MINOOKA — Coming into the 2012 cross country season, a lot was made locally about Minooka boys runner Joey Santillo, a senior who had placed 12th at the state meet the year before as a junior.
Senior Alex Pierce also garnered a lot of attention as well. Although he didn't place high at state like Santillo, he did manage to place 65th, giving a lot of promise for the two runners to come back next season and have even bigger senior years.
"I knew Joe and I had to be leaders as we were the top seniors coming in," Pierce said. "We had to do the right things to make ourselves successful as a team."
From there, however, was a big question: Who would fill the third spot for the Indians? Fortunately, Minooka received its answer in a big way, as senior Cam Knudsen emerged from seemingly nowhere to solidify the third spot on the Minooka boys team.
"It's been nice because I've really wanted to be able to contribute to this team for a long time now," Knudsen said. "Now that I've been able to, it's really awesome."
The path for Knudsen to get here has been tough. In his sophomore year, Knudsen had anemia, meaning he did not have enough iron in his blood. Once he battled through that, he came back his junior year, ready to contribute to the team, but a different type of injury put the senior on the sidelines.
"I got a stress fracture in my leg the first day of practice, so that shut me down early," Knudsen said.
Knudsen knew it was going to be tough having to sit out yet another season for his Minooka squad.
"As the season dragged on, and I realized I knew I wasn't going to run, it started getting tough," Knudsen said. "I just trained as hard as I could without getting hurt."
Knudsen powered through the injuries and came into his senior year, ready to finally run for the Indians. In his final year, Knudsen has done nothing but be successful, earning All-Southwest Prairie Conference, All-Regional and All-Sectional honors.
"As a coach, you love to see how kids handle adversity. Cam handled the adversity with a positive attitude and he focused on setting himself up for a great year, and that's what he's had," Minooka head coach Kevin Gummerson said. "I just have all the respect in the world for a kid who can bounce back like that."
The performance has shocked most of his cross country team, including both Santillo and Pierce.
"It's been amazing what he's been able to do," Santillo said of Knudsen. "Nobody saw what was coming from him. He had unlimited potential and to finally see him break through was awesome."
"It was nice to have him come back this year and have a solid third guy for us," Pierce added. "We've definitely needed him as a team, and he's stepped up for us."
Together, Santillo, Pierce, and Knudsen will all be running their final races Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria. Although it'll be a bittersweet moment for the seniors, Knudsen is focused in on the task at hand.
"My goal this year has been able to medal in every race, and so far I've done that," he said. "I have one more race to complete my goal, and I think I can do it."