View from the Infield

IHSA 3A Sectional Meet, 5.11.2018

posted May 12, 2018, 1:17 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated May 12, 2018, 6:10 PM ]

The plaque awarded to sectional team champions in track and field has the shape of Illinois raised in black on the left-hand side above a wooden background.  A circular IHSA seal in gold is also raised in the upper right. In addition to the year, two gold plates with the name of the sport and words “Sectional Champions” decorate the remainder of the plaque.  There is no space for a team picture or the names of the athletes.

I wish there was.

Years from now when I look at the sectional plaque won by the MInooka girls at Rock Island on Friday night, I want to make sure to remember every face and name.  An engraved list would certainly help, but it would be hard to know where to stop for this team.

You could start with the 16 different girls who scored points at the 15-team sectional.  Their points totaled 78, just two points ahead of host Rock Island. Often big track and field meets are won because a few athletes dominate a few events.  Minooka only won one event out of 18 possible at Rock Island, but they scored in 16 different ones. That’s a heckuva team performance. Here are those 16.

Aaliyah Young and Sydney Forrest got the meet jumping over at the sand pits.  Both picked the best time to be at their best. Young leaped into a personal record of 17-1.5, which earned her 2nd place and her first trip to the State Finals.  Forrest followed right behind her with a personal record of her own at 16-11.5, good enough for 4th place.

About the same time 150 yards north, two more girls were vaulting their way into history.  Katelyn Gall earned her first trip to the State Finals with a qualifying jump of of 10-3 and finished 5th. Freshman Ava Bezaire did even better, bouncing her way to a new school record of 10-9, a 2nd-place finish, and a trip to state.

At the high jump, Makayla Roberts went 4 inches higher than she ever had before in clearing 5-0 and earning team point with 6th place.

Back over at the sand pits, Young wasn’t done scoring points.  She tallied two more with a 5th-place finish in triple jump.

In the throws, Sydney Andreano battled through some pain to scrap out a 6th-place point in the shot put.

The points continued when the running events started at 6 p.m.  

The leadoff leg of the 4x800-meter relay, Vivian Van Eck, would later tell the Joliet Herald-News, “After watching how our field event teammates were doing so well, it really motivated us to go with them.”

Go with them indeed.

Seeded 4th, Van Eck began the race on a mission. Julia Dames and Olivia Krolczyk followed with strong legs of their own before Emily Ellis came from behind to nip another team at the finish line.  Minooka’s 4x800 had qualified for state with a 2nd-place finish.

The 4x100-meter relay team of Eryn Renison, Lauren Larsen, Alexis Mata, and Forrest had the lofty goal of being the first ever to qualify for state.  They were seeded 4th, and also finished there, missing the qualifying mark. But they ran faster than they had all season, on a night that was about 20 degrees cooler than the last time they ran.  That 4th place, good for 4 points, is the highest known place ever for a Minooka girls 4x100 at a sectional meet.

There are lots of emotions when you have to run race when you are not 100 percent.  Emily Shelton had to have felt most of them as she ran the 3200 meters. She courageously pushed herself to a 6th-place finish.  That point she earned would be crucial to a sectional victory.

An event later, Kylie Wissel would look as strong as she’s looked in the 100-meter hurdles.  If the race had been 10 meters longer, she would have picked up a few places. As it was, she finished 4th, earning 4 more points.

Lauren Larsen might have gotten the best start of her life in the 100-meter dash.  Running into a slight headwind on a cool night, she managed a 6th-place finish and another point for Minooka.

By the look on her face, it was apparent that the mission Dames was on in the 4x800 was not over when she took off in the 800-meter run. She was seeded 10th, finished 4th, earned 4 points, and ran a personal best.

The 4x200-meter relay of Cierra Bachmann, Larsen, Roberts, and Mata was the closest in recent memory.  Again, state was the goal. Minooka was tight with the top two teams throughout the race, but finished 3rd.  An important note, on this chilly night, the two teams that beat Minooka did not run season best times. Minooka did, and it helped earn 6 points.

Qualifying for state in the 400-meter dash has been a goal for Eryn Renison for a long time.  She had done everything she can to prepare, and along the way she’s made some remarkable contributions to Minooka track and field.  She made yet another in her race, earning 4 points with her 4th-place finish. It wasn’t her goal, but it was another important piece of a sectional team victory.

Last year at sectionals, Wissel threw down her spike bag in disgust when it was announced that she’d just missed qualifying time in the 300-meter hurdles.  This year, she didn’t let it come down to time. She just went out and won the thing. I’m not sure what was quicker, Wissel running over the final hurdle or Coach Bahret running to hug her after her victory, but they were both great to see.  Wissel was the only person to win an event for Minooka on Friday, and her race got the team another 10 points.

Van Eck still had something to prove when it was her turn to race in the 1600 meters.  She was seeded 5th, and went out and hung with the leaders early on. Although she fell short of qualifying for state, her 4th place finish picked up 4 points.

The final scoring event was the 4x400-meter relay.  For the second week in a row, the winner of the meet would come down to this event. Minooka was down 3 points to Rock Island going into the race. Yorkville was also in the hunt.  

It was after 9:30, the temperature was 53 degrees with a breeze from the northeast, and the meet was officially more than 5 and half hours long.  In short, there was every reason to be tired, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way Bachmann, Krolcyzk, Wissel, and Renison attacked the race.  They ran like they wanted to win a sectional championship.

It was close through all four legs, and Minooka finished third, just missing qualifying for state.  But their effort was good for 6 points in a race where Rock Island only earned 1, and Minooka was the sectional team champion.

The 16 names mentioned above I would certainly like to see on the plaque, but they should also be joined by the other Minooka competitors whose efforts not only were remarkable, but gave their teammates confidence they could also do their best.

Angelica Leal hit a personal best in the 3200 meters, going under 12 minutes and finishing 7th.  In the triple jump, Brooke McNally also finished 7th with a personal best.

Madison Thompson’s personal best throw in the shot put landed her sectional finals.  She was 9th, which is remarkable for a sprinter who hadn’t thrown a shot before 5 months ago.  

Jenna Roberts in the 100 hurdles, Amanda Wilson in the 1600, Alyssa Ritchie in the discus, and Allison Quinn in the high jump, Lauren Widlowksi in the 400, Meg Sukely in the 300 hurdles, and Jenna Seloover in the 200 all competed in less than ideal conditions.  Their approaches to their events and their spirited performances continued to motivate their teammates throughout the night. Their names would be well-placed on that plaque as well.

There were also a handful of athletes who attended but did not compete since they served as alternates for relays.  I saw each of them many times throughout the night. Cheering, fetching wind pants, locating a restroom, photographing races — all were done in the name of helping their teammates and trying to contribute what they could to a win.  Alexis Marti, Olivia Kics, Ariana Coste, and Sophie Darden should be add to the plaque too.

A final deserved mention are the members of the track and field team who didn’t make the 2-hour trip to sectionals.  Their hard work, competitiveness, and encouragement helped steel their teammates throughout the year in preparing them for the sectional meet.  Their contributions are certainly not unnoticed.

This was only the second time in school history that the Minooka girls track and field program won a sectional championship, the other coming in 2014. That year, more than half of the team points were scored because of winning individual events. This year, less than 1/7 were.  

I can’t think of another victory that required more of a total team contribution than the one on Friday night, certainly not one of this magnitude.  All these athletes deserve to be remembered.

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

SPC Championship, 5.2.2018

posted May 6, 2018, 3:20 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated May 12, 2018, 1:17 PM ]

As the bell rang to signal the final lap of the varsity 4x800-meter relay, senior Emily Ellis had that look in her eyes. She was sitting in third place, with Oswego East and Oswego runners ahead of her 10 and 20 meters, respectively.  

You could tell she wanted it, and she went after it.  Ellis caught and passed Oswego East about halfway into the lap.  She charged toward Oswego around the final curve.

The end result, however, would not be what she wanted.  Minooka came up a little short and finished third in that relay. It wasn’t due to lack of effort, and the move was something to be proud of.  At the beginning of a long night, it was just the first varsity event on the track. As it turned out, that feeling would be the same at the end of the night.

Minooka came up a little short from winning the 10-team SPC Championship, hosted by Joliet West at Joliet Memorial Stadium Wednesday. Oswego won with 102 points, and Minooka was just behind at 97.

There was plenty to be proud of for Minooka.  Athletes earned all-conference status 14 different times throughout all training groups.  When you divide success amongst that many athletes and events, you demonstrate the strength of a true team.  Here is the list:

  • Kylie Wissel, 300m Hurdles, 1st place

  • Kate Gall, Pole Vault, 2nd place

  • 4x400m Relay of Cierra Bachmann, Kate Gall, Kylie Wissel, Eryn Renison, 2nd place

  • Aaliyah Young, Triple Jump, 2nd place

  • Sydney Andreano, Discus, 2nd place

  • Kylie Wissel, 100m Hurdles, 3rd place

  • Eryn Renison, 400m Dash, 3rd place

  • Ava Bezaire, Pole Vault, 3rd place

  • 4x200m Relay of Cierra Bachmann, Lauren Larsen, Jenna Seloover, Alexis Mata, 3rd place

  • 4x800m Relay of Vivian Van Eck, Julia Dames, Olivia Krolczyk, Emily Ellis, 3rd place

  • Emily Shelton, 3200m Run, 4th place

  • Vivian Van Eck, 1600m Run, 4th place

  • Lauren Larsen , 100m Dash, 4th place

  • Sydney Forrest, Long Jump, 4th Place

The weather started windy and warm until lightning caused a 30-minute delay after the 3200-meter run.  From then on there was no wind, just warmth.

Faced with ideal conditions for the first time all season, the girls capitalized with their performances, most of them personal records, and a few all-time bests.

Running in the second-fastest heat in the 100-meter dash, Larsen shot out from the rest of the pack over the last 40 meters.  Her official time, 12.67, is not only .07 away from the state-qualifying mark, but also the third fastest all-time at Minooka.

Kylie Wissel’s 16.13 put her 3rd all time in the 100 hurdles, but she wasn’t done.  Later, her 46.56 gave her a new mark that was 2nd best all-time in winning the 300 hurdles.

In the triple jump, Aaliyah Young’s bound of 34-10.5 gave her a new mark 3rd all time.  Brooke McNally’s new mark of 33-2.5 put her 6th all time, and Emma Wiegmann’s new best of 32-7.5 placed her 7th all-time.

Vivian Van Eck’s 5:14.86 in the 1600m run topped her old mark at 4th on the list.

Eryn Renison was back after rehabbing a muscle strain.  All she did was run the 5th fastest 400-meter dash time in Minooka history.  It was 59.72 seconds, her first race under 60.

Cierra Bachman, Larsen, Jenna Seloover, and Alexis Mata combined forces in the 4x200-meter relay.  With fast splits and faster handoffs, they put themselves 3rd all-time for Minooka in that event

Going into the final event of the night, the 4x400-meter relay, Minooka was sitting in 3rd place as a team.  We were 9 points behind Oswego, the leader, who also has a strong 4x400 team. Mathematically, we were still in the hunt, but the odds were greatly against us.

The four runners — Bachmann, Gall, Wissel, and Renison — had the same look in their eyes that Ellis did in the meet’s first race.  Like Ellis, they went out for the win. And like Ellis, they came up just short of their goal, but turned in a performance to be proud of.  They finished 2nd.

Their time — 4:05.86 — was the fastest of the year by nearly 9 seconds.  It was unofficially the 6th fastest all-time, and the 3rd-fastest by a Minooka team in the last 19 years at the conference meet (those are the only results available).  It also bumped Minooka from 3rd to 2nd place as a team, just short of the goal, but a worthy team effort.

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

Neuqua Valley Invitational, 4.20.2018

posted Apr 21, 2018, 12:16 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated Apr 21, 2018, 12:24 PM ]

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

The woman behind those words weighed just 4.5 pounds at birth. She was born prematurely, the 20th of 22 children born by her father (over two marriages). She grew up in the segregated South, and as a child, she battled double pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio. Because of the latter, she lost the use of her left leg and was fitted with metal leg braces when she was only 6.  Once a week, her mother drove her 90 miles round-trip to a hospital for physical therapy.

The leg braces came off when she was 9.  A few years later, she began playing basketball.  In high school, she started running track. And in the 1960 Rome Olympics, she won gold medals in 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 4x100-meter relay.  She was the first American woman to win three gold medals at single Olympics. Her name was Wilma Rudolph.

The ability to overcome adversity is one of the best lessons a person can learn in life, and track and field often offers plenty of opportunities for adversity. Injuries happen for a variety of reasons, many times outside of a person’s control. But, like Rudolph said, “If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

At the Neuqua Valley Invitational, two Minooka seniors came away with significant marks that defined their careers in different ways. Both are long-time veterans of the sport. Both have battled injuries in their careers. Both set personal records Friday night.

Emily Ellis has had a storied career as a distance runner at MCHS. This is her fourth year on the track team. She has run in the IHSA Cross Country State Finals three times, including in 2015 when Minooka won the state championship. The one year she didn’t was her junior year when she battle an IT band injury during most of the season. In track during her sophomore year, she was out a good part of the season with a stress fracture. She is a tireless worker, who has had her work interrupted several times because of injury.

At Neuqua Valley on Friday, she entered the 3200-meter run like she has many times before. Breaking the 12-minute mark was a goal. In her very first 3200-meter run as a freshman, Ellis ran 13:16 indoors at North Central College. Last year her best time was 12:12. Ten days before running at Neuqua, she ran 12:01.

In a tough field at Neuqua she finished sixth, scoring a point for the team. But the historic number was 11:53.73, her official time, and the first time she ran under 12 minutes.

Another senior, Madison Thompson, has also battled adversity throughout her career. She had a solid (but for her disappointing) sophomore year. She worked hard that offseason and had a tremendous year as a junior, leading relays, running her way to 8th all-time on the Minooka 200-meter dash leaderboard, and earning the Most Improved Award.  

This year, Thompson was expecting to continue along those lines. Unfortunately, a nagging hamstring injury has kept her out of the track lineup, but not the field. Thompson has reinvented herself as a thrower. It allows her to keep competing, to contribute to the team, and it doesn’t bother her hamstring.

Thompson is a focused student of the sport — she will make a great coach — and she has come a long way in a short time as a thrower. At Neuqua Valley she went all the way to 31 feet, 3 inches, her personal best in the shot put.

Every meet is an opportunity, and Thompson and Ellis weren’t the only ones making the most of their opportunities at Neuqua Valley.  

As a team, Minooka’s varsity finished 2nd in the tough 8-team field. The JV squad did one better in winning.

Numerous personal records by athletes at both levels were set, the most eye-catching being Kylie Wissel’s 46.78-second 300-meter hurdle victory, which was faster than the state-qualifying standard.  

In addition, the varsity 4x100-meter relay of Cierra Bachmann, Lauren Larsen, Eryn Renison, and Sydney Forrest became ran the 3rd fastest Minooka team in history.

Athletes aren’t defined by injuries. They’re defined by what they do afterward. They are lots of paths to being “a champion someday.”  

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

Minooka Invitational, 4.13.2018

posted Apr 14, 2018, 2:32 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated Apr 14, 2018, 2:41 PM ]

Having a fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia.

As the clocked ticked closer to the start of the Minooka Invitational on, yes, Friday, April 13, the weather forecast showed plenty to be afraid of.  Rain, wind, lightning, and this spring’s omnipresent cold were all set to join the scheduled party at Minooka’s track and field stadium.

The meet began with rain, but it wasn’t long before it was gone.  No thunderstorms arrived, and fortunately, the weather turned out not to be the story of the meet.  The story was the girls — the girls who were fearless.

Minooka won both the varsity and JV levels of the 8-team invitational.  The weather might have been a factor in the girls’ times and marks, but not their competitiveness.  They were smiling in the rain as they were warming up because they were happy to finally have a chance to compete in an outdoor invite.  They were smiling in the cold and wind after the meet because they’d won two trophies.

On the varsity level, Minooka won eight events.

Varsity winners included:

  • 4x800-meter relay of Emily Shelton, Olivia Krolczyk, Amanda Wilson, and Emily Ellis

  • Jenna Roberts in the 100-meter hurdles

  • Eryn Renison in the 400-meter dash

  • Kylie Wissel in the 300-meter hurdles

  • 4x400-meter relay of Cierra Bachmann, Katelyn Gall, Wissel, and Renison

  • Sydney Andreano in the discus

  • Gall in the pole vault

  • Aaliyah Young in the triple jump

The JV did even better.  They won 10 events.

JV winners included:

  • 4x800-meter relay of Alexis Marti, Olivia Kics, Kaylee Ratcliff, and Mary Rushing

  • Jaritzza Zuno in the 100-meter hurdles

  • 4x200-meter relay of Kyndall Ross, Brooke McNally, Ariana Coste, and Sophie Darden

  • Meg Sukley in the 300-meter hurdles

  • Amanda Wilson in the 1600-meter run

  • Alexis Mata in the 200-meter dash

  • 4x400-meter relay of Emma Wiegmann Abby Rivara, Sukely, and Lauren Widlowski

  • Wiegmann in the triple jump

  • Meghan Marchio in the pole vault

  • Hailey Justak in the shot put

Friday the 13th is known for bad luck.  But we often make our own luck. “The harder I practice, the luckier I get,” is often attributed to golfer Gary Player.  In the past few weeks, Minooka has had too many practices to count in less than desirable weather conditions.  Did those practices help prevent the bad luck voodoo of Friday the 13th from affecting the girls’ performances in a poor weather meet? Absolutely.

In an interesting turn of luck, seven times Minooka girls had just one person preventing them from being a champion on Friday — and that one person was a teammate.  

  • Alexis Marti finished second to Wilson in the JV 1600-meter run.

  • Megan Robson finished second to Marchio in the JV pole vault.

  • Ava Bezaire finished second to Gall in the varsity pole vault.

  • Brooke McNally finished second to Young in the varsity triple jump.

  • And my personal favorite, Erin Matthias finished second to a teammate three times: to Zuno in the JV 100-meter hurdles, to Sukley in the JV 300-meter hurdles, and to Wiegmann in the JV triple jump.

In three other instances, Minooka athletes took what could have been a bad-luck situation and turned it into not just a positive, but a victory.

Wissel bit it hard late in the 100-meter hurdles with an ugly fall.  She rolled, popped up and finished. Then she went out later and won the 300s and the 4x4.

Alexis Mata was a last-minute replacement in the JV 200-meter dash.  All she did with that opportunity was win the thing.

And Lauren Widlowski ran two 400s in a big meet for the first time in her long career.  The second one was as the anchor leg for the winning JV 4x400-meter relay.

There might have been plenty of chances to fear something at the Minooka Invitational, but the girls decided to ignore the date, ignore the weather, and just go out and compete.  They were a living, breathing, walking FDR quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

SPC Indoor Championship, 3.17.2018

posted Mar 18, 2018, 1:32 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated Mar 18, 2018, 1:38 PM ]

If the SPC Indoor Championship showed nothing else on Saturday, it was how much fun a team competition can be.

Going into the meet, it was clear that several teams would be vying for the title, and that whichever team consistently performed at its best in every event would win.  

That honor went to the host school Plainfield North, who finished with 83 points.  Just behind them was Oswego with 82, and Minooka finished 3rd with 78.

The meet was not without its drama, as the first scoring event on the track also became the last.  In the 4x800-meter relay, Oswego East, with the lead, ran one lap shy of the total due to an error.  Minooka’s anchor, Emily Ellis, smartly realized the error and finished with the proper number of laps.  She finished first for teams who had run the correct number.

Oswego East was allowed to rerun the relay after the conclusion of the final scheduled event of the day, 4x400-meter relay.  A lot happened in the meantime.

Minooka had plenty of athletes exceed not only their bests, but also their predicted places according to seed marks.  Every extra point would be crucial in this tough field. Seeds are simply predictions based on the past, but surpassing them always makes you feel like you had a good day and then some.  

Minooka wasn’t supposed to score any point based on seeds in the shot put.  But Sydney Andreano launched an indoor personal best at 34-0.5. It was good enough to earn her 5th place and two points.

The long jumpers weren’t supposed to score either.  But all three jumped more than 15 feet, all three had season’s bests, and two had personal bests.  Sydney Forrest’s leap of 16-1 brought her a big smile, a 2nd-place finish, and 8 points for Minooka.

The biggest scoring field event was the pole vault, where all three vaulters exceed predicted places.  Not only did all three score (a whopping 18 points!), but Ava Bezaire (9-6) also had a personal best, finishing 3rd.  Meghan Marchio tied her best (8-6) in 5th place, and Katelyn Gall racked up 10 points herself with the individual win.  

Back to the track, Emily Shelton held off Isabelle Christiansen from Oswego to win the 3200-meter run.  It was Shelton’s fastest time of the season. Amanda Wilson clocked a personal best in finishing 5th with two more points.

Minooka was supposed to scrap out 1 point out the 55-meter hurdles.  We ended up with 7 after all three competitors — Erin Mathias, Jenna Roberts, and Kylie Wissel — all ran personal bests.  Wissel finished 3rd, and Roberts was 6th.

The 4x200-meter relay had one of the closest fields in recent history.  While Minooka’s team of Cierra Bachmann, Alexis Mata, Lauren Larsen, and Makayla Roberts finished 5th, they were less than a second away from 1st.  That team ran its fastest time of the year.

The 400-meter dash was loaded with tough competition, and Eryn Renison was able to come away with 4th place for Minooka.  Emily Johnson just missed scoring points, finishing 7th, but running a personal best time.

Shelton tallied her second win of the day in the 1600-meter run as part of the dirty double.  Winning both the 3200-meter run and the 1600-meter run less than 2 hours apart is not an easy feat.

Going into the 4x400-meter relay, the team score was tight.  Not counting the 4x800-meter relay — since Oswego East was going to rerun it — the score was

1. Oswego 76

2. Plainfield North 71

3. Minooka 66

4. Oswego East 53.  

If you included the 4x800-meter relay score without Oswego East in it, the score was

1. Oswego 74

2. Plainfield North 69

3. Minooka 64

4. Oswego East 53.  

However way you slice it, Minooka was about 10 points out of 1st place going into the final scheduled event.

In the 4x400-meter relay, Joliet West crossed the line 1st, followed by Oswego East and Plainfield North.  Minooka’s team of Kylie Wissel, Gall, Lauren Widlowski, and Renison put forth a strong effort and ended up 4th, netting 4 points.  

The team score was now either:

Option A (omitting all 4x800 results)

1. Oswego 78

2. Plainfield North 77

3. Minooka 70

4. Oswego East 61


Option B (including the 4x800 without Oswego East):

1. Plainfield North 85,

2. Oswego 84

3. Minooka 80

4. Oswego East 61

Oswego East was about to take to the track alone.  

Running without competition, Oswego East’s 4x800-meter relay finished with the top time, earning them 10 points and leaving a final score of Plainfield North 83, Oswego 82, Minooka 78, and Oswego East 71.

In the outdoor SPC Championship, the top 5 individuals and the top 3 relays earn All-Conference status.  Although this is honor doesn’t accompany the indoor championship, here’s where Minooka finished:

1st Place

Emily Shelton, 3200m Run

Emily Shelton, 1600m Run

Katelyn Gall, Pole Vault

2nd Place

Sydney Forrest, Long Jump

Vivian Van Eck, Olivia Krolczyk, Olivia Kics, Emily Ellis, 4x800m Relay

3rd Place

Kylie Wissel, 55m Hurdles

Ava Bezaire, Pole Vault

4th Place

Eryn Renison, 400m dash

5th Place

Amanda Wilson, 3200m Run

Aaliyah Young, Triple Jump

Sydney Andreano, Shot Put

Meghan Marchio, Pole Vault

Minooka also had 15 personal bests on the day.  

While the team finish wasn’t satisfying, the overall progress shown was something to be proud of.  In about seven weeks, all 10 teams will get together and do this again. It’s sure to be another exciting meet.

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

Plainfield South Indoor Invitational & Batavia Distance Madness, 3.9.2018

posted Mar 11, 2018, 7:22 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated Mar 11, 2018, 7:26 PM ]

T.R. would have enjoyed watching track and field on Friday night.

In March 1909, Theodore Roosevelt began a journey through Africa where he led an expedition for the Smithsonian Institute.  Throughout the next year, he and his people collected more than 11,000 animal specimens to be sent back to America and cataloged.

On his way home, the former president stopped in Paris at the Sorbonne, known as one of the most prestigious centers of knowledge in the world.  There he gave his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech. Today it is better known as “The Man in the Arena” speech.

Here is its most famous section:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Roosevelt applauded those who put themselves out there, who weren’t afraid to fail.  And every time track and field athletes begin their competitions, they are putting themselves in a place of scrutiny, and they are being judged.  

Some Minooka athletes took that to another level at the Plainfield South Indoor Invitational.  Because the majority of the distance squad was competing at Batavia, there were opportunities to run in distance events for sprinters. It’s one thing to step to the line in an event you have trained for, it’s another to do so in an event whose distance is often the sum of your typical workout.  

But step to the line they did, in the 4x800-meter relay (Abby Rivara, Olivia Adams, Jada Anthony, Amanda Boban), 800-meter run (Erin Matthias), and 1600-meter run (Celeste Torres). They competed for competition’s sake, and they competed to gain points for the team.  They were outside their comfort zones and putting themselves in an even more vulnerable place of scrutiny.

Roosevelt said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … .”  I’m sure he meant women, too.

There’s also an extra layer of anxiety when it’s your first competition of the year, like it was for varsity basketball players (there were 3), or when you’re coming back from an injury (there were at least 5).  All were putting themselves in the arena.

Minooka had success Friday night, both at the Plainfield South arena and the Batavia arena, and by athletes both inside and outside their comfort zones.

At Plainfield South, Minooka’s varsity placed 4th; Lemont and Lincoln-Way West tied for 1st. Minooka’s JV were champions.  Minooka had more points combined in the varsity and JV levels than any of the other 8 teams.

On the varsity level, Eryn Renison won the 400-meter dash with an indoor best time.  Katelyn Gall did her one better in the pole vault, not only winning with a personal best, but also breaking her own school record.

Aaliyah Young won the triple jump, and Sydney Andreano was just behind her in second.  Both were out-jumped by Brooke McNally, who won the JV level. With Emma Wiegmann, they made history. They combined to be the first group of four ever to all jump over 30 feet in one arena on the same day.  

In shot put, Madison Thompson, La’Nayah Nance, Alyssa Ritchie, and Andreano all set personal bests on the same day.  Ritchie’s was good enough to place her 2nd on the JV level.

More JV success:

  • Alexis Mata, Jenna Seloover, Kyndall Ross, and Ariana Coste combined to both win the 4x200-meter relay and set a new freshman indoor school record.  

  • Bella Encinas, in her high school debut in the 3200-meter run, won it.

  • Kylie Wissel, Julie-Ann Kasky, Ava Bezaire, and Allison Quinn won the 4x400-meter relay.

  • Bachmann won the JV long jump in her first meet of the year.

  • Meghan Marchio won the pole vault.

  • Katelyn Egetimier ran a tough 1600-meter race and set a personal record in finishing 2nd.  

  • Matthias, shortly before running her 800, finished 2nd in the 55-meter hurdles with a personal best time.

Altogether there were 22 personal bests set by MInooka at Plainfield South.

In other arena at the elite Batavia Distance Madness meet, where no team score was kept, Minooka picked up several personal bests.  

Vivian Van Eck was one of those, finishing 5th in the 3200-meter run.

Emily Shelton was another top 10 finisher, placing 7th in the 1600-meter run.

Of the 10 Minooka girls who ran at Batavia, 6 clocked personal bests.

We don’t win every race, nor do we always set personal bests.  Sometimes we flatout fail. But running a race far outside our comfort zone, trying to compete after a rehabbed injury, or just allowing ourselves to be publically judged for a performance sets us apart from those on the sidelines.

And there’s a certain amount of courage in that.

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

Cardinal Classic, 3.1.2018

posted Mar 2, 2018, 8:37 AM by Matthew Thomas

The Minooka girls track and field team that competed in the Cardinal Classic at North Central College looked very different from the one that first stepped on a track 19 days earlier.  

In a good way.

Minooka scored 26.5 points and finished 11th in a tough 15-team meet. Acknowledging the high quality of teams at this meet, Coach Gummerson commented, “I think we scored more points at state than we did at this meet last year.”  

FACT CHECK: Gummerson is misremembering. In 2017, Minooka scored 14 points at the IHSA State Finals and 29.5 points in the Cardinal Classic.  In fact, since we began competing at the Cardinal Classic in 2015, we have always scored more points there than at the state meet.  It just feels like we don’t because the Cardinal Classic is darn so competitive. The 2018 Minooka point total at the Cardinal Classic was similar to that of previous years.

In addition to the 14 other competitive teams there, Minooka was also competing against its own ghosts.  By the end of the night, there were 12 new entries on Minooka’s Top 5 Indoor Bests Leaderboard.  Of the 12, four were at the varsity level, five were at the fresh/soph level, and three were at the freshman level.  

That night in the Al B. Carius Field House, we had three freshman indoor school record-holders in the pole vault: Katelyn Gall, who tied the record in 2016; Bethany Bachmann, who set the record in 2011 and was working the long jump pit as part of NCC’s track team; and Ava Bezaire, who set a new record of 9-0.  

Alexis Mata would have the new freshman indoor school record in the 200-meter dash if her teammate Jenna Seloover wouldn’t have run 0.08 seconds faster just a few minutes prior.  Two freshman in one year at the top of the leaderboard in the 200 is encouraging.

Minooka also tallied 26 individual personal bests and one season best for a relay.  In analyzing all those performances, there was a noticeable difference from the first meet just 19 days prior.

Athletes ran strong down the final stretch of their races.  Where earlier we had seen runners fading at the finish, their work has started to catch up with them and shown in their performances.

Relay handoffs were faster and crisper.  When Makayla Roberts handed off to Mata in the 4x200-meter relay, Minooka easily picked up a beat on the rest of the teams because of how quick and clean the exchange was.

More confidence was evident in the field events.  Athletes were no longer tentative and just feeling out their events.  They were attacking them with gusto.  

One example: Hailey Justak and Emily Goggins had personal bests throwing in their fairly new event of shot put.  

Another example: Allison Sartorelli and Brooke McNally took some things they’d worked on in practice and confidently turned them into personal bests in the long jump and triple jump, respectively.  (Sartorelli: “I jumped 14-5.5. That doesn’t seem right.”  Me: “It’s right. It was a really good jump. You’re looking good out there.”)

Emily Shelton notched the only victory of the night.  In another tough race, she ran a strong 10:58.61 in the 3200-meter run while all those field events were still competing.  Later, she showed some pop anchoring the 4x400-meter relay, a team that had three runners with personal best indoor splits (Emma Wiegmann, Lauren Widlowski, and Gall).  

But possibly the most impressive performance was from Eryn Renison, who collected three personal bests on the night.  In the 55-meter dash, she finished 7th at the meet and put herself tied for 2nd all-time for Minooka.  In the 400-meter dash, she finished 2nd in a tight race and climbed to 2nd on the Minooka leaderboard. Later, she finished the night with her third personal best of the meet in the 200-meter dash.

If the pieces were scattered all over the field house at the first meet, then many were starting to fall into place at the Cardinal Classic.  Coaches were extremely pleased with performances. With still a long season ahead, the girls have established a strong foundation to continue building upon.

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

Wheaton Warrenville South Indoor Invite, 2.10.2018

posted Feb 10, 2018, 2:49 PM by Matthew Thomas

So much was new.

For some, the sport of track and field was new.

For many, competing on an indoor track was new.

For many more, the events they challenged themselves in for the good of the team were new.

For all, the meet itself was new.  This is the earliest the Minooka girls have ever competed in a meet, and the first time ever at Wheaton Warrenville South.  The hosts did a great job having the meet —  and then still having meet after so many across the state were canceled today.

At the end of the day, Minooka finished 2nd to the host school in the five-team meet.  With the season so new, the girls provided plenty to be excited about.

Emily Shelton, Vivian Van Eck, Emily Ellis, and Julia Dames started off the running events by winning the 4x800-meter relay.  The girls showed lots of competitive fire in battling throughout the race.

Around that same time, Katelyn Gall was clearing 9 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault to tie an indoor school record, something you don’t typically see in the first meet of the season. She also won the event.

Later in the meet, Shelton took to the track again and won the 1600-meter run in 5:18.10, beating out the second-place runner by half a second.

Those were the results-sheet highlights, but there was plenty more to be happy about for the first meet of the year.

More athletes were trying new events for the good of the team than ever before.  Coach Bahret had 7 high jumpers — many landing on a full pit for the first time in their lives — looking to fill a hole in our lineup left by graduation.  When they cleared the bar for the first time, the smile and “hey, I can do this” look on their faces pointed the way toward an exciting season.

Coach Walker had an army of pole vaulters lined up to take their first jumps of the year — and for many of them the first in their lives.  All 10 of them cleared a height, which is a first-ever for Minooka in a single meet. “This was a very good day for us,” Coach Walker said.

Over at shot put, Coach Minich also had several athletes trying a new event.  At least 5 of the 7 throwers had never thrown before in a meet.  Again, we had athletes stepping up to fill holes in the lineup left by graduation.

Other notables for the first meet of the year:

  • Athletes warmed up properly and had a sweat going when they stepped to the line.

  • The older guided the younger in all the events.

  • Equipment was taken care of well and put away properly.

  • Throughout the meet, athletes reported for their events on time and paid attention to the clerk’s instructions well.

  • There was a tremendous amount of the support for each other during the meet. The cheering during the 4x400-meter relay capped off a great day of encouragement, and made those races even that more competitive.

The season is still new, and the willingness of athletes to challenge themselves for the good of team will pay off nicely in the long run.

Go Minooka!

– Coach Thomas

IHSA 3A Sectional Meet, 5.11.2017

posted May 12, 2017, 6:52 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated May 12, 2017, 7:06 PM ]

About 5 years ago, the IHSA scheduled last night’s Sectional meet.  At that date — and only on that date — far in the distance, athletes would have the opportunity to compete and qualify for the 2017 state track and field finals.  Knowing that you have to perform your best on a certain date heightens the intensity of the meet.  It increases the pressure.  It makes every heat and every flight that much more special.  

When this season started, we had that date on the schedule.  The date would not change for any of our athletes because they were ill or injured.  No matter what, that was the day they would need to step up and perform.  No previous performances mattered.  Thursday, May 11, 2017 at Ottawa Township High School starting at 3 p.m., the IHSA 3A Sectional meet was the time — and the only time — to do it.

And they did.

Minooka finished third in a tough 14-team Sectional.  The night ended in dramatic fashion with 7 entries headed to the state meet in 5 different events:

  • Emily Shelton, 3200-meter run, 1st place

  • Ashley Tutt, 3200-meter run, qualifying time

  • Sydney Andreano, discus, 2nd place

  • Brooklyn Bachmann, pole vault, 2nd-place

  • Mackenzie Callahan, 1600-meter run, 2nd place

  • Emily Shelton, 1600-meter run, qualifying time

  • Cierra Bachmann, Emily Johnson, Eryn Renison, Mackenzie Callahan, 4x400-meter relay, qualifying time

While those state-qualifiers certainly earned it, they weren’t the only ones who performed when they needed to.

Starting in the high jump, Desiree March set a personal record with a jump of 4-feet, 11 inches.

In the pole vault, Brooklyn Bachmann tied her season’s best in finishing 2nd at 10-feet and qualifying for state.  Katelyn Gall tied her personal best and finished 4th.  Both were extremely close to clearing their next heights.

Due to heavy rains of late, the long jump area was a wet mess.  This deterred neither Cierra Bachmann, whose second landing embraced the wet sand like no other’s, or Aaliyah Young, whose legs looked like they’d been covered in oatmeal when it was all finished.  Many of the jumpers at the sectional came nowhere near performing at their best.  These two did, with Young even making the sectional finals with a personal record of 15-feet, 4 inches.  

The triple jump had a similar experience with a similar approach by both Young and Emma Wiegmann, who tied her personal record.

On her second throw of the night In discus, Sydney Andreano launched a personal record of 121 feet, 1 inch.  It was good enough to finish second and qualify her for state for the first time.  Her mark is 6th all-time for Minooka.  

The 4x800-meter relay, the first event on the track, stepped up as well.  Battling throughout, the team of Ali Mondrella, Julia Dames, Gwen Barnes, and Vivian Van Eck ran a season’s best by 11 seconds.

The 4x100-meter relay team of Makaya Roberts, Sophie Darden, Lauren Larsen, and Maryam Williams have been running together during much of the season.  Their handoffs have continued to improve, and it’s fun to see the team chemistry created.  What was even more fun was they ran a season’s best time by nearly a second at Sectionals.

The 3200-meter run had a loaded field, and it did not disappoint.  Emily Shelton set a personal record, broke a school record, and ran an amazing final 200 meters to finish in 10:33.81.  If you haven’t seen the final 200 meters of the race, you can view it here.  Ashley Tutt followed a couple tough Naperville North girls, finished fourth, and met the qualifying time to advance to state.

Two underclassmen who have battled injuries finished their last 100-meter dashes in style.  Sydney Forrest and Lauren Lauren not only both ran personal bests, but they ended up as the 9th and 10th best all-time at Minooka, respectively, as well.

The 4x200-meter relay of Madison Thompson, Eryn Renison, Cierra Bachmann, and Brooklyn Bachmann, put forth a very good effort.  They had great handoffs, and executed what they were supposed to.  They, too, ran their best time of the year.

In the 400-meter dash, a lot of grueling workouts paid off for both Lindsay Freese and Lauren Widlowski.  Both girls showed great improvement this year, and their personal records in the 400 on Thursday were examples of this.

Kylie Wissel and Jenna Roberts competed in the 300-meter hurdles, and their stories are perfect examples of how sectionals heightens everything.  Roberts has looked smoother and faster every meet in both the 100-meter hurdles and the 300s.  In the 100s on this night, Roberts was interfered with near the end of the race, and she fell hard.  It was a misfortune amplified by the fact it was her last opportunity in the event this season. The only redemption she had available was later in the 300s, and while she didn’t run a season’s best there, she did run strong where others would have wilted.  

Wissel’s adversity has occurred throughout the season as she has dealt with a variety of soreness.  To her credit, she has rehabbed like a champ and put herself in position to compete for a chance at the state finals.  In the 300-meter hurdles, she ran her best race, the best time of her life, and the second-best time in the history of MCHS.  She finished third, just 0.13 seconds shy of the state-qualifying mark.  Coming that close stirs all sorts of emotions.  We were only getting started with those.

The 1600-meter run was another field loaded with the state’s best.  Callahan and Shelton battled with the top runners throughout the race, and both would end up earning a chance to run again next week.  Callahan finished 2nd with the second-best time in her life.  Shelton — completing the dirty double after the 3200 — ran a state-qualifying season’s best and finished 4th after her 12th lap around the track that night.  

In the 200-meter dash, Madison Thompson ran her final 200-meter dash of the season.  It would be tough to find a sprinter who has put in more work than she has.  It paid off well for her, as she ran the fastest time of her life, and one that puts her 8th on the MInooka all-time list.  In that same race, Sydney Forrest chalked her second person record of the night.

Watching a relay try and qualify for state is nerve-wracking.  You are counting on not one, but four individuals to perform at their best on that one special day that was picked so long ago.  The 4x400 was our best chance to qualify a relay.  The four runners — Cierra Bachmann, Emily Johnson, Eryn Renison, and Mackenzie Callahan — had all run the relay many times before, but only once had they run all together, and that was indoors.   Minooka had not run a state-qualifying time during the year, and had only won one race all year.  

Bachmann led off looking the best she had looked in a 400 in memory.  Johnson, a freshman running in her first race at the end of a long night, followed with another strong leg.  Renison then came out charging and finished charging.  Yet even with those three good legs, when Callahan got the baton it was clear finishing in the top 2 would be darn tough.  Callahan ran well, but Minooka finished 5th.  Coach Gummerson and I looked at our watches, and from our angle, we had run a season’s best time, but likely had just missed the state-qualifying standard.  We were disappointed for the girls. They were disappointed in their finish. We congratulated them on their time, thanked them for their efforts, and prepared to move on.

And then the official results came.  We saw the time on paper mere seconds before they announced it over the P.A. system.  The 4x400-meter relay had qualified by 0.08 seconds.  Sad tears turned into happy tears, and low-hanging heads turned into high-fives.  

Like so many other athletes earlier in the night, the 4x400-meter relay had performed at their best when they had, too.  That’s all you can ask for on a day of Sectionals.

Go Minooka!

— Coach Thomas

SPC Championship, 5.3.2017

posted May 4, 2017, 7:07 PM by Matthew Thomas   [ updated May 4, 2017, 7:10 PM ]

The Minooka girls track and field team was only in its sixth season in 1979 when it won its first conference team championship.

Women’s athletics in high schools were in their early stages.  In 1972, President Nixon signed into law educational legislation known famously today as Title IX.  It states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

This opened the door for women’s athletics, which had largely been regulated to intramural sports within high schools.  After Title IX, Minooka had its first women’s team in the fall of 1973 when volleyball players stepped onto the court.  The spring of 1974 saw the first girls soccer team and the first girls track and field team.

In 1979, the Minooka girls track and field team won its first conference championship.  

When Minooka girls track won its first championship at a conference meet — the Northeast Conference meet — in 1979, they were coached by Lyn Andracke, a woman largely responsible for bring women’s athletics to Minooka.  Coach Gummerson and I taught with her in the social studies department during our first years here.  She would tell us about Becky Schaller, Minooka’s star long jumper in 1979, who today is the 4th best long jumper in MCHS history.  Schaller jumped 17 feet, 8.5 inches that year, and finished 13th in Class A at the IHSA State Finals.  Jan Wacaster of Edinburg, a small town southeast of Springfield, won Class A that year with a jump of 18-feet, 6 inches.  The Class AA winner jumped 20-feet, 7.5 inches.  That was Jackie Joyner of East St. Louis, who went on to win 6 Olympic medals.  

In 1979, Minooka ran on a cinder track. They would still be running on that track 12 years later when they won their second conference championship in 1991 — this time at the Little 7 Conference meet — when a freshman distance runner named Tammy Schmidt, who would later become the head girls track coach at Plainfield North, was on the team.

Girls practice starts on the cinder track at MCHS in 1979.

It would be another 20 years before Minooka won its third conference championship when it captured the SPC title at Oswego East in 2011.  Minooka won the next three years, as well.  

A conference championship is not easy to win, as evidenced by only 6 victories in 43 years.  The last couple years Minooka has been beaten by better teams.  Last night, in our 44th year, we won our 7th.  

There was a feeling of satisfaction knowing that so many athletes on the team had contributed not only to a varsity win, but also a JV win.  It was the first time 10 teams competed for a conference title, and the first time it was held at Memorial Stadium with Joliet Central as the host.

The varsity scored 121 points, with Plainfield South following in second with 73.  The JV tallied 133.5, and Oswego East was next with 94.

JV runners won 6 events in taking home the title.  The list includes

  • Lauren Larsen, 100m Dash

  • Julia Dames, 1600m Run

  • Amanda Wilson, 3200m Run

  • Meghan Marchio, Pole Vault

  • Karlee Cox, Discus

  • Julia Dames, Olivia Kics, Angelica Leal, and Nina Shanahan, 4x800m Relay

The top five varsity individuals in each event would earn All-Conference honors.  Thirteen times this happened for Minooka.  The impressive list:

SPC Champion

Sydney Andreano, Discus

Brooklyn Bachmann, Pole Vault

Emily Shelton, 3200m Run

Mackenzie Callahan, 800m Run

Kylie Wissel, 300m Hurdles

Mackenzie Callahan, 1600m Run

2nd Place

Harley Graham, Discus

Ashley Tutt, 800m Run

Emily Shelton, 1600m Run

3rd Place

Vivian Van Eck, 3200m Run

Katelyn Gall, Pole Vault

4th Place

Jenna Roberts, 100m Hurdles

5th Place

Sydney Andreano, Shot Put

In addition, the top 3 varsity relay teams also earned All-Conference honors. The first varsity relay on the track — the 4x800m of Ali Mondrella, Gwen Barnes, Emily Ellis, and Ashley Tutt — pulled this off with a 3rd-place finish.  So did the last varsity relay on the track, but the finish was different.  

If you look back at the SPC Championships Minooka won in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, they all had one thing in common — Minooka won the last race on the track.

There’s something about crossing the finish line in first place in the 4x400-meter relay that punctuates a team victory.  You win the last race, you win the meet.  Something just seems right about that.  Back in 1979, there was a string across the finish line for an athlete to lean into.  In 2017, you run into open air.  

A runner from Minooka breaks the string at the finish
of a relay in 1979.

Going into the SPC championship, Minooka had not won a 4x400-meter relay in a big meet all year. Wednesday night, things looked to change. All four runners ran great.  Cierra Bachmann ran a strong leadoff, followed by great second leg by Emily Johnson.  Minooka continued to move up in the race when Ashley Tutt got the baton, and Mackenzie Callahan finished the job by passing runners in the final 200 meters.  There was no string to break, but lots of smiles broke out.   

It was a subtle nod to the 4x400 teams of the past, and a perfect way to connect to the history of Minooka girls track and field program.  

Go Minooka!

— Coach Thomas

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