Lake Zurich’s cross country legacy lingers

SHARE Lake Zurich’s cross country legacy lingers

PALATINE — The Lake Zurich boys cross country team faced a tall task entering the 2013 season.

Last year, the Bears placed four seniors in the top nine to win the Class 3A Grant Regional.

This year, Lake Zurich entered the Palatine Regional without the services of Trevor Kuehr, Alex Milner, Jon Ramirez and Jared Ripoli. With plenty of new faces and a rash of illness this past week, it’s been a turbulent ride at times for the Bears.

“We’ve had a different fifth man at every single dual meet, so it was really tough to find out who our varsity seven were going to be. We didn’t even know who was running today until yesterday,” Austin Kuehr said. “It’s really hard for us to find our identity, but we’re clicking at the right time.”

They clicked Saturday, riding top-10 finishes from freshman Matt Pereira (15 minutes, 20 seconds), senior Will Llanos (15:38) and senior Dave Brown (15:50) to a second-place result, 15 points behind Palatine.

“They’ve really done a nice job of taking the reins and forming their own identity and at the same time continuing the same traditions of expectations that we’ve had in the past,” coach JB Hanson said.

It doesn’t hurt that the Bears have something beyond a legacy of success to rely on — they also have family legacies paving their path to the finish line.

“We’ve been very lucky that we’ve had some families,” Hanson said. “You find that kids that come from really strong families tend to have similar work ethics and similar values and they’re ambitious.”

Austin Kuehr placed 18th Saturday with a time of 16:18, though the senior humbly insisted after that he is nowhere near as fast as his brother, Trevor, who now runs for Illinois.

“Trevor was a really good runner,” Austin Kuehr said. “He was all-state and everything, and I’m not quite as fast as him. It’s good that I’m on varsity. I contribute to the team and I like showing that I can help just as much as he could even though I’m not as good as he was.”

Austin Kuehr said that he is usually a good 30 seconds behind his elder brother. On Saturday, however, he placed just 14 seconds behind Trevor Kuehr’s time from last year.

At last year’s regional, Alex Milner finished just behind Trevor Kuehr. Younger brother Matt Milner was in uniform for the Bears Saturday, finishing in 16:26. The 6-foot-2 sophomore said after that his height, usually a positive, might have been a slight deterrent given the wind.

“In a course like today, with the wind, being tall is not your best friend,” Matt Milner said. “Otherwise, it’s God-given. It’s the best thing you could get.”

Alex Milner runs for Purdue now.

“He keeps tabs on us,” Matt Milner said. “He checks up on us.”

Matt Milner’s introduction to the Lake Zurich program began early as a result of his brother’s involvement, taking off when he was in seventh grade and his brother was a sophomore. He said the Bears’ second-place finish at state in 2010 “sparked” Lake Zurich cross country in his mind — a passion that was further fueled by his participation in the Bears’ cross country summer camp.

“It really sparked that I’ve been raised into cross country,” Matt Milner said. “I’m loving trying to carry on all of our traditions.”

These Bears are starting to form their own tradition of excellence as well.

“Those two guys are always comparing themselves to their brothers whether they deserve to or not,” Hanson said. “They’ve certainly made a name for themselves that is independent of whatever accomplishments their brothers have had.”

As Austin Kuehr and Matt Milner make a name for themselves, their team will attempt to do the same at the Schaumburg Sectional Saturday.

“After a pretty poor conference race, this was a big confidence booster for us,” Austin Kuehr said. “Our goals are still the same. We want to qualify out of our sectional, and then at state, we just want to run our best race on the right day.”

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