered up the incline towards the finish. It was hard to believe that an individual that had spent time in the hospital a month before hand with a collapsed lung was leading this race. Gibson followed with the York duo of Herbert and Sulkin right there.

Around 300 yards to go, Sulkin passed Gibson, then Herbert. Sulkin then set his sights towards Thode. But the Conant senior had a big enough lead to hold on. Sulkin closed the gap, but it was not enough. Jeffrey Thode crossed the finish line in 14:18 with Sulkin one second behind...Herbert in 3rd at 14:21. Then every one started looking where York was, where Naperville North was, were Geneva was. The epic race was over. The epic wait for the results had just begun.

Thode was sitting down by his starting box totally exhausted from his effort. "In the last 20 yards, I was just concerned with staying ahead of the group. Coming in with a strong finish," said Thode. The first thought that he had after crossing the finish line as the state champ: "Sit down!" said Thode.

It could have been any one's race teamwise. "The kids ran well", said Naperville North coach David Racey said while waiting for the outcome. "I was really happy. Gibson, our top kid, had strep throat all week and came out and ran real well. Our 2-3-4 ran great. Our fourth man normally (Bob Guthrie), had a migrane this morning and was our fifth." An hour after the race began, the results came out and Naperville North prevailed by 1 point over York.

What was even more remarkable was that York's team time was 2 seconds faster than Naperville North's...74:04 to 74:06. Observers mentioned that the thousand and one cost York the title. In 1979, Both Maine East and York were pinned in inside boxes and both teams took thousand and one's...Maine East won by 2 points. "Devastated" was the word legendary York coach York Newton stated. It would be easier to lose by 50-60 points than to lose by the 1 he told one of his assistant coaches. "The best team won today," concluded Newton.

A sigh of relief was and jubulation was in the Naperville North area. "Kyle was a little upset after the race," said Racey. "But we will go at again next week (at NXN Regionals)." The key to victory for Naperville North was the performance of Mike Herbert. Usually 50-58 seconds behind teammate Gibson, Herbert was 42 seconds behind him. If he was back at the usual time position he had been running, the otcome would have been different.

The awards were cold...not as many people as usual. York was there in their tuxedos by Elmhurst's Gentelman's Quarterly. The fans of Naperville North went crazy as their team accepted its first state championship cross country trophy in the school's history. But at the end, the weather did not matter as fans left the park knowing that they had seen one of the best state meets that had been competed at the Detweiller Park course.

Coming Soon: An analysis of State Champion Jeffrey Thode...what he overcame to become state champ.