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2006 Nike Team Nationals - Midwest region preview

"The Midwest is well represented this year and should perform mightily."

Dec. 2, 2006 Portland OR

Scott Bush, NTN Midwest editor

Boys - Girls

 The race to determine just who the best team in the nation is upon us.  Teams from the Midwest will be flying all the way across the country to Portland to compete in the prestigous Nike Team Nationals.  There are five teams this year competing from the Midwest.  The boys teams include, Elmhurst (York), Illinois, Woodridge, Ohio and LaSalle (Cincinnati), Ohio.  The two girls teams competing in the event are Westfield, Indiana and Hinsdale (Central), Illinois. 
  Each team competed well all season long, taking on the best, beating the best and winning their respective state championships.  Each team poses a strong threat to earn a top ten finish at NTN this year, while possibly even finishing in the top three.  The Midwest is well represented this year and should perform mightily.  Here are team capsules of each team: 
Elmhurst XC Club (York), Illinois
Chaperon: Dr. Michael Calcagno
Top Seven Athletes: Tom Achtien (Jr.), Mike Fry (Sr.), Steve Sulkin (So.), Mark Sulkin (Sr.), Alan D'Ambrogio (Sr.), Nick Kuczwara (Sr.) and Tim Jung (Sr.).
Comments: Perhaps the most storied program in this nation's history in high school cross country, Elmhurst (York) is on a mission.  Few have predicted a victory from this squad, but quietly this team has gone about doing things as well as their two other NTN qualifying squads the past two years (one of which won the race and the other that finished second).  While expectations around the nation may be low for this team, the expectations in the Elmhurst camp are big.  Not only did they win their state meet in Illinois by a huge margin in one of the deepest team races in Illinois history, but they won big in every single one of their races all year.  Quite frankly, this team has not been challenged yet.  They have perhaps four top level runners in seniors Mike Fry and Nick Kuczwara, junior Tom Achtien and sophomore Steve Sulkin.  Achtien and Fry have been their top two runners consistently all season long, while Kuczwara will be competing in his third Nike Team National race and has had both success and disappointment at NTN before.  The X-factor for Elmhurst (York) will be sophomore sensation Steve Sulkin.  Sulkin ran on the frosh/soph level nearly all season long and was only penciled in to be by many their sixth or seventh runner during the state series.  However, Sulkin surprised all the Illinois faithful, as he finished 15th overall.  He will be a factor, as will Mark Sulkin, Alan D'Ambrogio and Tim Jung, any of whom could be their fifth runner.  This team has front runners and depth, just like the past two years, and should vie for a top three finish once again. 
Woodridge XC Club, Ohio
Coach: Jeff Howard
Top Seven Athletes: Scott Hilditch (Sr.), Brian Himelright (Jr.), David Petrak (Sr.), Joey McCoy (Sr.), Tony Marette (Jr.), Daniel Petrak (Sr.) and Matthew Weiss (Jr.).
Comments: "Our expectations entering the season were cautiously optimistic," says Jeff Howard, Woodridge's head coach.  This is a fantastic statement that sums up Woodridge's season.  All season long people wrote off Woodridge, even when they were ranked in the NTN Midwest top three.  However, time and time again this team came out and proved that they were a force and with a huge Ohio state championship win and a few big wins over LaSalle (Cincinnati) during the season, Woodridge earned their first trip to NTN.  Senior leadership led the way for this squad time and time again.  Scott Hilditch and Brian Himelright are both very solid front runners, that will compete with most other teams top stars.  They led the way during the season as they scored big time victories at both the Midwest Meet of Champions and the Les Eisenhart Invitational.  Since the beginning this team has had the goal of NTN in the back of its mind and that time is finally upon them.  Woodridge is a team that is chalk full of juniors and seniors and they will rely on that experience to help them in perhaps the biggest race of their lives.  This team is fired up and ready to roll and a top ten finish is a definite possibility.  Woodridge will be the underdog once again, just how far they will rise remains to be seen.
LaSalle XC Club (Cincinnati), Ohio
Coach: Frank Russo
Top Seven Athletes: Jake Nusekabel (Sr.), Kyle Lang (Sr.), Ricky Lupp (Sr.), Corey Spriggs (Sr.), Michael Inderhees (So.), Mitchell Huesman (Sr.) and Sean Comer (Jr.).
Comments: LaSalle (Cincinnati) coach Frank Russo summed up his season by saying, "You never learn anything about your team or your athlete's running a "soft schedule"."  This statement is one for the ages and definitely sums up LaSalle's year as a whole.  This team week after week sought out the best competition not just in the Midwest, but in the nation.  Head to head match ups with Woodridge, despite being losses, taught this team that they could run tough when tired.  Big wins over St. John's Jesuit, OH and Carmel, IN taught this team that they could compete and beat anyone if they were on.  LaSalle even traveled to the Stanford Invitational to take on some of the national powerhouse programs like Ferris and Mead, and while they didn't come out on top there, it was a mighty experience and one that should pay off this weekend at Nike Team Nationals.  Over the past two years, this team has had the mission of earning a trip to NTN, and while they have been close in the past, this year's senior talented team pushed them over that edge.  Running with a pack mentality, Jake Nusekabel, Kyle Lang, Ricky Lupp, Corey Spriggs and Michael Inderhees have been the consistent top five for this squad.  They have run well in nearly every meet together and with the experience of their coach guiding them, they should be ready for a big finish at NTN.  LaSalle is one of those teams that could really sneak up on the field.  A top ten finish is a definite possibility and this team should be hungry enough and have enough focus to really execute a great race plan and have the best races of their lives. 
Westfield XC Club, Indiana
Coach: Scott Lidskin
Top Seven Athletes: Maggie Bingham (Jr.), Kaitlyn Love (So.), Kristina Krasich (Sr.), Breanne Ehrman (Jr.), Dana Christie (Fr.), Brittany Rutledge (Sr.) and Kimberly Robertson (Sr.).
Comments: Ranked number one in the Midwest since the first week in the season, Westfield has had high expectations placed on them from just about everyone.  When you are on top like that you know you are going to get everyone's best effort because they want to be the one to knock you off the top of the mountain.  Westfield week after week went against the best in Indiana and won.  They traveled to Illinois to take on some of Illinois' finest and won big.  They did what was necessary and will repeat their trip to NTN for the second consecutive year.  Last year Westfield placed 13th overall, while this year they have much higher expectations and should be ready to run after having five weeks to train between their state meet and now.  One difference from last year to this year is that last year a couple of their top girls played basketball, so they were less than 100% at NTN.  This year those girls have chosen to focus on NTN and their cross country team, which should push this team well into the top ten, and a potential top five finish.  With their amazing 1-3 punch up top of Maggie Bingham, Kaitlyn Love and Kristina Krasich, Westfield will be a team to watch Saturday for sure.
Hinsdale XC Club (Central), Illinois
Chaperon: Jere Hines
Top Seven Athletes: Elaine Kuckertz (So.), Lauren Zumbach (So.), Rosemary Hines (So.), Gina Kapusta (Sr.), Emily Cleary (Jr.), Heather Stevens (So.) and Jennifer Laser (Sr.). 
Comments: Running strong, even when the team is a little down, is what creates championship teams.  All year Hinsdale (Central) worked their way up the NTN Midwest rankings, starting unranked and building up all the way to number three heading into the last weekend.  With a big time finish at their state meet, winning by 79 points, Hinsdale lept into the number two position and earned their first ever Nike Team Nationals birth.  All season long they went toe-to-toe with the best in Illinois, losing once early on at the Lake Park Invitational and finishing in some very close races with Illinois ranked York High School.  They also traveled to the Culver Invitational in Indiana to take on some of the best teams in Indiana, including four Midwest ranked squads.  Hinsdale took second in that race, losing only to Midwest #1 Westfield, while beating the other top Indiana squads quite convincingly.  From there Hinsdale geared up for the state series and ran their best race on the day that mattered most.  Their state performance was very similar to last year's Illinois state champion Naperville North, who then came to NTN and finished a surprise fourth.  Will Hinsdale have the same results this year?  I guess we'll just wait and see.