Glenbard South junior John Wold sat on the team bus Saturday, mentally preparing himself for the Class 2A boys cross country state meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.
Wold listened to music as he tried to combat the common pre-race nerves. He then gazed outside the window, and the awards ceremony for the earlier Class 1A girls race was taking place.
“I saw the girl (St. Teresa’s Ivy Handley) getting her award when she won. Just the smile on her face and her family cheering for her, I was like, ‘Oh, I want that so badly,’ ” Wold said. “It looked so cool. I wanted to make something of this season I didn’t really have.”
After not competing until Oct. 6 because of an injury, Wold more than made up for lost time. In only his fifth race this season, Wold captured a state championship.
When the race came down to the final 400 meters, Wold put on a furious kick and pulled out the victory in a 2A boys record time of 14:16 for 3.0 miles. Second-place Crystal Lake Central senior Alex Baker (14:21) tied the previous 2A record set by 2007 champion Nick Holmes of Bartonville Limestone.
“It’s starting to hit me. When I went through the finish line, I was like, ‘Did I just win?’ It felt like a dream. It felt so amazing,” Wold said.
“Around 400 (left), I just thought, ‘I have to leave it all out here. I have to just dig deep and let my body do what it does and just get to the finish line and block out all of the pain.’ I just let it fly and ran as fast as I could.”
Team finishes fifth
In their third straight team appearance, the Raiders finished fifth (190 points) after taking second in 2011 for the program’s fourth state trophy.
Junior Joe Singleton (6th, 14:43) again shared all-state, top-25 honors with Wold after Wold and Singleton finished fourth and 11th, respectively, in the 2011 race. They were followed by junior Andrew Kladiva (55th, 15:28), seniors Mark Cizek (68th, 15:34), Thomas Stoffels (106th, 15:51) and Erik Greenwell (142nd, 16:13) and junior Joe Meade (161st, 16:26). Other members of the postseason roster were junior Ricardo Hillard, sophomores Ibrahim Jawad and Colin Meade and freshmen Jon O’Rourke and Andrew Sundberg, who all competed at the Wheaton Academy Regional Oct. 20.
This was the team’s first of 12 state team appearances not under longtime head coach Andy Preuss, who retired after last season. First-year head coach Doug Gorski was an assistant last year after several years as an assistant for the girls program.
Gorski was a girls assistant when Micah VanDenend captured Glenbard South’s other boys cross country state individual title at the 2001 Class AA race (14:19). The Raiders also won their only team title that year.
“Coach Preuss left a ton of talent for me,” Gorski said with a smile. “(Wold) ran a smart race, kind of knew his game plan going into it and it played into
his hands and he took it that last 400.
“He’s a competitor. Looking at the times, he had the No. 1 time from the regional and sectional meets. It’s hard to compare times from course to course, but we knew he was going to be up there.”
It could have been easy for Wold and others to have doubts. Wold spent most of his season recovering from an injury that first surfaced during the spring track season. Wold still managed to help the Raiders’ 3,200-meter relay team take third at the 2A state meet in May, but he eventually was shelved by a fracture on the side of his right foot accompanied by several stress fractures.
A usual summer of monster mileage instead was focused on cross training, such as biking and swimming. Wold didn’t make his season debut until the Metamora Runnin’ Red Invitational Oct. 6, and he dropped out of that race after one mile.
“I felt a little off, and I had to stop. I was like, ‘This is not going to happen this whole season,’" Wold said.
It didn’t. Wold went undefeated the rest of the way, winning the Metro Suburban Conference Meet Oct. 13, the Wheaton Academy Regional Oct. 20 and the Wheaton Academy Sectional Oct. 27 with the fastest sectional time (14:32) among 2A state entries.
Fourth behind two underclassmen at state last year, Wold quickly moved from frustrated to frontrunner again.
“This season, it was going to be more of being mentally tough than having all of the miles everyone else has,” Wold said. “After (sectionals), I was like, ‘I really feel like I can run with everyone else in here (at state).’ Even if I haven’t had all of the training they have or the base they’ve gotten, I just like to run. It just feels natural.”
Wold beat his 2011 state time by 24 seconds. Wold’s time Saturday would have taken fifth in the later Class 3A boys final, just two seconds from second place, with only one underclassman running faster by merely one second, O’Fallon junior Patrick Perrier (3th, 14:15).
At the 2010 state meet, Wold was the highest finishing freshman (29th, 15:19) and four seconds from 25th. Last year, the only people to beat Wold at state with his 14:40 were Belvidere North senior Tyler Yunk (14:32) and Charleston senior Riley McInerney (14:40) behind graduated two-time state champion Michael Clevenger of Decatur MacArthur (14:26).
When they crossed the mile Saturday in 4:45, Wold, Baker and Belvidere North senior Garrett Lee were battling for the lead. McInerney and Chicago Jones seniors Jamison Dale and Luke O’Connor were among those who tried to challenge, but shortly after the second mile in 9:39, it basically reverted to a three-runner race for the lead.
Perseverance pays off
Thanks to his perseverance and kick, Wold ran a 4:37 final mile and roughly covered the final half of the race in seven minutes. As Lee began fading into the trail group, Baker tried twice to shake Wold heading into the homestretch.
“(Baker) made a move at about 800 and then at 600 again, and I just kind of had to block all of those and stay right with him,” Wold said. “The whole race I was kind of trying to feel it out, see what everyone was going to do. We all kind of felt that we’d make a move and another person would make a move.”
The four runners between Wold and Singleton in the 2A race were seniors – Baker, McInerney (14:33), Prairie Ridge senior Joe Cowlin (14:39) and Lee (14:39).
Four seconds behind Lee, Singleton just held off Dale (14:43) for sixth with O’Connor eighth (14:45). Their effort helped Jones (85) defeat three-time defending champion Belvidere North (126) for the first boys cross country state team title by a Chicago Public League school since Lane Tech in 1963. Glenbard South was 61 points behind third-place Yorkville (129).
“I love running so I really wanted to be in the top 10, moreso in the top five so I’m a little mad that I got sixth,” Singleton said. “I went for it and I’m really happy that I got both of the Jones Prep kids because I’ve been chasing those guys for a long time.”
Singleton, who beat his 2011 state time by 16 seconds, has been chasing better performances all season long. Last year, he beat his 2009 state performance by a whopping 98 places and 1:18.
Now an all-state veteran, Singleton gained racing insight as the Raiders’ No. 1 runner in Wold’s absence.
“I was able to believe in myself a lot more. We’ve been running together since sixth grade so I’ve always been the second kid. It felt kind of nice to be the first one for once,” Singleton said.
“I think making top 10 (at state) this year was easier, but trying to get to the top five was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I was within 20 feet (of Wold) at a mile and a half. If he wasn’t going to win, I knew he was going to give it one heck of a shot.”
Kladiva, Stoffels and Greenwell also returned from the 2011 state trophy lineup. Kladiva, the team’s No. 4 finisher last year, improved by 13 places and 26 seconds Saturday.
At the outset of his injury, Wold received a painful competitive lesson during the state track meet preliminaries. After the 3,200 relay already had qualified for the finals, he ran conservatively in his open 800 and took second in the second heat, only to see all eight runners in the third and final heat beat his time and keep him out of the 12-runner finals by just .02 of a second.
That little amount of time made a big difference coming down that final stretch of his race Saturday.
“I just thought, ‘I don’t want to have any regrets at this state meet,’ ” Wold said.
“I get a lot of fuel from my running. It just feels so natural and I’ve kind of learned that I’m mentally tough. I can do anything that I set my mind on. If I can’t train like everyone else, I can do other things, be more mentally tough or I’ll find other ways to get to the top.”