BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington High School cross country coach John Szabo indicated last Friday that No. 1-state ranked Chatham Glenwood might be out of reach for his No. 2-ranked boys.
Then on Saturday, the Purple Raiders, led by individual champion Nick Doud, finished second in their 42-team division at the 73rd annual Peoria Invitational, one point behind Glenwood.
“Anything that they do would not surprise me,” Szabo said afterward. "They are that good and they are great kids. It's been a lot of fun and an honor to be able to work with them."
The preseason outlook was bright as six men returned from last year's school-record seventh-place state team compared to Glenwood’s five returnees from a fifth-place squad.
“They put three in the top five on Saturday, so that’s tough to beat,” Szabo said, “but their fifth (man) is a little farther back from our fifth.”
The exciting thing for BHS is that Saturday’s fifth man, 60th-placer Roger Mendiola, is known for saving his best for last, which means the Nov. 3 state meet at Peoria could turn into something special for the Raiders.
“I think he’s only going to continue to get better,” said Szabo, noting Mendiola, whose Detweiller best is 15 minutes, 50 seconds, was slowed by an early-season illness. Plus, he couldn’t train with teammates over the summer due to his job.
Add the times of the five BHS scorers at Detweiller Park’s 3-mile course on Saturday — Doud’s 14:47, Bradyn Olmstead’s 15:19, Evan Turnbull’s 15:23, Drew Gibson’s 15:45 and Mendiola’s 16:08 — and you get 78:22, which is the best five-man time in school history.
Even if Mendiola had faltered, sixth man Quinn Olson was just two tenths of a second behind while seventh man Bryce Reed clocked 16:30.
“Hopefully our pack from one to five can offset those top three that (Glenwood) has,” said Szabo, who believes team depth relieves stress.
“When you’ve got Nick up front, you’re going to start out with a low number, and to have five guys who are all very good right behind him, I think it takes the pressure off of everybody.
“This group is always very loose. They don’t get too nervous about anything. They just have a lot of fun together.”
Doud’s 14:47 is the fastest by a Raider since Clint Kaeb ran 14:53 in 1993. Only Brian Stephens’ 14:39 from 1981 ranks ahead of Doud in BHS history.
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“Winning Saturday was definitely something that I did not expect," Doud said. "The goal was to finish top five. When I took the lead at 2¼ miles, I realized, ‘oh man, I can do this.’ It was a little unbelievable for me.”
Smart pacing helped.
“He was about 15 meters behind at the mile mark and then, at the 2¼ mark, he took off and ended up winning by 18 seconds,” Szabo said.
Doud is part of a running family. His older brother, Jack, was a teammate for two years and their brother, Sam, finished 23rd in the 2013 state meet.
“(Jack) definitely pushed me to be a lot better,” Nick Doud said. “I don’t think there is anybody I have seen work harder than Sam when it came to running. That was sort of an inspiration to me.”
Doud notes it usually takes 14:30 or better to win the state title. He rates Mahomet-Seymour’s Mathias Powell and Metamora’s Adam Gilbreath-Glaub as top contenders.
“Having a great team behind me, it pushes me to not only do better for my team, but also for myself," he said.
Olmstead says the team title is within reach.
“We’re definitely right there," he said. "We have really good team chemistry and we really feed off each other’s energy. We know when to push each other during workouts and when to boost each other up.”
Few cross country teams get a bigger boost from tennis than BHS does from Turnbull, a state tennis tournament qualifier and the son of former BHS tennis star Mitch Turnbull.
“He’s got very good form,” Szabo said. “I wish we could get him for track, too. I definitely think he could be a sub-2:00 800 runner and would be a very good 1,600 runner.”
For the coach who sees possibilities others might miss, that would be no surprise.