Batavia senior boys cross country runner Mitch Zabka wants to compete after high school, but that doesn’t mean he’s rushing to get past this season. Veteran Bulldogs coach Mike DiDomenico has touted the team’s potential and depth from the beginning of workouts, and Zabka always sensed the same. Speaking with Kane County Chronicle sports reporter Kevin Druley for the latest edition of the Weekend Chit-chat, Zabka addressed the season so far and explored his history with longtime running-mate, Chris Orlow. The following is an edited transcript:
Preseason morale was high around the team. How has that held up into late September?
I still think we’re feeling good. We’re still trying to figure out who our top seven are going to be by the time we make it to regionals and sectionals and hopefully make it down to state. We’re feeling pretty good about this season. ... We definitely have a lot of experience and last year we had a disappointment when it came to sectionals. When this year came, we were ready. We know we’ll have some good competition, and we hope we’ll be ready to get through it all.
I ran cross country a few years and a couple pounds ago, and coaches always talked about muscle memory when we returned to courses. Do you buy that theory?
I would say so. When we ran at Detweiller [Park in Peoria earlier this month], it was my second time running it, but a course like LeRoy Oakes, we go there so much that you do feel like the muscle memory is there. … You get to know the turns, the type of course it is.
And that plays to runners’ favor, right, since Detweiller hosts the state meet?
It’s an easy course to get used to and I feel I’ve definitely gotten used to it. I’ve heard from just about everybody that a lot of people like it because it’s fast and very flat, not a lot of hills.
How long have you known Chris Orlow?
Me and Chris, we were in a couple classes together in middle school and both actually started cross country our eighth-grade year and ended up being our No. 1 and 2 guys in middle school. Then we went into high school and pretty much have the same varsity history. … We have been 1-2 throughout this season. We’ve had our meets where I’ve beaten him, he’s beaten me. We have our own friendly competition, really.
What makes ‘Coach D’ [Batavia coach Mike DiDomenico] so effective?
He is a great coach and he’s actually put together a great practice schedule. I think this season’s practice schedule is probably one of the best he’s put together because it’s a wide variety of workouts. … He’s very knowledgeable and he’s always making sure we’re safe out there. He never wants us crossing over major roads out there and makes sure we get back all right.
What are some of the team’s workout run routes?
On normal runs, we’ll just run around Batavia. Sometimes we’ll go to Geneva, or even parts of St. Charles. ... Across the street from the school, there’s a nice park [Engstrom Park] where we’ll go for intervals. It’s a nice big field to do workouts around.
Does it feel pretty different when you’re out and about driving the same streets you usually run?
I would say so. I guess I don’t really think about it that much, but then it’s weird to think about running that long distance. It’s so much shorter when you’re driving.