By Marty Farmer
Whether he's competing in cross country or track & field, OPRF senior Matthew Vietzen is on the move most of the school year. Nevertheless, he's cognizant of how fleeting time can be.
"I've found myself trying to slow things down more this year and really enjoy the moment," Vietzen said. "The trip I just took downstate for cross country was a lot of fun. I was able to spend time with three close friends on the team, my coaches and family."
Vietzen was the lone state qualifier for the OPRF cross country (boys and girls) this season. He finished 28th with a time of 14 minutes, 54 seconds at the IHSA Cross Country State Championship on Saturday at Peoria's Detweiller Park.
"The weather was a little rainy early, but they were laying sand down all over the place so it wasn't too bad," Vietzen said about course conditions. "I got out a little slow and had to move up throughout the race. I think I passed about 30 people in the last mile.
"I was really hoping to finish in the top 25 and be an All-State runner. Even though, my performance at state wasn't necessarily what I hoped for at the start of the season, I was still happy."
Vietzen's mature perspective coupled with his obvious talent has served him well as a key member of both the cross country and track & field varsity teams.
"Matthew has been a leader on this team for many years," OPRF cross country coach Chris Baldwin said. "He was a key part of our team success last year and has been a great training leader. Matthew took 18th place in the freshman conference meet and has worked and worked to get to the level he is at now.
"He has shown our team what is possible with hard work and dedication. We have a large team and Matthew ensures his teammates are doing the little things in order to become better runners."
Some of his development can be attributed to lessons learned from former teammates, Irwin Loud in particular. Loud, now running at the University of Illinois, graduated from OPRF last summer as a six-time IHSA All-State runner (5 in track, 1 in cross country) and a 2015 state runner-up in the 3,200-meter run (9:06.74).
"Irwin motivated me a lot," Vietzen said. "It was just so cool to see how competitive he was, how hard he worked and how much he cared for our team. Last year, I practiced a lot with him during workouts. I even got to race alongside him in the mile, which was awesome."
With leaders like Loud and Matthew Politis last year, the Huskies came in 13th at the cross country state final. For his part, Vietzen finished 61st with a time of 15:09 as the Huskies' third runner.
"It was more comfortable having the team with me at state last year," Vietzen said. "This year, I ran most of my workouts or races alone. It was just different from last year. Our team never really performed the way we could this season, but there were a lot of good individual efforts and achievements."
Despite the Huskies' subpar season, there were bright spots. Peter Halloran set a new standard for hard work and mileage, running 750 miles last summer and breaking 16 minutes at the Naperville Twilight meet. Garrett Minich came on strong at the end of the season, emerging as the team's second runner in the state series. Spencer Thorpe, Owen Savoy, Robert George and Jack Blatchford also contributed for OPRF this fall.
"As a team we had some ups and downs," Baldwin said. "We had a disappointing end to the season with our worst regional and sectional performances in quite a few years."
Looking ahead to spring, Vietzen will be one of the Huskies' most versatile and valuable runners with the ability to run the 800- and 1,600-meter runs as well as a leg of the 3,200-meter relay at a high level.
His natural athleticism translates well to running. Growing up, Vietzen played middle school basketball and baseball and he still dabbles in golf.
"In track and field, I'm more of a speed-oriented runner," Vietzen said. "I hope our 4 x 800 relay can finish top three in the state, and I'd like to be in the top five in the 1,600 this spring."
Vietzen is also a tireless worker that's continually looking for ways to improve.
"Matthew went from running a 17:22 3 mile time as a freshman to a 14:53 this year," Baldwin said. "It was through putting in miles and taking care of his body. Matthew would always be one of the last athletes at practice because he was doing some extra stretching or core or other things to ensure his body was at 100 percent."
As for college, Vietzen is undecided at the moment.
"I'm looking at a lot of schools," Vietzen said. "Since I'm not quite in the upper echelon of runners in the state, I'm not really getting recruited. I could possibly walk on at some schools. I'm not sure yet what I want to do, but I definitely would like to run in college."
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