Cross Country State 2015Tuesday, January 20 2015 - West Suburban Conference - Silver Division
Downers Grove North senior Ryan Clevenger built upon his all-state cross country success of 2013. Clevenger ended up fourth with a time of 14:24 at the Class 3A state finals at Peoria’s Detweiller Park but he in the led or was among the lead group for the first two miles.
Clevenger’s performance also helped the Trojans finish 13th (340 points). He was among only three returnees and the only top-five finisher back from last year’s state runners-up.
Sophomore Alec Danner was 50th (15:06), followed by senior Zac Christensen (66th, 15:13) and Jack Diamond (140th, 15:37), junior Robby Prescott (172nd, 15:53), senior Joe Carter (173rd, 15:54) and sophomore Tristan Jahn (205th, 16:22).
Christensen and Diamond were the team’s No. 6 and 7 state finishers in 2013. State alternates were junior Bradley Wilcoxen, sophomores Drew Pyburn and Zach Goliszewski and freshmen Nick Chudzik and Jacob Ridderhoff.
“I remember we went to Argonne the next day (after the 2013 state meet) and sat on picnic tables and said we could do something good again next year. We could be a great team again,” Carter said.
“Thirteenth place is a pretty solid place, knowing we lost so many seniors. We were pretty much looked as a team that we weren’t going to make it to state. We were just going to be a regular team. I think we proved a bunch of people wrong because we built this year and we had a good year. People doubted us.”
“Really, just guys stepping up on our team made all of the difference,” Diamond added. “Coming into the season, I didn’t expect Alec Danner to do some of the things that he did. I didn’t expect Robby Prescott to do some of the things that he did. Those guys stepping up helped us out and I think helped us earn a lot of respect on the course this year.”
At state last year, Clevenger was the third highest finishing non-senior. The only runners to beat him Saturday were the two higher-finishing juniors from 2013 – McHenry senior Jesse Reiser (1st, 14:11) and Conant senior Zach Dale (2nd, 14:21) -- as well as Lake Zurich sophomore Matt Pereira (3rd, 16:22).
Clevenger now joins Smith as the only two of the sixth two-time all-staters in program history in which both finishes were in the top 10. Before Smith in 2013, no Downers North runner had finished higher than sixth, which was accomplished twice.
“Ryan ran very well. I thought he went after it. He strung the race out right before the 2-mile mark and really let it rip,” Downers North coach John Sipple said.
“I think if he would have played it conservatively, maybe he would have caught Dale at the end there. I’m pretty satisfied with how we went out after it. I felt the race plan was pretty solid.”
The Trojans also came back strong. This marked their first back-to-back state team berths since three straight from 2002-04. Last year’s lineup exceeded third-place team finishes in 2000 and 1949 as Downers Grove High School.
They were 58 points from 10th-place O’Fallon and part of another remarkable state meet by the West Suburban Conference Silver Division and other four teams from their Marist Sectional, who swept the first four places overall.
“The reality of it is we increased the expectations this year a lot on our team as they went because they kept performing solidly week in and week out,” Sipple said.
“We never really put it together. This (state race) was kind of similar. Our top three ran really well and then we had a couple of guys that had a little off races, and Robby ran well. I was very happy with how they performed overall. The more I think about it, we had a good finish. We beat a lot of good teams today.”
At the 2013 state meet, Reiser had been second to O’Fallon’s Patrick Perrier by just one second (14:22 to 14:21) with Dale fourth (14:31).
On Saturday, Clevenger took into account his only regular-season meeting with Reiser Sept. 13 also at Detweiller. Clevenger finished second to Reiser in the First to the Finish Invitational by 12 seconds (14:32.4 to 14:20.5) after only being a second behind at two miles.
The only other race this season in which Clevenger was second came Sept. 20 at the Minooka Invite in the No. 1 flight to Yorkville senior Jake Hoffert (15:01 to 14:55). Hoffert won the Class 2A title Saturday in 14:30 to lead the Foxes to their second straight team championship. Clevenger did not compete earlier this season against Dale or Pereira.
“I wanted to put myself out there because I wanted to win and have a chance of winning. I didn’t want it to fall into Reiser’s hands and just be a regular Reiser win,” Clevenger said. “I just wanted to go out and run my race and run from the front like I usually do and see how it turned out.”
Clevenger was at the front of the lead pack at the half-mile (2:14/2:15). At the mile, Clevenger slightly led 10 runners clocked officially at 5:45. Clevenger and the other eventual top-six finishers hit the two-mile mark at 9:45 (5:01 split) with four others one second behind.
“I was happy that I dictated it from the gun to the 2-mile or so. I was really happy that I was able to control it and kind of run my own race and feel in control of it,” Clevenger said.
“I was surprised so many kids were able to stay with him, honestly (at that point),” Sipple said. “Ryan kept pushing, hung in there and did a nice job. He was going for the win, but he didn’t run conservatively. That’s for sure.”
Clevenger recalled in September how Reiser displayed a series of surges during their race. Like the First to the Finish Invite, Reiser tried to push the pace early in the third mile as the runners went along Route 29. He, too, couldn’t elude the group. Reiser tried again with half a mile left and made it essentially a two-man race, but he didn’t finally pull away from Dale until a final surge in the final 400 meters.
“Overall, I’m happy with it. He PRed by 10 seconds. I was hoping for him to run about 14:15 but pretty darn close, a little windy and he had a lead most of the way so he had to take a little extra burden on there,” Sipple said.
“I think so many people are happy to balk to Reiser and Dale and just defer to them right away. I think it shows a lot of courage in Ryan and a lot of confidence in his ability. Take the races to them, force them into a decision and they responded today and hats off to them. They ran great. I’d rather (Clevenger) run like that than just be hanging on and deferring to those guys off the bat. I like to run aggressively. If we’re going after the win, then let’s go after the win for crying out loud. You’ve got to take a little bit of a risk and put your nose out there to reap the major rewards ultimately sometimes.”
Clevenger was three seconds ahead of fifth-place Buffalo Grove junior Kevin Salvano (14:27). Sixth-place Stevenson senior Sam Oh (14:34) was another seven seconds behind.
Ahead of Clevenger, Reiser ran a 4:27 third mile. His final surge left Dale spent, maybe even vulnerable to being passed by Pereira and Clevenger.
“When I was fourth going into the (final) straightaway, I felt like I had another gear that I could have maybe been third, maybe even second, because (Dale) slowed down a lot,” Clevenger said.
“I just had a feeling I was waiting for something because I had the ability to pass. I just don’t know what I was waiting for. Maybe I was nervous that I could have gone too early or something. Either way, it’s multiple things that are going through my head and whether I should have made my own move to set the pace or drawn people or whatever, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.”
Danner is starting to gain notice as a sophomore. He was the No. 7 best sophomore finisher Saturday in 3A and 16 seconds from the 25th-place time.
“I’m actually pretty glad with the turnout this year and in regards to next year, all-state I guess really (is the goal),” Danner said.
“It’s definitely different from last year, being an alternate. I didn’t understand the magnitude of what we did last year. I’ve learned so much this year in being more mature in the races and as an overall person. I think that’ll help us in the next season to do well and make it to state again.”
By comparison, Smith, a four-time state competitor, was 59th as a sophomore individual entry after being 159th and the No. 7 finisher for the 2010 state-qualifying team.
“Alec has just taken another step forward. You run a 15:00 flat essentially, he just continues to progress,” Sipple said. “He’s the next heir apparent to being our front runner just like Ryan Clevenger this year, and Zack Smith the previous year. We’ve just got to keep him moving, keep him healthy, just keep him progressing forward and he’s going to be a tough dude coming on next year.”
All seven runners improved upon their Detweiller times in September. While most dropped roughly three to eight seconds, Jahn slashed 28 seconds and Carter 22 seconds, although he had become sick during his earlier performance.
“It was a great experience, all of the people on the sidelines. There’s so much noise going on. It’s hard to concentrate, but it was a great experience,” Carter said.
Also making his state debut, Prescott was among the most improved runners over the final weeks of the season. Jahn was among the top frosh-soph runners before being promoted for the postseason.
“I just started the season off with good times, just put in all of the hard work and dedication and got out with some good times and some good races,” Prescott said.
“(State) was probably the best race or best experience I’ve ever had in running cross country. To make it down there was something and to just race in it felt awesome. Running in the race was the best part of it. It was fun, extremely fun.”
“It’s been a huge season for Robby Prescott. He’s all in now finally. We have him all in for track,” Sipple said. “If he puts a whole season in, there’s no reason why Robby can’t be running sub-15:30 next fall. And that would be huge for this group.
“A number of things we’ve learned about Tristan and how a taper is going to work for him. He just got his feet wet today and he’s a cerebral kid. He’s got to be more in the moment and running the race here and now, a little too much thinking instead of letting it go and run. He’s very capable.”
The seniors were the catalyst. During the track season, Clevenger continued to prove himself as an elite performer, earning an all-state third in 3A in the 1,600-meter run and joining Christensen and Diamond on the eighth-place, all-state 3,200 relay.
From their 2013 state performances, Christensen (114th, 15:41 in 2013) improved 48 places and 28 seconds and Diamond (184th, 16:16) improved 44 places and 39 seconds.
“(Christensen has) been super solid this year for us and he’s done an awesome job. From last year’s state meet to this year, it’s night and day,” Sipple said. “I thought (Diamond) ran real solid, too, a pretty consistent race. I was hoping Jack would be a little faster, but Jack pretty much ran on par what Jack was going to do.”
Carter nearly made significant strides from the 16:16.8 he’d like to forget from September. Sipple said he just wasn’t able to sustain his pace the final half mile.
“He battled real hard. I was proud of how he worked and how he hung on, but the last half mile was pretty tough on him,” Sipple said. “Joe’s been a little up and down this year. He’s had some sickness at the wrong time, and we ran him through some stuff.”
Hinsdale Central (104 points) won its second straight title over second-place Sandburg (138) after finishing 55 points behind the Eagles for the Marist Sectional title Nov. 1. Lyons Township (180), which had finished fifth at sectionals, one place behind the Trojans, pulled out third by one point over Neuqua Valley (180).
The other two Silver-qualifying teams, Glenbard West (208) and York (228), were fifth and sixth. Of the 25 individual all-staters, eight were from the Silver or the Marist Sectional field.
Clevenger swept first place at the Silver Meet Oct. 18, the Hinsdale Central Regional Oct. 25 and Marist Sectional. York freshman Charlie Kern, second at the Silver Meet, was eighth Saturday (14:36) as the No. 1 freshman finisher. Hinsdale Central sophomore Blake Evertsen, second at the regional and sectional, was 12th (14:40) and the No. 3 sophomore finisher.
What does the future hold? The Trojans will remain in the racing mindset this week in anticipation of the Midwest qualifier for the Nike Cross Nationals Sunday, Nov. 16, in Terre Haute, Ind. On Nov. 29, Clevenger will compete in Kenosha, Wis., at the Midwest Regional qualifier for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
“When people think of Downers North now, they’re going to think of the team that finished second or who had an average of 14:59 last year. It’s a team that’s going to be consistent qualifiers and a tough, fast team that really takes nothing for granted,” Clevenger said.
“I hope that we can build off of it. I hope (the underclassmen) can lead us to the next part of this where we continue to qualify for the state meet.”
The Trojans enjoyed a large freshman turnout this season. Sipple said there also are several underclassmen already around the 16:00 mark for three miles. “If we can move a lot of those dudes to sub-15:40, 15:30, we’ll be pretty tough again next year,” he said.
“(The seniors) taught us. The big idea was how to lead, how to encourage everybody, don’t let anybody down,” Prescott said. “They inspired me and other people on the team, hopefully, to bring that attitude to the team next year. Hopefully it’ll help us out again to do big things.”
--by Bill Stone