Senior Scott Milling and his York boys cross country teammates made it a point to remember their 2011 Class 3A state meet.
The Dukes had finished fourth, resulting in their first season without a top-three team trophy since 2001.
“Basically 10 to 15 minutes after last year’s race ended, our goal was to win state this year,” Milling said.
As Milling left his final Class 3A state meet awards ceremony Saturday, he was wearing a white tuxedo, holding a white cane and reflecting on his latest and best state memory.
Trailing just a few feet behind him was the Dukes’ unprecedented 28th state team championship trophy after they captured the Class 3A title at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.
All 28 state titles have come since legendary Joe Newton took over as head coach in 1960.
“At York, you’re state champions your senior year. That’s what you’re remembered for, and this just feels awesome,” said Milling, also a member of the 2010 state title lineup. “Sophomore year, it felt awesome (to win), but this is 100 times better. This is what I’ve worked for since I became a freshman at York, and I did it so I’m happy.”
Milling (6th, 14:21 for 3.0 miles), York’s No. 1 state finisher for the second year in a row, junior Kyle Mattes (23rd, 14:47) and senior Alex Mimlitz (24th, 14:48) earned individual all-state honors for placing among the top 25. Junior Alex Bashqawi (27th, 14:50) was two places and two seconds from the final all-state spot, followed by seniors Chris May (49th, 15:05) and Jack Libert (59th, 15:08) and sophomore Matt Plowman (146th, 15:41). Other members of the state roster were senior Zach Herrera, juniors Nathan Mroz and Connor York, sophomore Nathan Dale and freshman Jon May.
York (82 points) finished fairly comfortably ahead of O’Fallon (117), which was second for the second year in a row. West Suburban Conference Silver Division rival Lyons Township (125) was third.
With this championship, Newton achieved a longtime personal goal of finally surpassing the New York Yankees and their total of 27 World Series championships.
“We got the 28th, and the Yankees have only got 27 so it’s a very, very memorable moment,” Newton said with a big smile. “We passed the test, and I’m a happy guy, very happy guy. The pressure was on because we got no trophy at all last year, and then we were running so well and the pressure got bigger and bigger and now today’s the day.
“Last year was like a zero. We didn’t get to wear the tuxes, we didn’t place. It was awful and the pressure was mounting and mounting, but we held up. Now we’re at the top of the mountain looking down again. The kids deserve it. They’re good guys. They’ve worked so hard this year because they didn’t want last year to happen again and it didn’t.”
Starting with their first state title in 1962, the Dukes have collected 44 trophies (28 first, 12 second, 4 third) and have never gone consecutive years without earning a trophy. Prior to Newton’s arrival, York also placed third in 1948.
At the 2011 state meet, Milling was an all-state 15th (14:45), but there was little for him to celebrate. The traditional tuxedoes that accompany earning a team state trophy remained packed away.
The Dukes’ 151 points were just seven behind third-place Neuqua Valley. Considering that the Dukes used a young lineup with five underclassmen, four of whom competed Saturday, that post-race feeling especially resonated throughout the offseason and preseason training.
Milling (15th), Mattes (30th), Libert (59th) and May (80th) were York’s No. 1-3-4-5 finishers in that race.
“The whole year up to this point after that day has been about trying to win this title, and it feels so good now that it’s over,” Mattes said. “Last year, we didn’t have any senior leadership, and that was a huge part of us doing so poorly in state. This year, we had four really good seniors in the top seven and just very confident. They helped us out and showed us what to do.”
The return of Mimlitz typified the spirit of the seniors. Early in his sophomore cross country season, Mimlitz lost his shoe during a race but kept going. The consequence was the beginning of a strained ligament down his leg that would lead to further issues with his hip flexor and gluteal muscles.
Mimlitz was in slight discomfort but continued competing all the way through state. Mimlitz (41st) and Milling (55th) were the Dukes’ No. 2 and 4 finishers at the 2010 state meet to help York pull out the state title 162-164 over Lake Zurich.
By track season, Mimlitz was too injured to compete. He then remained sidelined throughout his junior cross country and track seasons.
“That was the worst part of being hurt. It was when I was sitting on the sideline watching my team lose and knowing I could help them,” Mimlitz said.
“If I was going to try and make a list of everyone who helped me, it would be impossible. There were just so many people who supported and helped me out, whether it was from the physical side of things or just the encouraging, psychological side.”
Mimlitz finally returned to consistent training at the start of the summer and has continued looking forward.
His performance Saturday secured a team title and helped York gain three individual all-staters in one race since the state title team of 2006, the final year of just two classes, with Tom Achtien (8th), Mike Fry (9th) and Steve Sulkin (15th).
“I couldn’t be any happier, and it feels so much more special that I had it taken away from me. I can’t take running for granted ever now,” Mimlitz said.
“I never expected to be where I was at the state meet this year. I never expected to help the team on the level that I did. It made the experience so much more because I exceeded every expectation I had for myself, and I think expectations that a lot of people had for me. Also I was able to take more of a leadership position so I was more closely related with this team because it was my senior year and it was more important to win. Sophomore year, we were kind of helping that senior class, but this year it was our year to win and we got it done.”
The Dukes were ranked No. 1 throughout the season and went undefeated other than a second-place finish to St. Xavier (Louisville, Ky.) at the Palatine Invite Sept. 22.
The lineup was so strong Milling had no concerns from a team standpoint being aggressive and pushing for a top-five or even top-three finish Saturday. He was among the leaders at the mile in 4:39 before dropping back just after two miles.
“Going in, we were nervous like any team would be, but we were confident. We knew if we ran the way we did, we’d win,” Milling said. “People can say that’s cockiness, but in the end I think that’s just quiet confidence. It wasn’t like we were going around boasting that we thought we were going to win. We just knew if we did what we’ve been doing in workouts, time trials, we’d be OK.”
Saint Ignatius College Prep senior Jack Keelan (14:05) won the state title by nine seconds over Prospect senior Quentin Shaffer (14:14). O’Fallon junior Patrick Perrier and senior Alex Riba were third and fourth in 14:15 with Lake Forest senior Billy Bund fifth (14:17). Milling was 12 seconds ahead of seventh-place McHenry sophomore Jesse Reiser (14:33).
Riba (2nd, 14:27) was the only non-senior to finish among the top 14 in last year’s state meet. Milling, who beat his 2011 time by 24 seconds, would have finished second in last year’s race with Saturday’s 14:21, just four seconds behind state champion Leland Later of New Trier.
“I’m fine with things. The goal was to win state as a team, and I ran 14:21. I thought that would at least get top three, but this year was just very fast. I’m very happy with my time,” Milling said.
“I think the best part (of the race) was just finishing and then looking, seeing my teammates finish, going to my coach and we basically knew that we won. The moment we found out we won, when I was on the bus, getting my tux on, that’s the greatest feeling ever.”
Mattes cut 18 seconds off his 2011 state effort after last year’s 15:05 missed all-state honors by five places and four seconds.
“Ideally, I could have finished higher, but I’m excited to be all-state, especially being right by some of my teammates, Alex Mimlitz and Alex Bashqawi, so that was really cool. And Scott did really well so that’s very cool,” Mattes said.
“We knew last year that coming into (this season) we were going to be very good, but still finishing fourth, especially for the York tradition, is just so disappointing. Winning state this year just felt so good.”
With his back-to-back all-state performances, Milling became the Dukes’ 29th runner to earn all-state honors more than once. Mimlitz pulled off his all-state medal by holding off the two finishers behind him by one second.
May and Libert also emerged as solid seniors after first joining the program as sophomores. May and Libert improved upon their 2011 state times by 23 and 12 seconds, respectively.
Now it’s up to another York senior class to set the tone for more team success—and more memories.
“I’m so relieved. It’s like a weight off my shoulders and to see the kids so joyous and happy, it’s a forever moment for them, too,” Newton said.
“I think that’s the best part for me, to see (Newton) happy because he does so much for us,” Milling said. “When we got fourth, he took it so hard on himself. That was almost the worst part about it. He’s 83, 84 years old, and he’s acting like a 20-year-old, like he’s one of us.”