In order to create balanced coverage in high school sports around the area, we’re running a section called, “What coach said.” Every week, we’ll cover a different sport and talk to each coach at the varsity level. This week, we’re highlighting boys cross country. With the regular season ending in three weeks, the stakes are high for runners vying for a chance at regionals. Here’s what Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick’s head coaches had to say about their team’s performance this past week, and what they are doing to prepare for regionals.

OPRF had a dual meet versus Lyons Township on Oct. 3. While the meet didn’t have high postseason implications, head coach Chris Baldwin used the week to keep everyone healthy and ready for the following weeks. Here’s what he had to say.

On why top runners didn’t participate: “We ran pretty well considering the conditions. It was a muddy mess like it has been in the past. We sat out some people, they sat out some people, so both squads weren’t at full force. It was great racing experience but with our top 5-15 runners who have that experience already, they usually stay back and do a workout. We want to keep them healthy and put them in a more rigorous environment than what that meet would have given them.”

On how the team used last summer to get ready: “This is really a year-round sport. If you want to be successful, you have to be working in the offseason. This summer, we had a large commitment from our guys that moved our team in the right direction. We had 10 kids run over 500 miles. So building that base is a starting point for us, and hopefully for next summer that will be a larger group of kids who will be running 600-700 miles. When we build that base, that lets us do some things later in the season. As we get closer to the postseason, we can change our types of workouts to be a little shorter but more intense, which gives their bodies more recovery time. We run in the toughest conference in the state and probably the toughest in the nation, depending on the year. The kids took it upon themselves to run more last summer.”

On helping athletes with the mental side of running: “One thing we do [dealing with inexperience at varsity level] is some relaxation stuff to work on the mental side of running. So much of the race is what you are willing to put yourself through, but these are teenagers. There is a lot of anxiety not just in cross country but in everything they do. A lot of pressure is on them at this point in their lives, and they don’t always know how to handle all of it. All of our coaches are certified in RPR (reflexive performance reset) and that helps with resetting the body and with breathing techniques. That’s one way we help them on the mental side.”

Fenwick split up its squad and had its top seven runners travel to Peoria while the rest of the team went to Niles West High School on Oct. 5. This is what head coach David Rill said about the annual meet and how the runners compete with each other for a top-seven slot.

On sophomore’s rise and giving up sailing: “[Lee O’Bryan’s] freshman year, he ran around a 19 [minute three-mile time] which isn’t crazy fast. He was going to sail in the spring for the sailing team. So I made a deal with him and told him, ‘If you are all-conference in cross country this year, how about you run track in the spring?’ and he ended up being sixth in the conference on the freshman level. He dropped two minutes off his time at conference last year, so we knew what we were going to get from him this season. He was hurt going into this year, and has been improving throughout the year. He killed it Saturday.”

On bumping best runners up for the Peoria meet: “This was the first week I ran those seven [runners] together. I have the mentality that if I have freshmen, I like them to run at the lower level and see how they can do on their own level. This is the first meet every year that I will bump people up [to the varsity level]. The guys always know going into Peoria that is when we are going to run our top seven. Every week they look to see if they are in the top seven and to see if they get to travel [to Peoria]. I’ve done it every year I have coached.” 

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