The Knights found the podium one year after missing it by a single point. Bringing back five dedicated runners from last fall’s squad, the Kaneland harriers centered themselves on the mindset of “Humble and Hungry for History.” They attained the first state trophy since 1999 by recording their fastest combined team time in 21 state appearances with a full team, running 77:22 for all scoring runners (:45 better than the previous mark set last year).
Seniors Austin Adams (8th, 15:10) and Daniel Occhipinti (18th, 15:23) each raced with the best of 2A to earn All State status. Adams raced with pure guts on a sore ankle, challenging for the lead in a strong field of runners. Occhipinti has taken the team to its greatest heights all season long with his profound humility and dedication to the process; and earned his best medal of the year… one for a State Championship.
To some it was surprising that Kaneland would have four All State athletes, something the program has never done in the same year (had three in 1988). Ethan Walker ended his senior campaign in the best way possible, charging up the final 400m and chasing Daniel as well as history. Walker ran a career best 15:26 to finish 21st overall in 2A. Never far from his side, junior Isaiah Dallal improves from 16:19 in 2018 to 15:27 and 24th in the field. Dallal’s drive to the finish was exemplary of a true “heart of a champion,” and we are blessed to have him back in 2020.
The next position for our final scoring runner was always in flux all season long. Not racing the talented sophomore, Nolan Allen, due to a minor setback in health prompted his teammates to have to step up and deliver. This week, senior Ethan Neal was the first to rise to the occasion and cement our team score at 74 points when he crossed the finish line at 15:51 for a career best effort at 51st overall. Senior Ben Durbala, filling in for Allen this week, ran a full minute faster than at the Sectional to place 59th and defeat every team’s fifth runner with his career best time of 15:56. This was Durbala’s first season in the sport. Close behind, and also in front of every teams scoring runners (but Dixon and St. Ignatius) came junior Parker Malone who ran a career best time of 16:12, which is the fastest effort by a #7 runner for Kaneland in the many years of team qualifiers dating back 1986 (first year advancing to the meet).
The team racing in the State Finals has 30 other runners on the roster, who helped push them to great heights. A true TEAM effort by all, it is with great joy that we share this video that helps capture what these boys mean to one another. Their humble efforts to put aside personal glory for the good of their fellow teammates will forever be something this team is remembered. Special thanks to Coach Baron, Coach Beck, Coach Brundige, Coach Franklin, and Coach Ecker as well as Andy Drendel and our Kaneland Athletics and Maintenance teams on their unending support of our season. We have been so blessed.