MINOOKA — It has become a normal routine for both the boys and girls cross country teams at Minooka to hold November practices. That's because both teams are usually vying for state titles, whether it be individuals or the entire team.
Well, the November practices will keep on coming, as once again both boys and girls team will compete at the highest level of running in the state, the 3A state finals Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Both teams have taken different paths to reach this point in the season. For the girls, it has been more of a "team-like" approach, with all the runners staying together in a group. This style has proven well for the Indians, as they won the regional two weeks ago and placed second at sectionals this past Saturday.
"These girls have really bought into that team mentality this year," head coach Kevin Gummerson said. "When one of them is having a nice day, they have a tendency to pull the others up with them."
One of the big runners that has helped lead this team all year is freshman Morgan Crouch, who posted the best time for Minooka at the sectionals with a time of 18:15. The freshman has been able to be one of the top runners all year for the Indians.
"By the time I get down to state I'll probably be freaking out," Crouch said on her handling the nerves of her first state meet. "The coaches and my fellow teammates will help me out a lot this weekend, though."
For the boys team, the major headline heading down to Peoria is Joey Santillo and his quest for a state title. The senior placed third at the sectional, losing out to two O'Fallon runners, both who ran 14:36. Although Santillo's 14:54 isn't something to be ashamed of, he knows he has his work cut out for him come Saturday.
"It's going to be really tough," Santillo said. "No matter how i do, I'm not quite sure how its going to be crossing that finish line for the last time. I know I'm going to be smiling because its been a great four years."
Two other big pieces to Minooka's success this year are seniors Alex Pierce and Cam Knudsen. Pierce was highly touted coming into the year just like Santillo was, but Knudsen came out of nowhere this year, solidifying that key third runner the Indians desperately needed.
"Knudsen is the model of persistency," Gummerson said. "He's had a couple rough years health wise, battling injuries and such, but he kept his goals high and the end result was he was an all-sectional runner. He's been a great addition and is a great lesson for all our runners to show them to stick with it."
One advantage the Indians could have over some of the other teams Saturday is that Minooka has ran the state course once earlier this year. Back in September, the Indians ran at Detweiller Park in a meet, giving them some early practice on the course they will run this weekend.
"Definitely going on a course the first time is a little challenging," Santillo said. "That race early on helped us I think not only because we were able to run on the course but we ran against some good competition as well."
"Knowing the course helps a lot because you know when to pick up speed and which spots you can stay back a little bit," Crouch added.
No matter the outcome Saturday, Gummerson is proud of his teams this year, not only because of their success, but because they've continued to build the Minooka running program.
"Every year is a new team, and we have an expectation to be at this point every year now," Gummerson said. "Every year presents new challenges, and I'm just proud that our guys and girls have earned that spot at the line this year."