CRYSTAL LAKE – Prairie Ridge sophomore Filip Pajak realized, like the other competitors, coaches and fans, that second place would be about as good as it gets at the McHenry County Track and Field Meet.
“You’re not going to catch [McHenry’s Jesse] Reiser because he’s a machine,” Pajak said. “I was happy with my finish.”
Pajak outkicked Woodstock junior Luke Beattie in the final 200 meters to take the runner-up spot Saturday at Lippold Park in the race that annually kicks off the local cross country season. Reiser, last year’s Class 3A state runner-up, covered the 3.1-mile flat course in 14:53.0.
Pajak was second in 15:30.0, with Beattie taking third for the second consecutive year at 15:32.9. Crystal Lake South freshman Jack Becker was fourth in 15:47.3.
Jacobs’ Lauren Van Vlierbergen, who was fourth in the Class 3A state cross country meet, won the race in 17:51.6. Woodstock’s Kate Jacobs (18:21.8), Marengo’s Kitty Allen (128:22.0) and Cary-Grove’s Morgan Schulz (18:25.7) were the next three runners.
No team scores are officially kept for the meet, although Jacobs girls would have had the best score with 74 points, while McHenry’s boys would have won with 70 points.
Pajak came on late last season and helped the Wolves advance to the Class 2A state meet as a team.
“My fitness was better than I expected, especially in the first couple of miles,” he said. “The last 800 meters, I decided to kick it off the last 200 meters to catch [Beattie] and pass him. I got him around the last 200 meters. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
Reiser won the 3,200 meters in Class 3A in May and is considered the best distance runner in the state.
Beattie was pleased with the race he turned in to start the season.
“My goal was to go out with the guys in front,” Beattie said. “I really worked that second mile and finished as well as I could. I just didn’t have anything left to kick at the end.”
Van Vlierbergen cruised to her first county meet title and left shortly after the race for an official visit to an NCAA Division I school, although she did not disclose which one.
“I didn’t think about it too much, I just tried to run my best,” said Van Vlierbergen, the Class 3A 800 meters state champion in track. “It’s really exciting because I’ve never won county before, and we have a great county. There’s a lot of great runners I had to go against.”
Woodstock’s Jacobs battled with Allen and Schulz for most of the race and surged ahead near the finish line for second.
“It was pretty awesome,” Jacobs said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I was just going to go with the leaders and stick with them as long as I could. I could tell [Allen] was pushing, and so was I. We were trying to stay with each other.”