Along with the changing leaves, major changes are also happening at this point in the cross country season. The conference meet is in the books, and now we are heading into the State Series with the culmination being the IHSA State Meet at historic Detweiller Park. Each meet builds off the previous and gets bigger and more important. The stakes could not be any higher. If you and your team runs well, you move on to next week. If not, your season comes to an end. And everyone is putting forth maximum effort to extend their season for another week. With the entire season coming down to these next few meets, changes in training, racing, occur along with traditions coming to light.
One of my favorite things is to see all the traditions each team has as they hype up the different meets. At Geneva, we have embraced the program’s past by incorporating retro jerseys from previous teams. In the pictures above you can see the different jerseys we use in Regionals and Sectionals. Getting to compete in these jerseys is a privilege earned only by those running in these races. The Red, White, and Blue jerseys date back to the 90’s in the era of State Champion Rebecca Mitchell, and All-Staters Dan Huling, and Andrew McQuillan. The white jerseys are used for Sectionals, and were once our state meet jerseys. They were worn by our girls’ team who won back to back state titles and boys’ team who placed 3rd. Names like Whitley, Ehrhardt, Nelson, and McDowell are synonymous with these jerseys. It’s pretty special to know that todays athletes get a chance to wear a jersey that was one worn by top runners from previous years. These jerseys are now only worn for these meets, and no other time. Other teams also have their own version of special jerseys, sometimes extra bright colors or vivid designs so they can be picked out of the massive crowds of runners at Sectionals and State. Some other traditions I have seen are unique hair colors and cuts, team bandanas, and state series warmup jackets. Of course, who could forget Neuqua’s thrift shop suits they wore when receiving their state awards, and the class York High School brings with their tuxedos.
It’s also fun to watch the team strategies and tactics in these different meets. With only 9 teams, Regionals is a relatively small meet. At the Regional meet, 6 of the 9 teams qualify on to Sectionals, and for many of the top teams, it’s a stepping stone. A chance to make final adjustments before Sectionals. Teams can often be seen packing it up for the majority of the race, focusing on teammates working together, and seeing if top runners can hold back a bit and help along slower ones. This can often give them the much needed confidence before Sectionals. And then there’s Sectionals! With 18 teams plus individuals, it’s a much larger meet than Regionals. And these are the best 18 teams and individuals from each Regional! Most Sectional meets are extremely competitive as the best teams in the area are toeing the line, and only 5 teams plus individuals qualify on to State. Sectionals may only be twice the size of Regionals, but the energy is vastly different! With a chance to compete at the state meet, the stakes could not get any higher, and this often brings out the best of every runner and team.
As each meet progresses in importance, the training also shifts. During most of the year, the focus is on building base and aerobic endurance. But now as the end of the season looms, there is a new focus…speed. Workouts get shorter and faster. Race pace or faster intervals are often used to sharpen the speed of the long endurance runner. The kids often look forward to this shift away from long drawn out workouts to shorter, faster albeit more intense ones with special names. It’s also a chance for the track speedsters who have been suffering during long tempos and thresholds to shine. Along with a physical change in workouts to get the runners ready for the weekend, there is also a change in mental focus and motivational training by the coaches and seniors on the team. For most of the year, coaches are not so concerned with placing well at invitationals. Yes, it’s nice to win an invite, but there is more of a focus on the training and progressing. Not so with the state series. This is what all of the summer miles and fall training has lead to.
All of this begins on Saturday, and I’m eager to see the preparation of every team come to fruition. May each of your teams’ run their best and add another week to their season.