During this pandemic and these uncertain times, everything is different than it has been in the past across the sports landscape. And everything has been especially challenging for athletes and coaches alike. So when anything turns out better than expected, it is certainly something to celebrate.
Last week, was definitely an occasion to celebrate for the Oak Lawn Community High School girls cross country team as it won the South Suburban Conference Red Championship at Reavis.
To make the week even greater, head coach Sue Szala earned some celebrating of her own as she was recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education with “Those Who Excel” distinction. It is a program designed to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to our state’s schools.
The Spartans turned in a fantastic team effort to bring home the conference crown. Sophomore Salsabeel Awwad led the way, finishing first with a time of 21:45. Senior Sadie Hartmann was second with a final time of 21:45.5, and at number four, fellow senior Veronika Stelter clocked in at 23:33. Other runners were Natalia Cetera (24:26), Lindsay Acerema (25:03), Mila Revell (25:19), and Amelia Trojak (26:10).
“This was obviously a very weird year,” Szala said. “Nothing was the same. Usually, every summer we get together to run, but this year the girls had to run on their own with the workouts that I gave them. They were all very dedicated and did the runs, so they could be ready for the season. I have been very impressed with their commitment and drive all year.”
It wasn’t easy to accomplish the feat of winning conference. The beginning of the season was delayed, all invitationals were cancelled, and the team only ran one dual meet a week. However, these Spartans simply put it all together at the right time.
“While this wasn’t ideal, we were happy that we got to run and compete,” Szala said. “The girls have been improving and dropping time all season. It has become evident that our girls enjoy running even more in the cooler temperatures.”
At the meet against Lemont, the temperatures were only in the 50s, and it was the best race the girls had all season. Every single runner set a personal-best time that day, and many of the girls had dropped minutes off their previous best time. At the conference meet, the Spartans showed true determination overcoming other obstacles. Awwad fell twice during the meet and still finished first overall, and Acerema lost her shoe while running and rose above it to finish fifth. It was a great display of determination at the conference meet.
“We were definitely lucky to have had the opportunity to run the course a week prior to the conference meet,” Szala said. “The girls knew they had to run hard, and they were well prepared. It is this type of dedication that I admire so much about this team. The girls ran their hearts out. I am so proud of them, and they deserve the title of conference champions.”