If there is one cross country team in the Morris Daily Herald readership area that knows about the "championship season", it's the Minooka harriers. Now in the 14th season under the direction of Kevin Gummerson, the Indians boys and girls teams are both seeking a fifth straight trip to the IHSA State Meet held at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
"To me it's the favorite time of the year," Gummerson said. "The weather is starting to break a little bit. We're getting some cooler weather here. It's a good time to see where we are after putting in all of that work since June. It's an exciting time of the year. We've got a lot to look forward to, without a doubt."
The "championship" portion of the season for the Indians officially starts on Saturday at the Southwest Prairie Conference Meet.
"For us it's pretty much everything we've been working for since the summer," Minooka senior Maddie Simon said. "This is the time where everything we've done for the whole season counts."
Senior runner Cam Knudsen defined the "championship season" this way.
"It's conference and then on. That's when it really gets down to the nitty-gritty," he said. "We're trying to get better and to do well at state. Me personally, I look forward to the whole season because I like cross country. But I really get excited for the championship phase because we get to show how good we are."
First on the meets to run in that phase is the SPC meet, this year being held at the Plainfield Central High School campus. Last year the Minooka boys won it and the girls finished fourth.
Simon says that the disappointing finish last year for the Indians is in the past and that the team is ready to move on — at up.
"Honestly, I think the team's times are a lot closer this year. We're upset about last year but we look at this year as a new start," she said. "I guess we don't want to measure up to last year so much because we want to start new."
Still, both the boys and girls know the teams they'll likely have to overcome to be in the winner circle on Saturday.
"I think we have the chance to win it," Knudsen said. "But Oswego and Plainfield South are really good."
"We know that Oswego is going to be pretty good competition but besides that, we know that we have to go out and run a good race," Simon said. "You never really know who is going to have a really good day. We just need to pull it all together."
Gummerson said that a win on Saturday is amongst the first of many team goals along the way.
"We use the conference meet as a building block. Every year our goal is to go out there and win it," he said. "It's always one of our first goals of the year — to win a conference championship. It's something we care about. We're going to go all-out for it on Saturday."
The next step up from the SPC meet is the Minooka Regional held out at Channahon Park on Oct. 20 — a place it's been held for the better part of a decade now. Teams competing there against Minooka will be Bradley-Bourbonnais, Joliet Central, Joliet West, Moline, Lincoln-Way Central, Normal Community and Pekin. From there the sectional is at Maxwell Park in Normal and then on to Peoria.
Simple enough, right?
"We want to win conference, the regional, the sectional and then finish in the top 10 at State," Knudsen said.
"We need to focus on getting better every single race," Simon added. "Running as a team during the race and, not just running with each other but more really racing opponents. Going for places and not exactly times."