WOODSTOCK – McHenry sophomore Michael Hahndorf, experiencing the flighted Woodstock-Ryan Byrne Festival for the first time, quickly found himself in unfamiliar territory.
“I’m not used to [leading] so I didn’t know how to pace myself,” Hahndorf said. “In the beginning, I started out way too fast, I went out faster than I should have. And then I just slowed down a little bit.”
The Byrne Festival offers a different format with runners assigned to flights. Seven flights of runners – boys varsity and junior varsity, and girls varsity and junior varsity – are sent one group at a time, beginning with the No. 7 runners, then working up to the No. 1s.
The flighted races give most runners a different perspective, as each flight counts the same toward team scores, and runners who often finish back in the pack have an opportunity to win races.
Hahndorf took advantage as he won the boys varsity No. 2 flight in 16:28 on Emricson Park’s 3.1-mile course.
“I like it because you know you’re running against people you can keep up with,” Hahndorf said.
The race was named in honor of late Northwest Herald sports writer Ryan Byrne, whose passion for running and writing about the sport made an impact with area coaches and runners. Byrne died at the age of 23 in 1999 after a bout with cancer, but a few months after his death, former Woodstock coach Marty Sobczak and former Marian Central coach Tom Van Daele talked it over and named the meet for Byrne.
Vernon Hills won the overall team title – boys and girls, varsity and junior varsity combined – with 67 points. Woodstock (90), Huntley (99) and McHenry (115) were behind the Cougars. Scores were counted for all seven flights at each level.
McHenry girls won their division with 17 points, two ahead of Woodstock. Vernon Hills won each other division, tying with Huntley in junior varsity girls.
“The great thing about a flight invite is each kid gets to feel special in their particular race,” Huntley boys coach Matt Kaplan said. “I really like that each kid gets to feel what it’s like to be up front. It’s a big day for each kid, individually, to feel that much more necessary for the team.”
Woodstock sophomore Grace Beattie won races as a hurdler in track and field last spring, but had not crossed the finish line first in cross country this season before Saturday’s meet.
“I’ve never had the lead in high school,” Beattie said. “There were people in front of me and I was shaking my head, but my coaches said, ‘You’re where you want to be.’ I thought, ‘They’re the coaches and they know what’s up. I slowly got everyone by the mile. It felt really good.
“I never have an opportunity to finish first because Maura (Beattie, her senior sister) gets it. So it kind of gives me more confidence.”
Huntley sophomore Mike Grocholski was used to finishing near the front of races early this season in freshman-sophomore competitions. Now on the varsity, he discovered that feeling again winning the No. 5 flight.
“It felt really good,” Grocholski said. “It felt good to be back in front, because last varsity race I wasn’t up there. You feel like you’re going faster than you are because guys aren’t pulling away from you.”
Woodstock’s Liam DeWane nipped Prairie Ridge’s Scott Hearne in a near dead heat at the finish for second place in the No. 3 flight. DeWane acknowledges the flighted races put runners outside their comfort zone.
“It’s really weird,” DeWane said. “I’m used to running with Zach (Bellavia), Luke (Beattie) and Spencer (Hanson), but today I had to pace myself and I had to go out with a steady pace and keep it the whole way through. It felt pretty good.”
In the boys No. 1 flight, Vernon Hills’ Kyle Whitney finished first, ahead of Woodstock’s Luke Beattie, Richmond-Burton’s James Kaht and Huntley’s Keagan Smith. McHenry’s Jesse Reiser rested Saturday and will focus on next week’s Palatine Invitational, where he will see some of the state’s best competition.
Woodstock’s Maura Beattie also rested Saturday and Vernon Hills’ Vivian Overbeck won the No. 1 flight in girls varsity.