The Parker Junior High School cross country program posted some of the best results it has ever achieved earlier this month at the state meet in Normal.
The boys team placed third and the girls 15th in Class 3A. It’s the best finish ever for the boys and the second best posting for the girls team, which finished 13th a year ago.
“The eighth-graders are quite a group of kids. They will definitely be missed and I hope they choose to remain connected to our program,” coach Mark Eichenlaub said. “We certainly will never forget them.”
This is Eichenlaub’s 12th year at Parker and was his ninth coaching cross country. The coaching staff includes Tim Germeraad, Johnna Kerr and Mike Murphy.
Eichenlaub said his teams ran more miles than previous seasons and were propelled by experience.
Habtamu Eply (10 minutes, 23.9 seconds) and John Hockenberry (10 minutes, 47.8 seconds) finished fourth and seventh on the boys side. Naima Douglas posted a time of 11 minutes and 39.6 seconds, good for third individually.
“If I had been on a different team with different coaches, I probably wouldn't have done as well,” Hockenberry said. “Through the course of the entire season, I have learned how to lead. As one of the leaders of the team this year, I realized it was my responsibility to, alongside the coaches, help and encourage the team.”
The Falcons performed well all season. The girls won the South Suburban Junior High School Conference meet. The boys won the James Hart Invite, the Parkside Invite, the Troy Invite, and both the conference and sectional meets.
“I really liked this team a lot, probably even the best out of all three years, because of how encouraging and hard-working they all are and how everyone had goals they strived for, how funny and caring they were and how many fun moments as a team we all had,” Douglas said. “This season was so special because I knew it was my last year at Parker, and I wanted to do the best I could before the season ended and to show the new cross country kids how to lead.”
Epley was undefeated until the state meet. He found success in cross country but doesn’t plan to give up his first love.
“I want to run cross country when I get to high school and continue running in college. But I also want to fit soccer in to my schedule some how, even if it means not playing on a team,” he said. “Before I ran cross country I played soccer for about seven years, and that's what really started me in running.”
Douglas and Hockenberry will be running in high school next season, as well.
“Next year's runners can accomplish similar goals but would need to do it in a different way,” Eichenlaub said. “They may not have the front runners of this year but could achieve something similar through pack running.”