PALATINE – Crystal Lake Central senior Alex Baker provided new meaning to the term “finishing kick.”
Baker ran the last mile of the Palatine Cross Country Invitational with his left heel riding on the back of his shoe. Finally, with about 400 meters remaining, he kicked the shoe off and ran with one socked foot for the remainder.
That added degree of difficulty did not seem to matter much as Baker, who moved up several spots in the second half of the race, took third place in 14:53.9 on the 3.0-mile course at Deer Grove Forest Preserve.
“It was OK. It didn’t hurt too bad,” Baker said. “I got clipped in the middle of the second lap and ran with it for a while that way.”
McHenry sophomore Jesse Reiser finished 15th in 15:08.9, and Prairie Ridge senior Joe Cowlin was 21st in 15:19.7. Central took 11th as a team.
In the girls race, Central’s Sami Staples was third, leading the Tigers to seventh place as a team with 244 points. Cary-Grove’s Talia Duzey was 10th and McHenry’s Lauren Opatrny was 11th.
Lake Park’s Kaylee Flanagan broke her own course record by 2 seconds with a 16:49.0 run. Flanagan broke the Detweiller Park course record of Woodstock’s Kayla Beattie last week in Peoria by seven-tenths of a second.
Baker eagerly anticipated the Palatine race, knowing he would see some of the state’s top runners.
“I came prepared,” he said. “I was thinking about the course this week and wanted to take it out with the pack and see what happened.”
Baker was near 10th midway through the race, then made a move despite being clipped on the heel. He passed about five runners, then toward the end he overtook Niles North’s Micah Beller and Jones Prep’s Luke O’Connor.
Reiser added another strong race to his résumé.
“Last year I did really bad here, so I wanted to come out and beat my time,” Reiser said. “It was a 4:48 first mile, which is really fast. After that it settled in and the last 400 meters was just burning.”
Staples, the defending Class 2A state champion, was pleased with another time faster than her pace at this time a year ago. She also had her summer training curtailed by a stress fracture in her right foot.
“I’m really happy with it,” Staples said. “It was amazing to run in the same race with Kaylee [Flanagan], although I really wasn’t running with her. Everyone here is so talented. So far, every race this year I’ve run 20 seconds faster than last year.”
Maddie Dagley finished 25th and Mary Fleming was 41st for the Tigers, who saw mainly Class 3A competition.
“We were seventh last year too,” Central coach Anthony DeStephano said. “I was hoping we could do a little better, but this is a nice bounce back from last week [at Kaneland], when we didn’t’ run our best. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Central was fourth as a team at the Kaneland meet.
Duzey, also a sophomore, also had a much better race than last season.
“I felt a lot stronger,” Duzey said. “I really didn’t know who was here, I just wanted to stay with the front of the pack and see what I could do from there.”