The fallen leaves crunch beneath her spikes as she pounds on the uneven terrain. The cheers and ringing cowbells from the spectators are drowned out by her heavy breathing and the shouting voices in her head, telling her she’s almost there and helping her to power through the last hill before the finish line.
Although there were only 200 meters left between her and the end of the grueling race, junior Kate Mitchell manages to sprint past three competitors and cross the finish line with a time of 20 minutes and 11 seconds. The feeling that she got afterwards was because of all the hard work and training she’s put in this season.
“It’s a euphoric feeling, it’s like a weight has been lifted off your chest and you’re just like ‘I did it,’” said Mitchell. “In that last 200, you just give it everything you got, everything you worked for this season is for that moment.”
Mitchell placed 23rd out of 88 girls in the varsity three mile race. Mitchell, freshman Chloe Smith, and senior Kelly Meehleib were the three girls from Huntley that were honored with the All-Conference title.
About an hour later, senior Sofia Porrovecchio, along with her fellow Huntley runners, stretches out in her block at the start line. POP! The five minute gun goes off and the nerves start to kick in.
Her mind is racing with the usual pre-race jitters, but one question keeps popping up in her head, “What if I have an asthma attack?” Porrovecchio suffers from athletic-induced asthma attacks, which are partly triggered by cold weather and strenuous physical activities.
It was 45 degrees out, and the Hickory Nut Grove forest preserve in Cary is considered by most cross country veterans to be one of the most challenging courses to run on, but Porrevecchio is not willing to let her asthma get in the way. Not at her big conference race, not at her last high school cross country race.
“Around the first mile mark [of the race] my asthma started acting up and the cold weather made it really tough to breathe,” said Porrovecchio. “So I was trying to calm myself down and sing some motivational songs in my head.”
Porrevecchio ended up placing 72nd out of 108 girls with a time of 25 minutes and 46 seconds in the open three mile race. The Huntley team overall placed 5th out of 12 teams at the with 120 points at the Fox Valley Conference on Saturday.
The Crystal Lake schools won the conference, with Central earning a score of 58 and South earning a score of 94 points. Head coach Brad Gallaugher knows from experience that the Crystal Lake teams are the teams to look out for.
“The most competitive teams would be Crystal Lake South and Crystal Lake Central,” said Gallaugher. “Crystal Lake South was Conference champion last year.”
Despite the competition from the Crystal Lake teams, the Huntley girls were not as nervous as Gallaugher thought they would be. Even with a large group of freshman, the girls did not seem tense at all.
“In all of my fifteen years of coaching I’ve never felt a better pre-race vibe,” said Gallaugher. “Since Friday, the girls were relaxed and laughing. Most teams at this point get tense, but our girls were having fun.”
So was this the reason why Huntley placed higher this year? The team came in ninth in the last two years and Mitchell believes that it is also because of the young, new team.
“We have a really good group of new girls, and I’m happy to make a lot of new friends with the freshmen,” said Mitchell. “I’m super proud of how much progress we’ve made from a really young team who don’t really know what’s going on to one of the best in conference.”
The freshman have grown as individuals and as a team overall this season according to Gallaugher. The girls have learned to not just run for themselves, but to run for their teammates.
“The thing I like most about this new group of girls is the growth,” said Gallaugher. “In the beginning of the season, they were kind of cliquey but now everyone’s come together and they’re all getting along.”
Most of the runners on the team can agree that cross country is a sport where everybody is supportive of each other. Whether it be the coaches, parents, fellow teammates and even players from other teams, they’ll be there for you when you’re in need of some water after a physically taxing race.
“It’s a tough sport and most people know that when you cross that line, you’ve just done something that 90 percent of Americans can’t do,” said Mitchell. “There are people from other teams helping you throw up, stand up, give you water after a tough race.”
The support from their team and the other teams, creates a sense of community within the world of cross country. For Porrovecchio, her team is like a giant second family to her and once you’re in the family, you’ll always be a part of it even after high school.
“We’re basically like one big family and I’m really going to miss everyone next year,” said Porrovecchio. “Once you join the family, you’re like the gum on the bottom of our shoe; you’re not going anywhere.”