Lyons Township High School junior John O’Halloran had the cross country race of his life Saturday at the West Suburban Conference Silver Division Meet Saturday at Proviso West.
Fortunately for the Lions, so did many teammates.
O’Halloran was a surprising all-conference 14th and the Lions finished second to consensus No. 1-ranked Downers Grove North in the state’s toughest conference.
“My goal coming into the race was just try and score (in our top five) maybe, and then I saw some of my teammates dropping off so I knew I needed to step up a little. I think I did that successfully,” O’Halloran said.
“I’m definitely surprised. I’m also very excited. It’s awesome to be all-conference.”
Returning senior all-staters Cillian Henning (16:05.26 for 3.04 miles) and Nick Strayer (16:13.43), who were third and fourth, junior Ben Wuggazer (10th, 16:31.07) and O’Halloran (16:42.99) were all-conference with top-16 finishes. Junior Charles Ciesla (25th, 17:15.18), senior Maksym Washchuk (28th, 17:22.09) and junior Tate Pavelka (30th, 17:32.57) also competed.
The Lions (56 points), ranked No. 10 in Class 3A by ILXCTF.com and No. 16 by MileSplitIL, finished just ahead of No. 6/5 Oak Park and River Forest (68) and behind Downers North (37).
The goal remains to improve upon last year’s seventh-place state finish.
“It was unique that our No. 6 and 7 (runners usually) came through when our No. 4 and 5 were OK but not where they could have been,” LTHS coach Mike Danner said. “That was a good thing to happen at this time of year. It just illustrates some of the thing we talk about in practice. Every guy counts.
“I would have predicted (O’Halloran to finish) 25th to 30th so to be 14th in this conference, that’s big.”
Henning and Strayer were an all-conference fifth and 10th in 2022. Henning also was eighth as a sophomore with Strayer 18th.
Wet and muddy conditions from Saturday’s rains significantly affected times and race strategy.
“It always helps to be up front. A little more clean area,” said Strayer of his fourth varsity Silver race. “We knew this was going to be a very tactical race. The times kind of went out the window so the plan was to sit on some guys and then move in the final mile and I think we were able to do that.”
For the other five Lions, this was their varsity Silver debut. Wuggazer put on a furious kick to pull out a top-10 finish with 2.32 seconds to spare.
“At the end, I heard I was pretty close (to 10th). I knew I just had to move,” Wuggazer said. “This is where we need to be (as a team). It builds confidence. I think we’re ready to go for regionals, sectionals and state and then further.”
In the girls race, the No. 13/8 Lions (95) were third behind No. 1 York (18) and No. 4/3 Downers North (47).
Senior Julianne Melby was an all-conference 13th (19:57.00), followed by seniors Lauren Bohringer (17th, 20:01.81), Anna Bylsma (19th, 20:11.57) , Madison Findley (22nd, 20:18.51), Shannon Cranny (24th, 20:31.33) and Kristina Findley (25th, 20:39.03) and junior Leigh Ferrell (34th, 21:11.43).
Bohringer was 2.18 seconds from 16th. In 2022, Melby was 18th.
“I was pretty excited about being all-conference, especially since our conference is extremely competitive,” Melby responded.
“I knew the course conditions were going to be difficult and that times would be very slow. I think this created a good opportunity to focus on racing and a team pack rather than times. I had a lot of fun with the muddy conditions and was happy that I raced well against other teams.”