Maine South is coming off a fifth-place finish at last year’s Class 3A boys cross country state meet, the highest finish in school history.
Though the Hawks lost top runners in Jon Vaccaro (who plans to walk-on at Illinois), Kevin Dolan and Robbie Taylor, coach Greg Nordahl does not view this as a rebuilding season.
“I think we have four star runners and we’re looking for a solid fifth guy,” said Nordahl, whose team has qualified for state three times in the last six years. “If (a fifth) steps up, we’re making it to state again. The other four are strong enough to get us there. A fifth is what we’re looking for.”
Senior Jack Carpenter is expected to be the team’s top performer and is a potential all-stater, according to Nordahl.
Carpenter actually was running alongside Vaccaro and Taylor early last year, but faded during the second half of the campaign. Nordahl said Carpenter may have overtrained in 2012.
“During the season, he was running long runs (in training), running too hard on some of the runs, and that kind of cashed him out,” Nordahl said. “Now, he definitely has a better understanding that rest and recovery are just as important as training hard.”
Senior Paul Tobin, junior Paul D’Ambrosio and junior Henry Mierzwa are expected to comprise the rest of the top four. Juniors Ben Steffen and Aiden Gaskin and sophomore Ralph Patejunas will vie for the No. 5 spot.
Tony Guagenti, the school’s boys and girls track coach, takes over as coach of the boys and girls cross country programs.
Guagenti’s goals for his first season are somewhat modest.
“We’ve finished last in the (Metro Suburban) the last couple of years. So, we want to get out of the cellar,” he said. “Getting out of the regionals and qualifying for the sectionals is something we haven’t done (in awhile), so those are two goals that are very attainable. We’ll definitely try to hit them.”
Senior Gerardo Huerta and sophomores Kevin Moore and Adonis Silva are expected to contribute on Guagenti’s first team.
Last fall, the Dons went downstate for the first time, qualifying for the Class 2A state meet.
This year’s team may be relatively young, but third-year coach John Barrett said the bar has been raised by the team’s successful 2012 campaign.
“The kids have realized what they need to do to maintain and get back (to state),” he said. “They have the work ethic and are focused on getting back there. They don’t want to make (state) a one-time thing during their career.
They know what it takes to get there now, and know what it takes to be good at state.”
Sophomores Robert Koteski and Matt Contreras and juniors Sayeed Mohameed and Saxon Kotowski are expected to lead the team.
Barrett said he likely won’t know until September which class the Dons will compete in this postseason.
The Vikings tied Highland Park last season atop the CSL North, giving Niles North its third straight conference crown. Vikings coach Dan Horyn said he’s hoping his 2013 team will make another run at the league title.
“We’re still a young team, and our arc of improvement can be far greater than it was the last couple of years,” he said. “If we can continue to improve, we can go out there and try to win a conference championship. That’s our goal, to win conference.”
The Vikings will build around juniors Dhruvil Patel, Nebil Mohammed and senior Ben Popernik.
Micah Beller has graduated after finishing 10th in the state last season and is now running at Michigan.
After losing its top five runners to graduation, the Wolves will be led by seniors Sergio Dorado, Kyle Kent and Matt Henry and juniors Theodore Beck and Adrian Vargas.
Henry, who is running cross country for the second year, finished eighth in the 300-meter hurdles at the 2013 Class 3A state track meet.
“Sprinters don’t usually run cross county in the fall. But his goal for the year is to win state in the 300 hurdles,” Niles West coach Mike Grossman said.
“He wanted to stay in shape. He should be one of the top cross country runners and the standout sprinter in the spring, as well.”
After hosting the sectional for many years, Niles West will not be doing so this season. Lake Park has the honors this fall. Hosting duties are scheduled to rotate between the two schools in the coming years.
Talented junior Anthony Misiak is back, but he missed much of the summer with hip and leg injuries.
“We need to find an identity and a leader,” coach Chris Peters said. “Anthony would have been that, but he hasn’t been running with us (over the summer).”
Peters said he hopes juniors Josh Madsen and Eric Ponzetti can step up to provide some leadership.
The Blue Demons have lost stalwarts Saul Lopez, Aayush Shah and Shwetang Patel. They were all seniors last year.
The Niles school is trying to qualify for the state meet for a third consecutive season.
The Knights finished in 24th place at the Class 1A state meet in 2012. They came in 23rd the year before that.