Simon says he wants to be healthy this cross country season.
If he is, watch out.
Dixon High School senior Simon Thorpe has a state meet resume that would make most runners green with envy. He finished 23rd as a freshman, moved up to 14th as a sophomore, then finished 21st as a junior.
While three Class 2A All-State medals are nothing to sneeze at, it likely could have been better.
As a freshman, Thorpe was preparing for track season with an outdoor run in the winter. He slipped on some ice and landed on his hamstring, an injury that lingered through the following cross country season.
As a junior, Thorpe tweaked a hip flexor in practice, then aggravated it during the Sterling Invitational. Again, he was less than 100 percent the rest of the season.
"I'm just looking forward to a season with having the full benefits of a year of running," Thorpe said. "I didn't have that the past 2 years."
Thorpe gave a glimpse of what he's capable of at a team time trial on Saturday, Aug. 24. He covered the 2.98-mile Lowell Park Course in 15 minutes, 37 seconds, eclipsing the school record of 15:47 set by Kasey Ferrigan in 2008.
"There's no doubt he's capable of a top-five, top-10 finish," said Dixon cross country coach Evan Thorpe, Simon's father. "Any given day, he's as good as just about anybody. There is a front runner. The defending state champ [Glenbard South's John Wold] is fantastic, and if he's 100 percent, that's going to be tough. But everybody else, he's beat throughout his career."
Coach Thorpe adjusted the team's summer training this year, in hopes of being in peak form by the time the state meet rolls around on Nov. 9. Instead of having hard workouts that began in early July, he had easier sessions that began in late July. The Dixon runners still logged as many miles as in previous seasons, but most of them were of the jogging variety.
"We were always flat at the end of the year," coach Thorpe said, "and the word on the street is Dixon is probably as good as they're going to be in September. They're going to run in September what they're going to run in November."
"We may not run as fast as we did 2 weeks into the season like last year," Simon said, "but I know we'll run faster at the end of the season."
Thorpe is far from a one-man show. Cody Sondgeroth, a senior, ran 16:00 at the time trial, and fellow seniors Skylar Mitchell, R.J. Trevino and Kylian Lally, as well as junior Evan Grady, give the Dukes a deep, experienced core of runners. Mix in promising freshmen Blain and Sean Masterson, sophomore Owen Van Horn, and the wild card of the group – senior Alex LaMendola, a member of the football team last year – and the potential is there for greatness.
"This team, they're young men," coach Thorpe said. "They've always been little boys – 14, 15-year-old boys – and now all of a sudden we have five 18-year-old men. It's totally changed, and there's a lot of excitement in the program."
The Dukes are ranked fourth in the preseason Class 2A Dyestat rankings, behind Illiana Christian, Springfield and Crystal Lake Central. The two beasts from a year ago, state champ Chicago Jones and runner-up Belvidere North, were each hit hard by graduation.
"We're pretty darn good," coach Thorpe said, "and I don't think anybody is necessarily any better than we are on paper. Last year the state was incredibly loaded, and that's not the case this year. I would say we're one of the teams to beat in that conversation."
The last time the Dukes were in this position, it was 2008, and a Ferrigan-led squad won a state title. Simon Thorpe thinks the current squad can reach those lofty heights as well.
"We've always dreamed of being like the 2008 team, and competing for a trophy," Thorpe said. "Now that we think we can, everyone has a new attitude toward working hard and being down at the state meet to win a trophy, and not just be there."