The 2014 Kaneland boys cross country team kicked off their season the morning of Aug. 13 at the Great Western Trail just north of Virgil. The team has qualified for state five out of the last six years, placing eighth in 2008, fifth in 2009, 15th in 2011, 13th in 2012 and 22nd in 2013. Photo by Patti Wilk
Harriers in no hurry to let up in 2014
KANELAND—They know the courses, they know the challenges, they know the drill.
It’s on the Kaneland High School boys cross country team members themselves to make sure every potential rival in the area knows them.
With the Chad Clarey-coached roster well-versed on how to approach and attack each season, 2014 remains no different, especially with such key losses to the varsity group that put together a 13th-place finish in 2012 and a 22nd-place finish last year down in Peoria, Ill.
“We learned a great deal in the past two years with qualifying for the State Finals,” Clarey said. “Actually, we’ve qualified five of the last six years out of arguably the toughest Sectional in Class 2A. We learned a lot about leadership in that 2012 season, and what works well for this program. That team wound up with the fastest team time in school history. Our 2013 team needed a stellar performance to make it out of our deep Sectional once again. They put everything they had into that race and wound up with a 34-second pack split, and qualified as the fourth team out. Our performance at State was not what we expected, and while we feel we had another top 15 team, sometimes things just snowball, and we just didn’t have our best races.”
The losses of such star personnel like Nathaniel Kucera, Kyle Carter, Ryan Bower and Luis Acosta are just part of the gig every season.
“That experience made a big difference for the team’s success,” Clarey said. “For the seniors, that sour note from the ending at the cross country finals became sweet motivation for their track campaign, which ended with a state trophy. Sometimes you need to fail at something to realize how hard you need to work to stay on top. We cannot replace the experience that those runners brought to the team. Not yet.”
A new rotation will have the hope of season-wide progression, but it may take some time. Hoping to solidify the Knight ranks on the Elburn Woods course in 2014 are athletes like Andrew Lesak (who’s still on the road back to 100 percent health from track), Sean Spaetzel, Brandon Park, James Walker and Mitch Reger. Kaneland also benefits from a transfer from Texas, Jared Murri.
“(Murri’s) been right up with the pack through the first week’s worth of work, and we look forward to seeing him in a checkerboard jersey. (Lesak, Spaetzel, Park) figure to be in the top 7 mix through much of the season,” Clarey said.
Members of Kaneland cross country looking to get a real shot at varsity time in 2014 include Will Kuipers, Alex Gale, Aaron French and Kyle Osborne.
Clarey is intrigued by the potential gains made by Walker and Reger, given the chance to shine on the courses.
“Walker was injured for much of last fall and never really got the chance to show what he could do. He’s a tremendous leader on the team this year, and he’s worked so hard this summer for his final season. Mitch is in that same boat. He’s not a real vocal leader, but he absolutely knows what he wants to get out of his running, and he works as hard as any senior we have,” Clarey said.
Dealing with a slightly modified conference in 2014 yields the same goals and wishes, i.e., keep up with Yorkville.
“The Yorkville Foxes continue to crank out big numbers in their program, and will look to repeat as conference champions,” Clarey said. “I doubt there is a team in our league this year that can break up what they have. If we can pull together, stay healthy, get some good experiences and confidence, then I think we could have a shot at finishing in the top 3. We see Dekalb, Sycamore, Sterling and Geneseo as prominent teams vying for that same distinction.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the season begins with a trip to Sycamore. The Eddington Invitational is at Kaneland High School on Saturday, Sept. 20.