The progress Crystal Lake Central’s Alex Baker made during his high school running career was remarkable.
As a freshman, Baker was on the Tigers’ soccer team. As a sophomore, he switched to cross country. And in the past two years, he went from a good runner on one of the area’s best teams to one of the best runners in the state.
Baker might never have guessed three years ago that he would be accepting an NCAA Division I scholarship offer to run cross country and track at Loyola University in Chicago. He committed to the Ramblers last Sunday and will sign his NCAA national letter of intent in February.
“I really liked the coaches there,” Baker said. “I think what coach (Randy) Hasenbank can do for me will make me better. I really connected with the team and I like the location and the medical school.”
Baker plans on majoring in biology or pre-med with hopes of becoming a physical therapist. He finished second in the Class 2A boys race in the IHSA cross country state meet and was the Northwest Herald Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Baker lost to only four runners the entire season, three of whom won individual state championships – Beecher’s Grant Nykaza (Class 1A), Glenbard South’s John Wold (2A) and St. Ignatius’ Jake Keelan (3A). The other runner who beat Baker was Belvidere North’s Garrett Lee, who won the Belvidere Sectional.
Central graduate Rachel Bush runs at Loyola and was a great source for Baker regarding the school.
“I talked to her more than the guys on the team, because I mainly talked to them when I visited,” Baker said. “She would come back (to meets) and we would talk about the school and the program.”
Baker credited Tigers coach Bill Eschman for helping him reach this level.
“I thank my coach and my teammates,” Baker said. “My coach had a lot to do with it. I owe a lot to him, and to God. This is a blessing from God.”
Eschman marveled at Baker’s rise to stardom.
“It’s been fun watching him grow every year,” he said. “This year he really learned how to run with confidence. He learned how to be a leader in the race, which was exciting to watch. What he accomplished is really impressive. That’s very special, it’s not an accident.”
Gedaly to Bemidji: Huntley linebacker Justin Gedaly has committed to D-II Bemidji (Minn.) State to play football on scholarship. Gedaly (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) was a three-year varsity player for the Red Raiders and a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection.
Things happened very quickly for Gedaly with Bemidji. He sent the coaching staff his highlight DVD less than three weeks ago and committed this week.
“Me and my dad (Russell) were looking for D-II schools and we looked at a lot in Minnesota,” Gedaly said. “I liked the close-knit community and that the school is right near where you can hunt and fish.”
Gedaly wants to major in special education and liked Bemidji’s education program. After sending the coaches his DVD, he heard back quickly and visited last weekend.
“Once I was there, I knew it was the right place for me,” said Gedaly, who mentioned D-II Saint Joseph’s and D-III Dubuque and Monmouth as other schools he considered.
Gedaly helped the Raiders to a 6-4 record and a Class 7A playoff appearance this season. Huntley was 2-7 the previous year. It was during Gedaly’s sophomore year that he realized he might be able to play at an athletic scholarship school in college.
“I was playing linebacker and at that point I had played AAU basketball and baseball,” Gedaly said. “I gave up those sports and started working out and committed myself to football.”
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.