By Tim Cronin
WESTERN SPRINGS – The familiar faces were back in the Sandburg lineup in the Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional.
The Giblins: Will and Ben.
Eagles coach John O’Malley’s move to rest his regular seven starters at regionals paid off with a sectional title, the third for the Eagles in the last six years and first since 2015.
Will Giblin finished second behind Bolingbrook’s Tyler Cushing in 15:47.75, and two hundredths of a second ahead of Ben on a muddy path at Lyons Township’s South Campus that contributed to more than one runner losing a shoe. The meet was relocated to Lyons because of flooding at Katherine Legge Park in Hinsdale.
With Ismail Tineh (15th, 16:41.64), Sam Rodriguez (19th, 16:44.20) and Griffin Lehnhardt (24th, 16:53.49) rounding out Sandburg’s top five, qualifying for the IHSA Championship at Detweiller Park in Peoria was never in question.
Capturing the sectional, however, was not a certainty. Perhaps the move from Hinsdale helped a bit, as the Eagles are familiar with the usually-fast path at Lyons from their annual appearance in the Lions’ home meet.
The several inches of snow that fell Thursday and melted Friday made for a muddy track. It would have been rated “yielding” if the Breeders’ Cup was held on it. In the worst places, a runner’s feet wouldn’t plant firmly. That made for careful running in spots and slowed times considerably.
But the Eagles handled it best of all as a group.
“We were making effort and going nowhere,” Ben Giblin said. “You just had to tough it out. Usually it’s not this muddy, no matter what.”
Will Giblin agreed.
“Competing makes it a lot easier,” Will said. “We had Cushing and (Morton’s) Guillermo Ibarra, so having them around helped. And we had our first big meet of the season here at Lyons, so that definitely helped.”
Cushing won the individual race in 15:39.26. His placing didn’t count in the team results, giving Sandburg 61 points to runner-up Hinsdale Central’s 69.
Returning to the IHSA championship means an opportunity to make up for last year, when the Eagles finished 16th with Will Giblin leading the way.
“We’re really hoping to go out there and just dominate people,” Will said. “We’re going to go out there and compete and see how well we do. Everyone wants it, and we’re going to do whatever we can to get it.”
O’Malley didn’t think sectionals was a great day, but it was good enough.
“Conditions kind of widened our gap (from first to seventh runner),” O’Malley said. “It blows up our splits. The gap between runners was the largest it’s been all season.
“We’ll be better back on a track like Detweiller.”
Sandburg won the 3A title in 2015 and was second in 2014, the other two times in the last dozen years they’ve won a sectional title.
O’Malley thought the move of running his second seven in the Shorewood Regional at Hammes Park paid off with a well-trained first team. The Eagles still placed first at the regional.
“Sometimes you come into the sectional a little rusty because of it, but we’ll be better off next week,” O’Malley said. “You do it if you know the team and you know the competition.”
Marist’s Tommy Leonard, who won the regional at Midlothian Meadows the week before, took fifth in 16:10.48, about a quarter-second behind Ibarra, trying to find the dry line on the first lap of the circuit and going for it thereafter.
Leonard compared the mucky surface to the lakefront run at Loyola University early in the season, and thus knew what to expect.
“Obviously, no one likes running in the mud, but I used that to make me confident, that I’ve done that before,” Leonard said. “It was hard. The first time around, I tried to stay on the (dry) left. It was a bit longer but probably a lot safer.
“It worked better. I wasn’t sliding around as much, but at the end, that last turn, I had to suck it up and go through it.”
His time was 1:16 slower than his winning regional time on a dry path.
Leonard used the regular season as training for the most important time of the year: The four-week conference-regional-sectional-final run. It appears to be paying off.
“I’ve kind of trained through the meets so my results haven’t been great so far,” Leonard said. “Now I’m really excited and looking forward to peaking.”
Shepard’s Evan Jamrozy took the fourth individual spot available to non-qualifying teams with a run of 16:15.08, good for sixth overall. Oak Lawn’s Jadon Pirkl snagged the sixth of the coveted tickets in 16:38.83, finishing 13th.
Shepard finished eighth as a team with 234 points, Marist 11th (316), Stagg 14th (387), and Oak Lawn 15th (402).