PEORIA – The camps had palpably different vibes about them.
In Dixon’s, it was as if the farewell tour was over. And after the last gig, no one in the proverbial crowd cried out for an encore, despite the members’ unquestioned effort.
Sterling’s camp felt like a coming-out party, even if its rising star didn’t quite crack the Billboard – er, Class 2A boys state champiionship race – top 25. Freshman Jonathan Landis placed 30th in 15 minutes, 31 seconds.
For the second straight year, the Dukes made it no secret that they considered their team a dark horse for a title. And, once again, they came up well short, placing eighth with 284 points. Only this time, five members of the band walked off the big stage for the last time.
Led by the Hoffert twins' 3-4 finish, Yorkville won the team title with 119 points, with Illiana Christian (134) and Vernon Hills (136) rounding out an absolute dogfight. John Wold took the individual title in 14:38, helping Glenbard South to fifth.
Dixon coach Evan Thorpe took consolation in his son, Simon, medaling for the fourth time in as many years. He grabbed his highest place to date with 12th in 15:10. And fellow senior Cody Sondgeroth was just 9 seconds in his wake, good for 17th.
“That’s big for our program – to have two guys on that stage for all-state,” Coach Thorpe said.
But three runners his son beat a week ago reaching the chute first Saturday at Detweiller Park didn’t sit well.
“Obviously, I feel for Simon,” Coach Thorpe said. “This is a big, important part of his life, and he wasn’t where he should’ve been. There’s guys who beat him today who typically aren’t on his level. But they were today.”
The younger Thorpe felt like his best moves were never made.
“Early on, there was a big gap between No. 5 and me, and I didn’t respond to the moves that were being made in front of me,” Thorpe said. “I got caught up sometimes, with the wind, and I didn’t move forward when I should’ve.”
Coach Thorpe challenged his runners to try to run the race of their lives.
"I just challenged them to go out there and run in the danger zone of really having a really good race, or having a terrible race,” Coach Thorpe said. “Ten years from now, if we don’t get a trophy, nobody’s going to remember what place we were in. There’s no difference between fourth and 24th.”
Thus, his runners fired out of the gates with determination. Both Sondgeroth and junior Evan Grady admitted they got out too fast. But Sondgeroth was still able to hold Pontiac’s hard-charging Zac Justus at bay over the final 200 meters to preserve his place, despite feeling physically sapped as early as Mile 2.
“I tried to go out faster than I normally do, and I was just hanging on in the second mile,” Sondgeroth said. “The third mile, I just used whatever I had left.”
Grady never relented, placing 81st in 15:59.
“I know I went out too fast, but I was thinking about the fact that this was the seniors’ last race,” Grady said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run with these great guys, on this great team. I just wanted to do my part.”
“He went for it,” Coach Thorpe said.
Austin Trevino was 83rd in 16-flat, Skylar Mitchell 131st in 16:27 and, although his score didn’t count toward the team total, Kylian Lally was 160th in 16:39, a PR.
Landis also recorded a PR for Sterling, which was not represented in Peoria last year.
He sat as far back as 45th at the 1-mile mark, and was still struggling to leapfrog runners until Mile 3, when he went bonkers, taking down 10 runners in about 1,000 meters.
How does he do it, folks?
“I pray,” Landis said. “At one point, it felt like everybody was passing me. But that third mile, I was just thinking, ‘I’ve gotta go. I’ve gotta go.’”
His coach, Charlie Bishop, was barking at him to pick it up, and admires his freshman’s toughness in saving the best for the last mile.
“I can use that not only to help him get better, but to help the whole team get better,” Bishop said. “Here’s a freshman who talks about mental toughness and forgets about how tired he is.”
Landis is determined to medal next year, as well as build a legacy, now that Thorpe’s shifts to the college level, as he’ll run at Grand Valley State.
“I’m just happy to say I can come back here next year and get that medal,” Landis said. “I’m just gonna be glad that they’re out of here next year. They’ve run great times. Now it’s my turn to kind of take Thorpe’s place. I’m not saying I’m going out of my way to do it.”