PEORIA — Every year during his high school cross country career, Seneca's Christopher Collet has managed to qualify for the IHSA state championship race. From finishing 34th as a freshman to all-state performances in 19th place as a sophomore and 10th last season in his junior campaign, Collet has continued to improve.
But the Fighting Irish senior standout certainly saved his best state run for his last as he captured Seneca's first ever boys or girls individual championship Saturday morning at Detweiller Park.
Collet conquered the three-mile course in a blistering time of 14 minutes, 45.25 seconds, running away from Monticello senior Garrett Dixon (2nd place, 14:56.88) during the last half mile to win the IHSA Class 1A title with the best race he's ever recorded on the prep level in terms of time.
"This is absolutely everything I've been working for since I was a freshman coming down here," Collet said wiping away tears. "It's true that the harder you work you will improve, and I'm an example of that. I ran the race I knew I could run, and now I'm a state champion.
"It’s just an amazing feeling to have accomplished this for my school and myself."
Collet toyed with the field, leading narrowly after the first half mile and then settling into second behind Dixon as the two started putting distance on the rest of the field. Then, with a half mile left to contest, Collet made his move and sprinted away from Dixon, besting him by almost 10 seconds to the cheers of the hundreds of onlookers who packed the area wanting to exalt the boys Class 1A champion of 2018.
"The last half mile is when I knew I had to make my move, so I did and stayed right on him (Dixon) before he slowed down, and I just kept getting faster," Collet said. "I set the goal at the end of my sophomore season that I was going to win state, and ever since then I knew I was going to do it. Today just proved to me that I was right in setting that goal and believing in it."
Collet also led Seneca to a 13th-place team finish with 341 points behind the state championship grouping of Clifton Central's 139 tallies.
After Collet, the Irish received efforts from senior Wyatt Baldauf (73rd, 16:04.54), sophomore Billy Glasscock (89th, 16:16.90), junior Ben Krause (141st, 16:53.03), sophomore Eli Eltrevoog (158th, 17:06.06), freshman Brady Danek (209th, 18:25.91) and junior Trevor Till (210th, 18:28.88).
In the Class 3A race, Minooka finished 22nd.
The Indians were led by Jordan Freese in 83rd, and he was followed by Vincent Van Eck (92nd) and Jason Hoffman (93rd).
For the Seneca girls, who finished 20th as a team with 513 points behind eventual champion Eureka (84 points), freshman sensation Audrey Jenkins led the way with a 30th-place time of 18:20.41 throughout the 209-runner field.
"I was really excited to have competed here today, and it was a great experience for me as a freshman to run in such a fantastic event and the fabulous atmosphere of the state finals," Jenkins said. "My first mile was probably a little too fast, and I kind of slowed down in the second mile. Then I just tried to catch up with people in the last loop, but I couldn’t make up enough ground to finish where I ultimately wanted to.
"Now I've got to continue to improve and hopefully get into the top 10 or 20 next year."
Other Lady Irish competitors were sophomore Amber Vroman (144th, 20:20.17), sophomore Delany Welsh (156th, 20:52.08), senior Natalie Carajohn (159th, 20:58.45), junior Savanah Bland (176th, 21:27.63), sophomore Marie Cheshareck (184th, 21:40.15) and junior Lauren Silvola (203rd, 23:07.84).
"This was a great day for both our teams, but for Chris he just knew he was going to win a championship today," said SHS coach Kim Foster. "He had the mental part, and last night he told me he was going to win the state title. There was no doubt in my mind he was going to do it. He knew he had the kick at the end in order to mentally break the rest of the field.
"I'm so proud of him for being the first cross country individual champion at Seneca, and I'm so proud of both our teams and the way they competed today. There's been only one other time on our school history where both the boys and the girls teams have competed at state, and that was in 1989 when the boys won the state championship as a group. So this year was very special for us."
In the Class 3A race, it has become a tradition at the girls state cross country meet, and this year was no exception with Minooka again finishing among the top 10 teams.
For the sixth consecutive year, the Indians placed fifth Saturday.
Minooka senior Vivian Van Eck capped her stellar season by finishing sixth overall, covering the three miles in 16 minutes, 37 seconds. It was Van Eck’s second All-State medal, as she placed 23rd as a sophomore.
“This goes to show you that if you set a goal and work hard enough, you can even beat your goal,” Van Eck said. “My goal and I thought I could be in the top 10, like ninth or 10th. I just kept telling myself to keep going, keep going after people. Races like this are really mental, especially if you get out well. Everyone is in the same boat, you just have to stay tough mentally.”
Van Eck was the only senior among the Indians’ scoring five runners as she was followed by junior Julia Dames in 48th (17:35) and freshman Kathryn Cichon in 67th (17:51), freshman Jocelyn Host 79th (18:01) and freshman Alyssa Hrusosky in 89th (18:07).
“It have been fun to watch this team grow this year,” Minooka coach Kevin Gummerson said. “It wasn’t always easy at times, but they jelled as a team and really came together. It was an impressive performance today, and I’m excited for all of them.
“Not only is Vivian [Van Eck] a great runner, but she is also a great kid. She has grown into a great leader this year. She has had to wait her turn, but she really brought this team together. She ran so well today, so competitive, and it was a great way for her to finish her cross country career at Minooka.”