Chicago Christian High School cross country runners write the acronym on their hands before races. It stands for “Spiritual, Passion, Encouragement, Commitment, Optimism.”
“(SPECO) is just a reminder of how we prioritize stuff,” junior Grace Mullin said.
So far this season, it’s been an effective motivator. The Knights are in the middle of the most successful season in years, having won both a Metro Suburban Conference and regional championships in October.
A group of first-year runners from Homewood and Flossmoor have played important roles in the Knights’ big season.
Mullin, of Flossmoor, transferred to Chicago Christian from Homewood-Flossmoor High School. Freshman Mia Caporale, from Homewood, has been a big contributor as a ninth grader. Flossmoor resident and senior Lydia Derks came out for the team for the first time this season.
“I’ve known (the seniors) for the four years that I’ve been at Chicago Christian. They try to be friendly with everyone and help encourage them throughout the season,” Derks said.
On Oct. 15, Chicago Christian won the conference meet. The Knights tied St. Francis on points and the decision came down to each team’s sixth runner. Senior Katie Steinhagen’s time of 20 minutes, 50.7 seconds was enough to seal the Chicago Christian victory.
“We knew it could be accomplished. It would just take all of us,” Caporale said. “Even after the race, we were doubting that we’d won. We didn’t have a high expectation to win. It was a really big deal. We were shocked and everyone was so hyped about it.”
The race wasn’t without issue, though. The course at Elmwood Park is a mile long and requires three laps. After the second lap, Knights freshman Kihra Moes dropped out.
In addition, Mullin wasn’t feeling well and vomited twice. She was also spiked on her ankle.
“I used the other girls to help me finish and get through that,” she said. “It was just a very nice conference win.”
The plan, as a team, was to get out fast. The Knights tend to run in a pack and knew they could group together toward the front.
“We were nervous (after Moes fell out). We just really knew it’s on all of us now to really move up,” Caporale said. “The second and third lap was fighting to make sure nobody would pass us.”
Teammates Kaylee O’Sullivan and Haley Van Til finished in a group with Mullin and Caporale, from ninth to 12th place, respectively. Chicago Christian senior Anna Enderle won the race, individually, at 18:30.7.
The top five each crossed the line in under 20 minutes.
“The fact that Mia and Haley were able to drop down under 20, that was a big jump forward for them,” coach Jake Christiansen said. “That makes this one of the deepest teams we’ve ever had. It was exactly what we needed going into the championship season.”
Chicago Christian doubled it’s success a week later, winning the Class 1A regional Oct. 22 at Kankakee Community College. It’s the first regional title for the school since 2016.
“There have been a couple times (this season) when we started looking at things and thinking ‘Is this team better than that one from 2016?’” Christiansen said. “This team is probably deeper. There’s a chance. We do have a chance to make history this year.”
Enderle took the individual ribbon in the regional, too. Mullin was third and Caporale 18th. All five Knights scorers were in the top 18 of a field of 57. They had 41 points as a team, 20 points better than second-place Herscher.
That success has Chicago Christian running with confidence as the postseason races get tougher.
“Coming out of conference and winning it was really motivational,” Mullin said. “I think all the girls on the team realize that even if you’re not the No. 1 runner, everyone matters. It motivates all the girls to do their best.”