Saint Patrick Cross Country Runners Grateful for Season


Aidan Lewis, News Editor

The 2020 cross country season was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Throughout the summer, members of the Saint Patrick High School cross country team were left wondering if there would be a fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During my summer training, I was constantly checking for updates regarding the state of the cross country season. 

On July 29, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) finally announced that four fall sports would continue as planned, with cross country being one of them. I was ecstatic to have a senior cross country season, but I knew that a COVID outbreak in Illinois could cause the season to be postponed or cancelled altogether.

In order to provide for the safety of every Illinois student-athlete, there were many restrictions, starting with summer training. The pandemic also caused us not to be able to train together as a team during the summer. “We couldn’t have true summer training because of the pandemic,” said Saint Patrick cross country coach Rob Iliff. “Almost everyone ran on their own during the summer and we weren’t really sure what was going to happen in the fall.” 

Restrictions for the cross country season included social distancing guidelines and race capacity limits. Race capacity meant that the total number of people at a race location, including student-athletes, coaches, and race officials, could not exceed 50 individuals. Unfortunately, this meant that large meets, such as the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria and the IHSA State Meet, would not take place. In my junior season, our overnight trip to Peoria was very beneficial to the team, as we got to know each other and bonded throughout our time there.

Even though we could not participate in large meets or go on an overnight trip, my teammates and I realized that this would be the last year we would all be together and decided to make the most of what this season had to offer. “I think it (COVID) brought us together more,” said Saint Patrick senior Juan Celio. “As it’s my senior season, you realize it’s the last time you will meet. You become more grateful for every moment you spent with the team.” 

“More specifically, the seniors bonded together, kept each other safe, and embraced the challenges and struggles that 2020 presented them,” Coach Iliff said. This does not mean the season was without its challenges. “Unfortunately, some of our runners did not have a positive experience during the pandemic,” Coach Iliff explained. “These individuals were unable to participate due to going fully remote for the first semester or decided to quit running all together. This was a very tough thing to deal with as a coach.”

In addition, the pandemic meant we had fewer meets this season than last year. However, this strengthened our team bond, as we constantly competed against one another in practice and strove to beat each other. “It gave us a chance to really work on ourselves individually and as a team by making us have less meets,” said sophomore Liam MacLellan, Saint Patrick’s top runner. 

Even though there was not a state championship meet, Saint Patrick had many accomplishments this season, both individually and as a team. Fourteen out of fifteen Shamrocks succeeded in running personal records (PR’s), Saint Patrick finished in our best spot at the East Suburban Catholic Conference (ESCC) Cross Country Championships in over a decade, and the team qualified for the IHSA 2A Latin Sectional meet. “I think it was a great season,” Celio said. “The Saint Patrick cross country team improved. Everyone was able to get a personal record.”

“Overall, this is the fastest group of runners I’ve ever coached,” explained Coach Iliff. “They finished 5th in the conference and we had one varsity ESCC All-Conference runner (MacLellan).” Liam was also the only Shamrock who qualified for the Shazam State Championships, which was the replacement for the IHSA State Meet. 

The pandemic helped a majority of the cross country team learn new lessons that they will apply to future cross country seasons. “When you’re in a race the only thing that matters is you and the clock. It doesn’t matter how many people are in front or behind you as long as you push for better time,” MacLellan said. 

“As a coach, I look for ways to learn and grow,” said Coach Iliff. “Not just this season, but during my four years at Saint Patrick, I have learned that it is important to instill a strong philosophy in the team so that they can understand why we do everything that we do. Everything has a purpose.” 

Though this season wasn’t what anyone expected it to be, it was one of the most enjoyable seasons of my high school career. The obstacles the team and I encountered from the COVID-19 pandemic only strengthened our team bond and made this season one I will remember for a long time. No matter the challenges we faced, we continued to push forward and just run.