MAPLE PARK – Last fall, Kaneland junior Matt Richtman won three large cross country invitationals, the NIB 12 conference title, a regional title, and placed fourth at the 2A state championships – the highest-ever individual state meet finish by a Kaneland runner.
During the indoor track and field season, he was undefeated at 3,200 meters and ran a school record 9:34.70 to win the 2A Top Times Invitational, the equivalent of the Illinois state indoor track championships.
During outdoor track, Richtman was the Kane County 1,600-meter champion in 4:19.07. He was then 1,600 runner-up at the NIB 12 conference meet and, a week later, 1,600 and 3,200 runner-up at the IHSA sectional meet. Then at the 2A state championships, Richtman placed second in the 3,200 in a then-school record time of 9:23.47 and, later in the meet, placed seventh in the 1,600 final, his three additional team points moving Kaneland up to third place team honors.
In the two weeks that followed the May 27 state meet, he ran a school record 4:17.92 in the 1,600 at the Magis Mile, then lowered his 3,200 personal best and school record to 9:22.98 at the Midwest Distance Classic.
Which is all a round-about way of saying Richtman is already one the elite distance runners in the state with another year of high school competition to come.
His stellar cross country and track and field seasons led Richtman to being named the 2016-17 Elburn Herald and Kane Country Chronicle Male Athlete of the Year sponsored by St. Charles Bank & Trust, recognizing him as the top athlete for the entire school year across all sports.
And yet, Richtman came up a little short of reaching some of the goals he set for himself.
“There were a few time goals I didn’t quite reach when the weather didn’t cooperate or when races with a field of fast runners became tactical, but overall, I was very happy with my season," he said.
Richtman isn't one to boast about his own accomplishments, but the results speak for themselves. He now owns Kaneland school records for the 1,500-, 1,600-, 3,200-, and the 2,000-meter steeplechase as well as the mile plus the fastest 3-mile time ever run on the state meet cross country course by a Kaneland runner – 14:36. He has earned five all-state honors after his sophomore and junior years.
A runner with Richtman's talent is a lock to compete at the collegiate level, but as of yet he has taken just a few strides on his path to the next level.
“I haven’t so much thought about where I want to go as much as I’ve thought about what size college I’m interested in," Richtman said. "Right now I’m thinking about going to a smaller school, whether it’s NCAA Division I or II, or NAIA.”
Academically, Richtman is an excellent student, particularly in math and the sciences. He is the total package, something Kaneland cross country coach Chad Clarey knows all too well.
“A talent like Matt Richtman doesn't along come once every 10 years or so. He comes along once in a coach’s lifetime," Clarey said. "Matt loves to compete and, like Clark Kent, when he pulls on his Kaneland Knights team jersey, he becomes a different runner.
"That's not to say he doesn’t train hard, because he gives 100 percent every day, but Matt trains to race, and he races to win … to win for his school, to win for our Kaneland program, and to win for his team. What's special about Matt is that he doesn’t run to hit [timing] splits. He lets a race unfold, adapts to the competition and conditions, then does what he needs to do to win the race.
"Matt sets his goals very high, but he is modest in victory and gracious in defeat. During the cross country season, Matt would finish his races, stop past the finish line, and turn around to shake hands with competitors as they finished behind him. He loves competition and the camaraderie of getting to know runners from other schools ... and he is driven to try to improve every day.”
Clarey noted another instance of Richtman's competitive, team-first spirit from the track and field season. After running mostly the 1,600 and a leg of the 4x400 relay (to work on his speed) during the season, Richtman subbed in the 3,200 for the 4x400 for the state series. He ran the eighth and final lap of the state 3,200 in 57 seconds and narrowly finished second to Rock Falls senior Brayden Hamblen.
“Matt attacks every workout with a tenacity I've never seen before," Kaneland track and field coach Andy Drendel said. "Our motto has always been, 'Only Today is Guaranteed,' and he trained and competed with that mindset all season.
"Don’t let Chad [Clarey] fool you when he says, 'The bus driver could coach this kid.' Our distance coaches laid out a well thought-out game plan with Matt throughout the season. He is a one of a kind distance-running talent that we have never before seen at Kaneland. If he stays healthy, what a force he is going to be in his senior year."