Cross Country Team Races to Success


Varsity start of the Reavis Invitational

Fares Marzouk , Staff Writer

Every Saturday morning, while most of their classmates are still tucked into bed, Oak Lawn Cross Country runners wake up at the crack of dawn ready to tackle vigorous workouts or to compete against prevalent talent in meets that routinely exceed a dozen schools.

Last track season, the team faced instability and a lack of confidence as the program went through a slew of changes, including four new coaches in six months, but the team is now ultimately managed by Salvador Montes, a social worker at OLCHS, and the atmosphere is now stable.

“It was a difficult period. There was a lot of doubt and complaining over the new training method and it caused multiple arguments within the team”, said team captain Angel Reyes.

The new training, which Mr. Montes describes as “high intensity, high recovery, low mileage” involves 2-3 hard workouts a week, sometimes back-to-back, with a couple days of short and easy jogging in between. A frequent workout is 5xmile repeats: 4 laps around a track. 5 minutes of rest. 5 times. 5,460 lactate acid filled steps later, the boys are sprawled across the track in various expressive positions of discomfort.

“The pain you get shows the hard work and time you put in, which is what I would say I like about the sport itself,” reflects sophomore and first year runner Jacob Delk.

To push through such gut wrenching (and puke-inducing) workouts, the athletes are motivated by a variety of individual pursuits, both big and small. For the exceptionally talented Jadon Pirkl that means qualifying to the prestigious IHSA state meet, where the top 120 runners across the state compete down in Peoria.

“My main goal is to qualify to state,” Pirkl said. “This has been a goal of mine since freshman year. I think if I keep working hard and improving I can definitely qualify. If I do, I will be only the 5th runner in school history to achieve this.”

Sophomore Julian Gonzalaz is motivated to run under 20 minutes, a respectable time that even many upperclassmen struggle to break.

“My main goal is to break 20 minutes and to catch up to my friend, Cristian,” said Gonzalez. “I know that if I work hard and push through the pain, I can achieve success.”

Indeed, the pain does lead runners to success, as demonstrated last Saturday when the group of boys broke through barriers, both physical and mental at the Plainfield Central Invite. Pirkl led the charge, coming in 7th place with a blazing 3 mile time of 15:32. This time places Pirkl 9th in state for juniors and 40th overall.

“I wasn’t expecting to run that fast, it was a surprise, honestly,” said Pirkl.

Later in the day, aforementioned sophomore Cristian Zavala broke into the varsity team by shaving an unreal 4 minutes off his 3 mile time, finishing the junior varsity race in 18:53.

“My freshman year, I never thought I would even run under 20 minutes or make it onto the varsity team,” Zavala said. “So to break 19 and make varsity as a sophomore is incredible. It was a very long process and tough race, but it’s so worth it.”  

Junior Dominic Niceforo tasted the fruition of his hard work when he PR’d by 50 seconds and cemented his spot in the top 7.

“I was stuck in the 19-minute range for some of the early meets,” Niceforo said. “In order to set a new best time, it took many weeks of hard training, good recovery habits, and the right mindset.

“It took all of these pieces of the puzzle to finally break out of my shell and set a new personal record of 17:54 at the Plainfield Central Invitational.”

Many runners love the ameloraited undertones of cross country; that it represents the unending battle against one’s mind and beat yesterday.

“I love running,” said Reyes. “I love to challenge myself and see how fast I can go. I love challenging my mindset so that I can push myself harder and run further at faster paces. Most of all I love competing.

“The rush of adrenaline I get, from when I’m on the starting line and the official sets off the starting gun, to when I finish the race knowing I did my best and raced my heart out is just amazing, and to me, nothing feels better than that.”

For others, the thing that makes cross country so special are the unique friendships and everlasting bonds that are formed through the countless miles and repeats.

“I like how the xc team is so welcoming, said freshman Trevor Hartman. “When I first joined, they immediately accepted me and made me a part of the time. I’ve already met so many new people and made a lot of friends.”

As a team, the Spartans are working towards a feasible conference championship- the first in over a decade, and once again qualifying to sectionals as a team. “Quote”promulgates team co-captain, Jose Rios. But until then, the Spartan runners will have to continue to push through 10 mile long runs and gruesome mile repeats.