A pair of Homewood-Flossmoor High School cross country runners ran last week in the IHSA’s first state meet since 2019.
Junior Caroline Schoen finished 35th in the girls 3A race. Habtamu Epley was 163rd in the boys meet. Both said they were happy to be running in Peoria after the pandemic took away any chance of doing so last season.
“It was really exciting, just to be able to have that experience with the huge crowd and to be able to run with an amazing group of girls,” Schoen said.
Epley didn't expect to win. He saw the meet as a chance to learn and get better.
“Going into the race, I had a really good mindset because I was thinking I had nothing to lose. It’s state,” he said. “I’m just a sophomore. All these juniors and seniors have a lot more experience than me and they’re going to run super fast times. For me, it was more about seeing what type of competition you’re going to have at a state meet to be able to be prepared for the following years.”
Epley didn’t want to come out too fast. He was aiming for a time around 15 minutes, 25 seconds but came in at 15:56 on the three-mile course.
“I knew the top runners were just going to be insane, and I would just be super tired at the end of the race,” he said. “I’m satisfied with the time. I think I could’ve done better, but with how my body felt, I felt like I gave it all.”
Schoen had the opposite plan. She wanted to stay with the front group. She did that for about the first mile but then fatigue set in. She fell back and never recovered.
It was the product of a training schedule she felt was a little off. Instead of peaking late, her best races were in the middle of the year.
“The last couple weeks, the whole impact of the season came over me. We’ve been racing a lot and putting a lot of work in. I’ve kind of just felt tired, in general,” she said. “I wasn’t super happy with how I ran at sectionals, either, which is when I think that tiredness really settled in.”
Schoen finished third in that sectional race but ran a disappointing time of 18:35 on a hilly course on a rainy day.
Her goal at state was a time near or below 17 minutes. She crossed the finish line at 17:35.
“I’m working on changing some of my workouts and some of my fueling before and after workouts so I can get the best results,” she said.
For Epley, the postseason stretch was the best portion of his season. His summer training schedule wasn’t ideal, he said, so his fitness improved over the course of the year. He finished third in the regional and ran a good time at the sectional.
“I think I just got to a point where I could push myself without getting super tired,” he said. “It’s sort of a realization that offseason training really affects your season.”
Epley said it was good to have Schoen there. Neither the Vikings boys nor girls advanced to state as a team but Epley said the whole varsity group made the trip to support them.
He'll take a two-week break before he starts preparing for track. He plans to take that work up a notch. Epley and teammate Dane Ivancevic hope to run under 15 minutes next year.
Schoen is considering running in the Eastbay Midwest Regional on Nov. 27 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. If she does, she’ll train over the next few weeks to prepare. If not, she’ll take a few weeks off.
“It’s hard to accept that I didn’t reach all the goals that I wanted to this year but it’s also motivating for the upcoming season -- track and the next cross country season,” she said. “I can show up with a chip on my shoulder and have some things that I really want to accomplish.”