Editorâ€™s noteâ€”To further commemorate the noteworthy accomplishments of the recently completed track season, in which Kanelandâ€™s team finished second in the state, the Elburn Herald is pairing a Knights track personality with a storied history, and a recent graduate. Their comparison of stories and memories will be a regular feature this summer. Eric Baron is the current head coach of Kaneland High School boys track, after succeeding Ralph Drendel, and a teacher at Kaneland Harter Middle School. Distance runner Edgar Valle is a State champion and will compete in Rock Island, Ill., for the Augustana Vikings in the 2010-2011 school year.
ELBURN HERALD (EH): Getting involved with cross-country and track, with this monster year, now that you’ve had four years to look back on it, was it a burning ambition to compete and succeed and stand up on the podium at the end of the year, or was it something that just fell into your lap where it’s “oh, i know a bunch of people and I’m friendly with them, let’s see how this goes?â€
EDGAR VALLE (EV): Track and field is something I’ve always loved doing. It’s a sport I think I have the most passion for. Being able to compete with my teammates and fight for what we really wanted and to succeed, and at the end of the year, being able to stand on that podium, it was an amazing feeling. That’s what I was fighting for.
EH: Eric, what about you as an athlete?
ERIC BARON (EB): My beginnings were here at Kaneland in Cheryl McCoy’s P.E. class. Track was a way of life here at Kaneland. There was no baseball at the time. You ran track in the spring. I was lucky enough to stand on that podium, and unlucky enough to miss being on that podium. It was a great learning experience, and every day I’m glad I made choices to lead me into the sport.
EH: People have said on occasion that this past season cemented the fact that Kaneland was a track school, and people can remember that again.
EB: Our numbers keep going up. We’ve fought for the three-class system. We thought we were a great track school, and going against the Neuqua Valleys and Yorks was really hard for our school. It deterred the big goal at the end of the season. Now that we’re competitive again, people are saying â€œhey, there’s some great track athletes at our school and great coaches with abilities that really lend themselves to big things.â€
EH: Being involved in track with the 800m and the 1600m, it seemed like you might have been one of these kids who had a stamp of versatility. You could take an event, and maybe not be totally experienced, but take an event and make it yours. To be an asset in three or four events and just sort of plug yourself in. You didn’t know what your ceiling would be, but you knew what your floor was.
EV: Yeah, that’s how I kind of figured things out my first couple of years. The first time I did the 1600, I was competing and doing really well and actually won once and I was like “wow, I surprised myself.” With Coach putting me in different events, I realized I could do a lot of these different things. I knew what I had to do and tried not to let the team down.
EH: When you finally had your roster that qualified for State, did you feel that versatility was a big key, or did you think that kids specializing in one or two events was more important?
EB: I really coach the guys to be versatile. As someone who pays attention to the sport, I look for ways we can do best as a team. If we run guys in the 400, then we run guys in the 400. If I see thereâ€™s a weaker event that we can capitalize on, then thatâ€™s the direction we try to go if theyâ€™re versatile.
This year, I trained the entire team to basically be 400 and 800 guys. I thought if we did that, then we could be very competitive, and it turned out real well. The guys that we had this year, I knew they had a lot of leg speed, which you need for the 400 and 800. But, versatility is a huge thing. You look at Edgar and Logan (Markuson) and Nick Sinon. I mean, these guys will do any event I put them in.
EH: Going against other athletes from the CCIW (College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin) next spring, have you heard or figured that college track is almost a different sport or even a profession?
EV: Iâ€™ve heard that college track is like a whole new start. You have to rebuild everything. Itâ€™s a lot more competitive. Run twice a day, multiple practices, schedule your time; and thereâ€™s school and everything. Itâ€™s a lot more difficult and very time-consuming, but I know the coaches at Augustana are really good guys.
EH: Plus, thereâ€™s going to be a familiar Kaneland touch with some former teammates on there. So, it wonâ€™t be too foreign of a setting.
EV: Yeah, thatâ€™ll be nice to go into.
EH: In what ways was this senior core of 2010 really special and uniquely qualified to get the team to State?
EV: Weâ€™ve noticed ever since our freshman year that our class was a really good class. One of our freshman invites, we had nine guys on the team, and were going with Geneva and Batavia and we thought we had a really good team. It was a really good group of guys.
EH: Eric had coached this 2010 group since they were freshmen.
EV: He kneeled down to us after that meet and said â€œYou guys are real good.â€ He was really excited for us and for what we could do over the next couple of years.
Us being seniors this past year, we demonstrated leadership qualities. We showed the younger kids what weâ€™d been through. We tried to teach them how to run well.
Us as seniors, we tried to do everything we could succeed, and we wanted it. We were all so competitive as well. Competing with each other at practices and everything pushed us farther and farther.
EB: I think one of the things with this groupâ€”I had a great group of friends in high school trackâ€”they left the competitiveness on the track and at practice. It never carried over to their personal lives. Edgar could run with Logan or Derek (Bus) or Matt (Reusche), and Iâ€™d kick them out at the end and theyâ€™d go out and have hamburgers or whatever. Their competitiveness as a team was channeled correctly. As much as Iâ€™d like to take a lot of credit for it, I think a lot of it was just their personality.
EH: Thereâ€™s still the coach-student dynamic, but in a way, was having that senior core of guys almost like having another set of coaches on the track?
EB: It was like having a set of coaches. These are guys that Iâ€™ll probably know for the rest of my life. You know, I look back at my coaches that Iâ€™ve had. Iâ€™ll be talking to my former coach later; heâ€™s up from Florida. Weâ€™ll go for a run; heâ€™s 65 years old. I think these guys are going to be like that and talk to me whenver they need to.
EH: (Mark) Claypool mentioned that he talks to his coach down in Florida on a regular basis. Regarding this past yearâ€™s team, what was it about this year, specifically, that made them unique compared to any other year?
EB: The end result was big. Before sectionals, I told them that no matter what we do, weâ€™ve already been a great success. I look at this group of people and tried to help them become great leaders out there. I look at Logan (Markuson), and what he did this season took great pressure off of me. We set standards, but we remembered itâ€™s still a sport, still a game. Itâ€™s supposed to be fun, and if weâ€™re not having fun, then Iâ€™m not doing a good job. We had a lot of fun as a team. Things fall into place when youâ€™re having fun.
EH: Asking Logan a couple weeks ago about trying to give a sense of what running the 1600m relay is likeâ€”toward the end of the meet, can mean a big difference in team placement. Can you take us through what your experience is like running that event?
EV: The 1600m relay is one of my all-time favorites. Itâ€™s like, to have three other guys that are so talented and work together so well and like to run together is amazing.
Everyone knows a lot of the time it comes down to that one race to make or break the meet. Thatâ€™s happened to us a few times. I know with the great group of guys that we have, we can pull it off. This happened a lot this year, where the race would be over by the second guy. A lot of pressure gets taken off. Iâ€™d say we really got our streak of competitiveness about mid-season. But, just thinking about running that 400, the adrenaline starts going. When you see those first guys go around and you know itâ€™s close. You just want to go after it and fight for that first place.
EH: Is it that big of an event where it can influence how the next week of practice goes or how the next meet goes? Or is it pretty much self-contained?
EV: Not really in the first half of the season, because we usually won. But the way the coaches set the practices up, they usually try to have us peak at a certain moment. If we feel we did really well, we feel awesome going into practice. Weâ€™re excited to talk about the next meet. Days and meets that we donâ€™t do so well, we feel a little sluggish but we come back and practice hard.
EH: It seems we have a winner for favorite event here, but Eric, what was your favorite event as a younger athlete, and do you feel your tastes evolving as a coach?
EB: Well, for me personally, it was always the 1600. Edgar reminds me of the way I ran in high school and college, in that I liked being with my teammates and liked to run with them. I loved running the 4×4. If I had to step in and run that relay, I would. Itâ€™s a very unique event, because anyone on your team can run it. You just have to go as hard as you can. Itâ€™s almost whoever has the most guts ends up winning it. You want to run that 4×4. What people might not understand about this team was that we ran three teams that could have qualified for State. They were that talented and that deep. Taylor Andrews didnâ€™t make our varsity 4×4, but (he was) probably a 51-second quarter-miler. It was fun. Running with your team is a different thing than running by yourself. Running the mile was always the highlight of the meet.
EH: Edgar, what aspect of your track talents improved the most over the four years?
EV: I think physical endurance. Pacing was up there, as well. I did the 800 a lot and 4×8, and you used to hate that race, but Iâ€™d still do it anyway. Then came my junior year, once I finally broke two minutes, and I kicked down one of the best runners Sycamoreâ€™s ever had. I was thinking, â€œOh my God, I could actually be good at this.â€