Honors continue for St. Charles East's state champion runners
Cold. Damp. But it certainly didn't rain on their parade.
Conditions, in fact, turned sunny as anticipated for the St. Charles East boys cross country team shortly after their float ride in St. Charles' annual Electric Christmas Parade on Nov. 30.
They learned they'd been accepted as an at-large qualifier for the 16th Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) race this Saturday in Portland, Oregon.
The news nestled somewhere between no-brainer and thank-goodness.
At Nike's Midwest Regional the Saints' magnificent seven -- seniors Aidan King, Bob Liking and Johnny Olenek; juniors Zack Loomis, Connor Murphy and Luke Schildmeyer; sophomore Micah Wilson -- trailed Wheaton Warrenville South and York in a third-place finish Nov. 16 in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Otherwise they'd been unbeaten with four wins over WW South and two over York on the road to their IHSA Class 3A title on Nov. 9.
"We weren't really that surprised," said Olenek, whose father, Derek, represents the postseason "Saints XC Club" rather than St. Charles East's Chris Bosworth due to IHSA coach contact restrictions.
"We knew that throughout the season we built ourselves a real good resume, a real good history," Johnny Olenek said. "And after we found out we were still happy though we were really confident that we would get that."
Likewise, Bosworth wasn't surprised.
"I had a very strong feeling that we were going," he said Monday night, after the team was recognized for its state title at a St. Charles City Council meeting.
"We knew that we had to finish third or better at the regional," Bosworth said. "We had our first really kind of 'off' race of the season. What got us in was really our resume throughout the year."
In that "off" regional race on a 5,000-meter NCAA championship course, Wilson finished 35th overall while the Wisconsin-bound Liking pulled in at 42nd. Often those roles are reversed.
"Bob's been leading the charge," Wilson said.
"I just had to step up because none of the other guys really had good races. And I didn't really have a good race, either. It just says that we expect a lot out of ourselves. We should expect a lot out of ourselves, we've done a lot this season to kind of earn that mindset that we have."
"We're just going in trying to compete and do as best as we can for each other," Wilson said. "Like our motto: 'For Each Other.'"
The boys left Thursday for Portland. Since this is St. Charles East's first NXN appearance they'll scout the grass layout looping just past 3 miles throughout the Glendoveer Golf Course. NXN offers a course run-through on Friday.
The boys championship race starts Saturday at 12:05 p.m. Central followed by the girls race -- featuring Naperville North -- at 1:35 p.m. Central. NXC provides a webcast starting at 11:30 a.m. Central.
Unlike Wilson and Liking, who believe a top-three finish is realistic, King hesitates to put a number on it.
"We're going to go out, we're going to compete, give it everything we've got and however we end up, that's what we deserve to get," he said.
That's all one can ask, a sound approach that mirrors St. Charles East's race philosophy: Let the first mile sort itself out, build an attack in Mile 2, and let the heart, guts and mind take hold in Mile 3.
"You've got to be able to beat everybody mentally," King said. "That's where we've been able to win a lot of our races, too. We're a mentally strong team and we've been able to show that the last two miles."
Saturday will not be the end for Liking. With his fourth-place finish Nov. 30 at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional he advanced to the Foot Locker National Championships, an individually-based event held Dec. 14 in San Diego.
"We're all super-happy for Bob," King said. "That kid has worked so hard the last four years."
It has been worth it in more ways than one.
"I think this year we really started to understand what it means to run for each other and what it means to run for something bigger than yourself," Liking said.
This For Each Other stuff is not for nothing.
"It's just kind of something that we carry with us in our hearts," he said.