Nights like Loyola Academy’s “Flight Night” did not seem possible in 2020.
Many high school cross-country runners didn’t know whether they would have a season because of COVID-19, so when Loyola and New Trier runners competed under the lights Friday, Oct. 2, at Loyola’s Munz Campus it was a night to remember.
“This has been the most people we’ve had at a meet this year, and it’s amazing; the atmosphere is amazing,” New Trier junior Nick Falk said. “The lights, the course is really fun. I really couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
Loyola boys coach Dan Seeberg and girls coach Chrisjon Simon knew they needed to do something special this season once they received official word that there would be a season. Without a state meet this year, Loyola coaches wanted to create an atmosphere like the state meet.
The Munz campus was lit up with either stadium lights or lights along the running path, providing enough brightness for the runners to see but enough darkness where many runners said they felt like they were flying.
Loyola also played music through speakers along the course, which added another unique element to a meet like no other.
“We were happy after nine months of misery that we could do something exciting for them,” Seeberg said. “It was a lot of work to put together, but it came together beautifully. So that was awesome.”
The meet was also the most competition many runners faced this season. Many of the meets this season have been limited to a couple teams because of COVID-19 concerns, so for many of the runners, the night was a chance to trot against new competition.
Falk led the way for New Trier’s win in the boys division, winning the 3-mile race at 15 minutes, 14.1 seconds. He battled toward the end with Maine South’s Matt Coyle (15:15), who motivated him down the stretch.
“His change of gear there was awesome,” New Trier boys head coach Matt Sloan said of Falk. “That’s his first win of the season. He’s been close in a bunch of races, so that was pretty cool. He puts in all the work and deserves what he got today.”
Senior Andrew Flynn finished third overall for the Trevians at 15:24 while Charlie Siebert finished sixth at 15:30, helping New Trier score 32 points to win the inaugural race.
Loyola finished fourth behind New Trier, Sandburg and Hersey with 112 points. Junior Spencer Werner led the Ramblers with an eighth-place finish at 15:44, while fellow junior Aidan Simon finished 24th at 16:03.
The meet was an anomaly for Werner, one of the better runners in the state who finished 26th at the state meet in 2019. He never got into this race, but Seeberg is confident Werner rebound.
“I’ve never seen him have a tough day but today was the day,” Seeberg said. “The two kids who finished one, two, he beat twice this year and didn’t today. He’ll have to reassess and next week is another week.”
Loyola freshman Morgan Mackie led the way for the Ramblers girls team, finishing fifth overall at 18:06. Latin’s Ava Parekh won the race at 17:34. Rambler sophomores Ellie Grammas and Maeve Norman ran together, finishing 12th and 13th at 18:44 and 18:46.4, respectively.
The Ramblers finished third as a team with 75 points, finishing behind Prospect who won with 48 points. New Trier took sixth overall as a team, led by sophomore Claire Finnigan (18:47; 14th).
Simon has been proud of the way his team has competed this season. His group is one of the best he’s had in a while and nights like this only provided added motivation. With the recent news of an added posteason round, Simon mentioned the sectional is the team’s new state meet, and they are ready to take on teams like Prospect to reach their goal.
But on their way to achieving that, they have nights like “Flight Night” to keep them motivated, in a season they’re grateful to have.
“Honestly all the girls from the other team being excited makes us happy too,” Simon said. “They all were just flying, they said it was great going through the dark spots and the weather, I think this is one of the best experiences they had all season.
Michal is an award-winning sports journalist based in Chicago. He most recently served as the sports editor of The Glenview Lantern and Northbrook Tower and is a graduate of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He also contributes to The Varsity podcast.