For many runners, the road to cross country success in high school starts in junior high.
For Shepard sophomore Caleb Washington, the road started last year.
“Last year was my first year running cross country, period,’’ he said.
An exclamation point or two could be in his future.
Washington was 25th out of 553 runners in the Sept. 20th Richard Spring/Peoria Notre Dame Invitational. He ran the Detweiller Park course, site of the state meet, in 15:17.30, best ever there by a Shepard runner.
That came before a second-place finish (15:31) in the big school race at the Sept. 27 Tinley Park Invitational.
“I just tried to hang with them as long as I could and let the best man win,’’ he said of the Tinley Park meet.
Washington dealt with muddy conditions Saturday on the challenging Dellwood Park course in Lockport. He still put together a good race and finished 20th (16:29) among 229 runners in the Locktoberfest Invitational.
The field included several strong teams, including Neuqua Valley, Lyons, Glenbard West and Downers North, last year’s Class 3A state runner-up.
Shepard coach Troy Walker called Washington “the most talented underclassman’’ he has had in 18 years of coaching. Walker also described the 5-foot Washington as “extremely focused on whatever he does.’’
“Although he is very short compared to most runners, he makes up for it with an amazingly smooth stride,’’ Walker said. “He is a very strong and aggressive runner.’’
Washington was fifth in last year’s conference meet (16:18), won by Shepard, and 12th at the Marist Regional (16:04). Shepard graduated conference champ Josh Maier, Mike Evancich and Nick Heidinger, leaving Washington to lead the pack.
“This season I’d like to break 15 minutes and I’d also like to make it to state,’’ Washington said.
After the Oct. 18 South Suburban Red Meet at Oak Lawn, Shepard will be in the Oct. 25 Sandburg Regional to compete for a spot in the Nov. 1 Marist Sectional, both at Midlothian Meadows.
Shepard also will be counting on Garrett White, Andrew Miller, Paul Milkus, Nate Gibson and Cole Akimoff for a strong pack.
Step by step
After Sandburg won invitationals last month at Lyons and Reavis, the Eagles have added two meet championships at Detweiller Park in Peoria as they continue their chase for a Class 3A state trophy.
Sandburg had six individuals among the top 10 Saturday to win the Peoria Invitational. Tom Brennan (third, 14:49.77), Sean Torpy (fourth), Chris Torpy (seventh), Max Lehnhardt (eighth), Brandon Lukas (ninth) and Martin Skucas (10th) led the Eagles.
“We’re hoping we can do it this year. That’s definitely the goal,’’ Brennan said before the season.
Chris Torpy said this could be “one of the best teams ever’’ at Sandburg.
“No one is really higher than the other individually,” Chris Torpy said. “We’re all working on the pack, getting our times down.’’
Class 2A chase
Illiana Christian, last year’s 2A runner-up, has won four invitationals this season as it prepares for the state series.
The latest title came Saturday in the Wheaton Academy Invitational at Kress Creek Farms in West Chicago.
Illiana Christian earned the top three individual spots in champion Nick Fiene (15:15.6), Nick Wondaal (15:26.8) and Colin DeYoung (15:28.4), all with impressive times. Tom McGuire (ninth, 16:09.4) and Derek Van Prooyen (20th, 16:52.6) completed the Vikings’ top five.
Illiana Christian will host its own regional Oct. 25 at North Creek Meadows. Then it’s the Nov. 1 Wheaton Academy Sectional back at Kress Creek Farms.
The Saturday schedule includes the coed Jimmy Daniels/Olympian Run Invitational at Rich Central, the last major meet before conference competition.
The field will have teams from Andrew, Bloom, Eisenhower, Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln-Way West, Lemont, Marian Catholic, Marist, Morgan Park, Mount Carmel, Oak Lawn, Rich East, Rich South, Stagg, St. Laurence, St. Rita, Thornridge, Thornton, Thornwood and Tinley Park.