Nick Falk is used to finishing ahead of the pack, and while his season is over, he’s done it again.
The New Trier High School senior earned the coveted title of Gatorade Illinois Boys Cross Country Player of the Year on Jan. 31.
The award comes after Falk set a school record (14 minutes, 14.11 seconds), while taking second place in the IHSA Class 2A state finals in November 2021.
Falk, a Duke University commit, is the first Trevian boys runner to win the award.
“It was awesome,” he said of learning about the award. “I had seen other Illinois runners in the past get it. It’s really cool. … Some really good runners had gotten it in the past. I’m really grateful to get the award.”
During his record-breaking senior season, Falk also picked up regional and conference championships prior to his state run.
But his season didn’t end there.
Falk continued to compete independently. He finished fourth in the Eastbay Midwest Regional Championships, a 5K race that he finished in 14:55. Falk called it the best race of his life.
“I had a pretty solid state meet, but I wanted to win,” he said. “I wasn’t devastated, but I wanted more and went on (to the midwest regional). Training wasn’t going great or anything going in, but it was by far the best cross country race of my life. … I had the fourth fastest time in Illinois history. It came out of nowhere.”
Falk’s performance placed him in the national championships on Dec. 11, when he finished 19th to cap the season.
While it was a successful season, it was not one without challenges. As Trevians coach Matt Sloan pointed out, Falk had a slow start to his senior season after recovering from lung problems.
Still, Sloan had little doubt.
“Coming out of 18 months of COVID protocols, in addition to a setback from a significant breathing issue, Nick displayed patience and perseverance to claw himself back into shape over the late summer and fall,” Sloan said in a Gatorade press release. “I knew, without question, that during the business end of the season, Nick would be ready to meet the challenge presented by the other top runners in the state.”
Gatorade’s Player of the Year series — which also honors student-athletes who compete in basketball, baseball, football, soccer and other sports — looks at more than just competitive results. According to the release, the award looks at character and academic successes.
The release notes Falk’s 4.40 GPA and charity work with the Run BeCAUSE program.
While Falk is the first boys cross country runner to win the Gatorade award, it was won by New Trier girls cross country runner Courtney Ackerman in 2013, as well as Trevians soccer players Emma Weaver (2020), Kelly Maday (2016), KayAnne Gummersall (2006) and Maddie Johnson (2004) and baseball player Charlie Tilson (2011).
With the award, Falk gets to choose an organization to receive a $1,000 grant and enters the competition for Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Player of the Year in February.