Every week, we cover a different sport and talk to each head coach at the varsity level. This week, we’re highlighting boys and girls cross-country. With the conclusion of the regular season comes the arrival of the playoffs. Every cross-country team builds its season around the moment they come face-to-face with the postseason. Here’s what the varsity head coaches of Fenwick, Trinity, and Oak Park and River Forest high schools had to say about their team’s performances and what it means moving forward.

Due to the teacher union strikes against Chicago Public Schools, OPRF‘s girls team didn’t get to race against all of the runners it would go up against had there been a resolution this week. OPRF moved on to the sectional round, but head coach Ashley Raymond had this to say about the situation.

On CPS teams participating despite not being able to compete: “While we were upset that we didn’t get a chance to go up against the CPS schools, we were even more disappointed in the opportunity that the CPS kids lost. We were so impressed on Saturday. The CPS schools still showed up and the boys and girls interlocked their arms behind the start line to show everyone, “Hey, we’re still here. We are unable to compete, but we are able to show solidarity.” I thought that was a really cool sports moment … the fact that they showed up and put themselves aside and actually cheered for our girls and for Leyden’s team.”   

On the boys side, OPRF‘s boys team experienced the same circumstance only going up against one team at regionals (Leyden). They moved on to the sectional round but, like Raymond, head coach Chris Baldwin expressed his sympathy for what the CPS athletic programs are dealing with right now. Here is what he had to say.

On CPS strike negotiations and communication with other varsity coaches: “I know several coaches at CPS, and we talked about it over the summer. They told me that the strike date would be early enough that they would be able to get things resolved so they could compete at a regional championship. They were optimistic that would be the case back when we talked in September … when the strike date got set. This has been on the radar and honestly it is tragic. It’s awful for a lot of those athletes, parents, families, teachers, and coaches. It really just sucks for everybody.”

Fenwick is moving on to the sectional after all seven Friar runners finished with times under 18 minutes (three-mile race). They only have one senior running but will get their top runner back for sectionals after he dealt with injuries the last few weeks. This is what head coach David Rill had to say about his top-runner.

On Lee O’Brien’s return: “He’s a kid who is just really excited about running. I never have to get him pumped up about running because he is always ready to race. Every Saturday, he has told me how much he has missed it. He’s very self-motivated. I’ve told him this before and I mean it endearingly: he’s dumb to running because he’s never run before and doesn’t know any different. He doesn’t worry about what his opposing runners are doing. A lot of kids check the times of other runners at different schools. He doesn’t. He’s that good.”

On the girls side, Fenwick pushed its way to the sectional after placing second out of six teams at the regional. The Friars were slated to go up against CPS schools and knew going in that they would qualify for the sectional. With that in mind, this is what head coach Kevin Roche had to say about his team.

On using regional to prepare for the sectional: “I thought it was a good weekend for us. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to go against some of those CPS schools but we made the most of it. First, we didn’t want to get too cute. We wanted to be sure we knew the course because we knew it would be a thin field. Second, we really wanted them to race and run hard. At this point in the season, Saturdays are going to be the hardest days. They certainly brought their best last weekend. I thought that Marie O’Brien, who has been a leader the last four years for us, did a great job leading this team and executing the race plan, being patient in that first mile, which helped the back group through the first mile. She pulled away and ran great, so I was happy with that.”

Trinity also made its way to the next round after taking care of business at regionals. Here is what head coach Johan Gonzalez had to say about his team’s performance this week and what it means for them moving forward.

On CPS and how it didn’t affect the race plan for regionals:

“It was just a good experience for us to go in and get a good tune up race in preparation for sectional. Like most of the teams, we sat out our best runner to give her a little bit of a break so she can be ready for the sectional meet. That was the strategy going into the week and we talked about it over the last week. This decision was made before CPS, and we prepared all week like they were going to run. That situation is so unfortunate, and I reminded the kids that we should be appreciative of this opportunity and not take it for granted.”

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