Last October, after the Rolling Meadows High School boys cross country team placed 15th out of 18 teams at sectionals, the runners called a meeting.
At the time, most of the athletes were juniors who had long desired to qualify for the state competition. But only the top five teams in the sectional competition could advance.
Together, at that meeting, the boys decided to make some major changes. They increased the length of their runs, trained more consistently and incorporated exercises such as swimming and bicycling into their workouts. Outside of running, they ate healthier and focused on getting more sleep. The student-athletes said their motivation pushed them forward and helped them to work more cohesively as a team.
Under the coaching of Frank Schweda and Joel Dufkis, the Rolling Meadows boys cross country team this year qualified for the state competition – a first in the school’s 48-year history. Below are the students’ stories of grit, leadership and perseverance.
Stephen Barretto, sophomore
Stephen Barretto was a little intimidated when he first joined the boys cross country team last year.
The youngest runner on the varsity team, Stephen, then a freshman, wasn’t sure what to expect. But his older teammates quickly took him in and helped him become better. It was at the end of his freshman year when he learned how much qualifying for state meant to the upperclassmen. “They really wanted to improve and this was their final goal. I wanted to be a part of it and help them out.”
At the state meet, Barretto was the second-fastest Mustang, ending with a time of 15 minutes and 12 seconds. His teammates have high hopes for him in the years to come and believe he could be one of the fastest runners in Rolling Meadows history.
But for now, the 15-year-old is focused on building upon the team’s recent success. He believes the school will have a solid group of runners next year, and wants the group to continue training consistently and responsibly. He is grateful for everything the upperclassmen have done.
“I’ve come a long way. I’ve improved a lot and I don’t think I would have been able to do it without people who were willing to train me.”
Aidan Fruzyna, senior
When Aidan Fruzyna was a freshman on the cross country team, he saw his teammates work hard and excel. Their ethic and success inspired him to be better.
Three years later, Aidan was inspired once again by his teammates after they challenged themselves to qualify for the state meet. Aidan realized he needed to work harder – not for himself but for his team.
“I never really had on any expectations on me running. But knowing there are eight other guys who are counting on me to run well … it makes you nervous.”
Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Aidan began running in middle school. After joining the cross country team at Rolling Meadows, he ran with the faster runners to improve.
The 17-year-old says being a member of the cross country team has helped him in several ways, especially with time management. He juggles AP and honors classes and WildStang, the district’s robotics team, with running cross country and track.
Aidan, who plans on running club in college and will pursue mechanical engineering, is most proud of his work with the younger runners to encourage them to have a strong mindset when running. “I think I was able to show the freshmen you have to have expectations for yourself.”
Jacob Johnson-Wright, junior
One of Jacob Johnson-Wright’s motivations for running is his older brother. The other motivation is the sense of satisfaction he feels knowing he ran well to help his team.
Growing up, Jacob’s brother, Brendan Thielsen, ran and later joined the cross country and track teams at Rolling Meadows. Jacob followed in his footsteps and has always wanted to break his older brother’s track record.
The 17-year-old says he aims for his personal best in each race. “I’m not here racing my team. I’m just trying to do the best for them. At the end of the race, I’m not so concerned with how I finished. I’m more concerned with just knowing I worked hard and doing my best.”
Jacob says he felt this was the year for Rolling Meadows because each member of the cross country team was motivated. As a team and as individuals, they all knew what they were running for and were committed to making changes and following through.
His goal over the next year is to help the younger runners and ensure the team continues to improve. “I think one of the big things is we all enjoy each other’s presence.”
Eddie Lennon, senior
Eddie Lennon will tell you that he was “OK” when he started running cross country several years ago at South Middle School. Today, he’s the 11th fastest runner in the state.
The 17-year-old joined the Rolling Meadows boys cross country team as a freshman. At the time, he estimates he was the fourth or fifth fastest runner on the team.
With consistent training, Eddie improved, eventually becoming the fastest runner on the team of nine. As the 2018 season started, Eddie says he not only wanted the team to qualify for the state competition but also wanted to earn all-state honors, which recognizes the top 25 runners in the state meet. Not only did he accomplish that goal, Eddie ran a personal best – 14 minutes and 38 seconds.
For Eddie, building friendships and spending time with his teammates are what he enjoys most about running. “They’re all pretty cool. It’s fun running with my teammates.”
Eddie graduates in May and plans to continue running in college. He is most proud of his and the team’s improvement over the last four years and their road to state. “We all just improved our training this season. I think we just trained harder.”
Jack Martin, junior
At first, Jack Martin didn’t know if running was for him.
He thought of quitting shortly after he joined his middle school’s cross country team in sixth grade. But Jack stuck with it and over time saw improvement.
When he arrived at Rolling Meadows as a freshman, he challenged himself by trying to stick with the sophomore runners during practices and workouts. “Running with the older guys wasn’t easy. I’d get dropped. But toward the end of freshman year I got a lot better and by the time I was a sophomore, I was our third or fourth (fastest) runner.”
Jack says he enjoys running because of the friends he has made and the competitive aspect of the sport. With running, he is always striving to improve. At the state meet, which he describes as “the loudest meet I’ve ever been to,” Jack achieved his personal best running time – 15 minutes and 39 seconds.
The 16-year-old says he hopes he and the other runners can carry on the success of the team. Jack also plans to take the younger teammates under his wing, just as the seniors did for him. “They definitely helped me improve a ton.”
CJ Miller, senior
Running literally runs in CJ Miller’s family.
CJ’s parents are runners and his father still holds a conference record for the two-mile run when he was a student-athlete at Elk Grove High School. When his time with the Holmes Junior High cross country team ended, CJ felt he could run better. “It wasn’t the end that I imagined so I ended up going out for (cross country) in high school, too.”
And so he worked harder from the moment he joined the Rolling Meadows team. CJ’s focus on training and teamwork has helped him to achieve personal records every year and become a leader.
He recalls the meeting last school year after sectionals, when the team laid out expectations for state. “We needed to move up 10 places. It seemed almost impossible.” But with only one year left for CJ and the other juniors to meet their goal, the team stepped up to the challenge. Being a part of the state cross country meet was “a great moment.”
The 17-year-old, who is interested in studying math or statistics, says he plans to continue running in college. After high school graduation, he will continue to run with the Rolling Meadows team during summer training because he feels it is important.
Nate Orlyk, senior
Nate Orlyk believes determination and persistence helped the Rolling Meadows cross country team overcome obstacles and earn a spot at the state meet.
With their goal of qualifying for the state competition in mind, team members over the last year held one another accountable, motivated each other and changed their work ethic, he says. “We knew this was the moment. There was no other year.”
Nate joined South Middle School’s cross country team to spend time with his friends, and continued running in high school because it kept him busy. While he enjoys the competitive nature of the sport, his teammates’ passion for running has inspired him to achieve his personal best. “I’ve improved so much. I think it really taught me even if I’m not the best runner I can really work hard at something and it will serve me to really achieve my goals.”
The 17-year-old plans to study chemistry in college and run on a club team. He hopes the team’s work ethic carries on after he and his peers graduate in May.
“I think we’ve kind of changed this program. We’re showing the underclassmen you can work hard and do great things.”
Royce Piscitello, senior
In his eighth grade yearbook, Royce Piscitello wrote that his goal was to run at state with the Rolling Meadows High School cross country team.
Royce’s goal was formed, in part, after seeing his older brother, Colin, run with the Rolling Meadows cross country team. “I saw how badly my brother wanted to go to state and I realized our team had never done that before.”
Royce, who competed in his first 5K in third grade and ran throughout junior high, recalls sharing that goal with his teammates during their freshman year. Together, he and four of the top runners in their grade – a group they called ‘The Fab 5’ – made big plans for the team.
So when the team did not perform as they had hoped last year, Royce and other members of the varsity team decided to get serious about running in order to qualify for state – and followed through with expectations.
Royce, 17, plans to study supply chain management in college and continue running. He is proud that he and his teammates did not give up on their dream and pushed through obstacles.
“Just because there are rough patches doesn’t mean you won’t be able to make it to your ultimate goal.”
Matt Schoessling, senior
Matt Schoessling was sometimes nervous during races toward the end of each cross country season.
Though he’d start the year as one of the team’s faster runners, he says he tended to drift away from the top spots as the season finished. This year, he focused on trust, being consistent and putting in the extra effort, and found himself as one of the team’s top three runners throughout the season.
“I think it was a confidence thing that grew, and trusting in my teammates and my training.”
Influenced by his older brother, Matt tried out for the cross country team when he was in sixth grade. He enjoyed running and the friends he made from the team, so sticking with the sport in high school was an easy decision.
After the team met last year to discuss their state-qualifying goal, Matt worked with the other runners to come up with creative approaches to training. He was thrilled when the team reached the state competition, which he called “surreal.”
Matt, 18, plans to run competitively in college and study data science. He wants the team to qualify for state next year. “I think it’s really possible with (Stephen, Jacob and Jack). They’re really talented.”