CARY – Jacobs boys cross country coach Kevin Christian marvels at the commitment with which senior Mark Lemke approaches the sport.
“He’s completely dedicated his life, everything he does revolves around running,” Christian said. “Everything is focused on what he’s going to do that day.”
That said, even Christian was blown away with Lemke’s performance on Saturday. Three years after Lemke was 30th in the McHenry County Cross Country Meet’s freshman-sophomore boys race, he won the varsity race at Hickory Nut Grove.
Race favorite Zach Albrecht, Lemke’s teammate, did not compete because of a slight muscle strain in his right leg. That did not keep the individual title from going to Jacobs for the first time since 2006 when future U.S. Olympian Evan Jager won the title.
“It was exactly what I planned,” Lemke said of his race strategy. “I wanted to stick with the leaders the best I could and put in surges to try and break them. It was just what I wanted.”
Lemke finished in 16:19.5, ahead of Huntley’s Jadon Conroy (16:23.0) and Ian Geisler (16:24.5). Marian Central’s Ryan Jones (16:28.4) and Cary-Grove’s Max Caesar (16:46.0) rounded out the top five. No team champion is named in the meet.
“It means a lot. It proves and shows that all the hard work I’ve done over the years paid off,” said Lemke, who took sixth in last year’s Fox Valley Conference Meet on the same course. “I started from nothing my freshman year. I knew nothing about cross country. I just fell in love with it. I’m glad my hard work is paying off.”
Christian hoped Albrecht would run in two weeks at a meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, where the IHSA Cross Country State Meet is held in November. He was thrilled for Lemke.
“Mark should be excited. He deserves everything he’s getting right now,” Christian said. “If you would have told me, when he was a freshman or sophomore, that he was going to be county champion, I would have told you, ‘Get the heck out of here.’ Those Huntley guys are so ridiculously good, it was so great for him to run with them today.”
Conroy said Lemke kicked hard in the last 400 meters to win the race. Huntley, the defending FVC champion, was running without Jeremy Roe, one of its top three competitors, who has a slight ankle injury. The Red Raiders still put their top five runners in the top 21 places.
“We wanted to go out and get the rust off, first race of the season,” Conroy said. “We tried to kick at the end and didn’t really have it today. ”
Jacobs put four runners in the top 24 finishers without Albrecht and without Brandon Cole and Brett Bognar, who were taking a college entrance examination. Christian considers those two his Nos. 3 and 4 runners.
“If we get a full squad back for a meet like that, we’re in really good shape,” Christian said.
STAR OF THE MEET
Lemke took first in 16:19.5 to become the first Golden Eagle since U.S. Olympian Evan Jager (2006) to win the county title.
TOP 20 FINISHERS
1. Lemke (Jacobs) 16:19.5, 2. Conroy (Huntley) 16:23.0, 3. Geisler (Hunt) 16:24.5, 4. Jones (Marian Central) 16:28.4,5. Caesar (Cary-Grove) 16:46.0, 6. Smalley (CL Central) 16:49.2, 7. Arellano-Zapata (Woodstock) 17:00.2, 8. Flynn (CLC) 17:01.3, 9. Montes (McHenry) 17:03.1, 10. Simek (Hunt) 17:03.3, 11. Brown (CL South) 17:03.6, 12. Warren (C-G) 17:12.3, 13. Peters (C-G) 17:13.8, 14. Garcia (McH) 17:19.4, 15. Ozzauto (Hunt) 17:20.6, 16. Doetsch (Jac) 17:21.1, 17. Baker (PR) 17:34.1, 18. Jensen (McH) 17:37.7, 19. Cruz (Wdk) 17:41.7, 20. Dutkiewicz (McH) 17:45.6.