Wolves mens cross country team looked to turn around the school program for the 2019 season coming off of an unimpressive 2018 campaign.
The Wolves introduced an entire new 12-man roster consisting of all freshman for the 2019 season. It was a learning curve for these 12 athletes as they had to create bonds and relationships as teammates. It would be an understatement to say this team was starting from scratch.
“The biggest question was getting everyone on the same page and believing in themselves and each other,” coach Jeffery DeGraw said. “Our early season workouts were geared to exactly that– getting them to believe that they could compete and race on the collegiate level.”
From the start of the season back on Aug. 30, the Wolves had five runners who placed within the top 120. As the season continued, the Wolves consistently had five to six runners place within the tops of 6,000 and 8,000-meter races.
With such a young group, the Wolves looked for a leader–someone to pull the team together. Freshman Luke Talbot, Minooka High School, took charge throughout the season, giving them someone to lead the 12 freshmen.
“They were all together. They did everything together, which was so encouraging to see,” DeGraw said. “As the season progressed, so did everyone on the team. It’s different in college because the races are five miles, not the three miles they were used to in high school, and that is a big change.”
When regionals approached, the team still had some questions to answer, and they answered them well.
Overall the Wolves had lots of bright spots they could take from such a young roster. At Carl Sandburg College on Oct. 26 Talbot and freshman Noah Blakely placed fourth and fifth in their event to earn All-Region honors. It was the first time in school history that two individuals earn All-Region honors in the same event.
The team concluded its season on Saturday, Nov. 2, with a strong showing at the NJCAA Division III National Championship meet held at Stanley Park in Westfield, Massachusetts.
The runners finished seventh out of 28 teams with 236 points in the largest field to ever compete in the meet. The seventh-place finish by the Wolves was the best national meet finish in school history.
The Wolves were led by the 26th place finish of Blakley of Ottawa. He was followed by Talbot, 35th, Johnathan Garcia of Joliet Central, 59th, Connor Wells of Plainfield North, 78th, Ryan Dodge of Plainfield South, 79th, David Krupa of Romeoville, 80th and Ryan Zawacki of Lincoln-Way East, 87th.
DeGraw reflected on the late push his team made and how that will help for the next season.
“As a team you always want to run your best when it matters most, and that is at the end of the season, and we did this,” DeGraw said. “The men ran their best at the national meet, which is at the top of the list.”