Eighteen points separated the Geneva boys cross country team from a berth in the IHSA Class 3A state tournament last November.
The Vikings knew they’d be close to the top five cutoff at the Wheaton North Sectional at St. James Farm. While they were right, being on the wrong end didn’t feel any better.
In the months since, Geneva has resolved to return to Peoria’s Detweiller Park without leaving any doubt.
“This year, we remember our feeling,” senior Dan Herrera said. “We’re not going to forget it. Coming back is just going to make us all the more stronger.”
Graduation losses entering the 2011 season – namely that of current USA Triathlon standout Kevin McDowell – left DyeStat and other cross country rankings systems skeptical about the Vikings’ state series potential.
Behind a core that included Mike Bianchina, Ryan Rasmussen, Nathan Wendt and Herrera, the Vikings formed a solid pack in support of lead runner Peter Archibald, who now competes collegiately at Loyola.
“I don’t think anybody gave us a chance to go to state last year, so I think they feel like they had something to prove,” Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. “They’ve been working hard at that the best they can to get back to that state level.”
Herrera embarked on a 700-mile summer bike trip to Canada as part of his offseason preparation.
He biked 60 to 80 miles a day over 14 days and still had the stamina to run for a while once he was through, simply to keep his legs primed to the running motion.
Geneva is hoping similar muscle memory will pull Bianchina through once he returns to the lineup. In May, Bianchina collapsed with a fractured left leg near the end of the 3,200-meter race at the St. Charles North Track and Field Sectional and was taken away by ambulance.
The Vikings’ lone state qualifier after a seventh-place individual race at sectionals, Bianchina alternates mile runs with cross-training every other day. His return date still is questionable, but Geneva isn’t fretting just yet. It’s all about conditioning the lineup for October.
“When Mike gets that green light, we’ll let him go,” Thomson said. “We fully expect that he’ll be back at some point in time.”
Top junior Blaine Bartel recently turned an ankle in practice and is working on a return, as well.
In the meantime, the Vikings know what their focus is, and that won’t change.
“We’ve found our goal and we’ll keep going at it,” Herrera said. “This year, once again we’ve found ourselves with not the most ideal conditions, but I think we’ll make do.”
BOYS CROSS COUNTRY RUNNERS TO WATCH
Mike Bianchina, Geneva, Sr.
Sidelined since fracturing his left leg near the end of track season, Bianchina will bring solid leadership to the pack when he returns.
Kyle Carter, Kaneland, Jr.
Knights coach Chad Clarey says Carter has "been training at a high level all summer, and we're looking forward to his emergence as a single-digit performer in most all of our meets this year."
John Graft, Marmion, Jr.
"An incredible talent with great discipline," said Cadets coach Dan Billish, Graft emerged as a threat last season after an early history of injuries.
Spencer Gray, St. Charles North, Sr.
Third in Tuesday's Elgin City Classic at Lords Park, Gray is part of a seasoned top group that will lead the North Stars.
Trevor Hollis, Batavia, Sr.
Navigating injuries early in his junior season, Hollis shined down the stretch and put in a good summer. He'll be joined by juniors Chris Orlow and Mitch Zabka in the Bulldogs' top pack.
Dan Morgan, Burlington Central, Sr.
Central missed the 2A state cut by one point last year. With several top individuals lost to graduation, Morgan slides in as a new leader.
Max Rowland, St. Charles East, Jr.
One of four individual sectional qualifiers in 2011, Rowland and Co. are eager to improve on the Saints' overall standing.
BOYS CROSS COUNTRY TEAMS TO WATCH
The Cadets were bumped to Class 3A this season. It isn’t fazing them. “It will take a lot of work,” coach Dan Billish said, “but I have a renewed faith in these boys and look forward to our journey together.” A strong senior group including Chris Burrows, Nick Delaney and Liam O’Dea leads the way.
St. Charles North
“Building a wall,” in coach Kevin Harrington’s words, North finished ninth in 3A state last season without an individual in the top 40. The focus figures to be similar this fall, as North looks to bring its Nos. 5 to 7 runners up to speed with seniors Nick Borger, Spencer Gray, Ryan Joyce and Ryan McSweeney.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com