Grant Nykaza didn’t wait till he crossed the finish line at Detweiller Park to let his feelings be known Saturday morning.
“I celebrated early,” the Beecher senior said. “I’m like, ‘I’m enjoying this moment because this is my last ever moment I can enjoy.”
His last moment running IHSA cross country, anyway. Nykaza ended a string of near-misses at state by turning in a dominant effort in the Class 1A race. He pulled away in the last mile to win in 14 minutes, 22 seconds, 18 seconds faster than runner-up Jake Brown of Mt. Zion.
Nykaza, who was second, fourth and second the past three years and helped the Bobcats win the team championship in 2010, is the third state champ in Beecher history.
“I felt good,” he said. “I told myself all through the race, ‘I trained four years for this. Today’s my day, I’m not going to lose.’”
Nykaza and Brown made it a two-man race early on and Brown tried to make it a one-man race about two-thirds of the way through.
“He made a surge right before the two-mile (mark),” Nykaza said. “I stayed with him. He kind of dropped that pace, but that’s when I just kept that pace going.”
The win capped an injury-free year in which Nykaza was the acknowledged state-meet favorite from the start.
“Of course I was nervous,” he said. “It was my last state race. All the pressure’s been on. My name’s been out there. If I don’t win a state championship ... but I wasn’t going to lose it today.”
Beecher coach Adam Depew felt the same way going in.
“It feels really good for me, but it’s all Grant,” he said. “He doesn’t have a lot of people who can push him. So he pushes himself.”
Nykaza was one of two boys all-state runners from the Southland along with Illiana Christian junior Tony Wondaal, who took 13th in Class 2A at 14:50.
Wondaal, whose best previous time at Detweiller in three races was 15:23, was content to take it easy at the start.
“John Wold (of Glenbard South), the state champ, was in our sectional and he just went out like a rocket,” Wondaal said.
The Illiana runner’s game plan: “Mentally, slow down that first mile, stay out of trouble, stay on the outside and just move up because (Wold) brought the pack out so fast.”
Wondaal helped the Vikings finish sixth in the 25-team field with 202 points. “We had some young guys run unbelievably,” Wondaal said. “(Two) freshmen ran as fast as I did last year. It’s super encouraging.”
The future looks bright for Illiana, which had just one senior in its top seven. Next through the chute were sophomore Nick Fiene (38th, 15:19 and freshmen Colin DeYoung (49th, 15:22) and Nick Wondaal (50th, 15:23). Mount Carmel junior Dan O’Keefe was 63rd in 15:33.
In Class 3A, Sandburg (321) finished 11th and Lincoln-Way Central (523), with one senior in its top five, took 23rd.
Top local finishers in 3A were Marist’s Kyle Hauser (34th, 14:55), Sandburg’s Pat McMahon (38th, 14:58) and Chris Hogan (52nd, 15:06), Shepard’s Abel Hernandez (61st, 15:08), Lockport’s Will Giroux (72nd, 15:13), Sandburg’s Pat Letz (77th, 15:16), Lincoln-Way Central’s Chris Kaminski (79th, 15:17), Homewood-Flossmoor’s Matt Anyiwo (94th, 15:22) and Thornwood’s Kenneth Allen (122nd, 15:33).