Bandukwala repeats state triumph

Central runner dazzles again as boys, girls cross country compete in final meet

By Ken Knutson

[email protected]

Last year as a junior, Hinsdale Central's Aden Bandukwala became the first individual state champion in the history of the school's cross country program.

Now he's the first to do it twice.

In a personal best three-mile time of 14:13.56 on Saturday, Bandukwala took first-place honors for the second straight year at the IHSA 3A state meet in Peoria.

Bandukwala said he felt confident going into the meet that he could accomplish the feat.

"It was definitely a goal," he said. "I thought I was ready. I knew how to win, and I was ready to go get it."

While Bandukwala's first title was something of a surprise, he admitted the stakes were higher as defending champ.

"There's a little more pressure. But at the same time (last year) kind of set the standard for me," he said.

Head boys cross country coach Jim Westphal marveled at Bandukwala's exploits.

"That's an extraordinary achievement," he said.

Like last year, the race featured some last-minute drama, Westphal said.

"He had the lead from about a mile out. With about 400 meters to go there were a couple kids that closed in on him," Westphal said. "Aden sensed it, looked over his shoulder, dug deep and must have said, 'I'm going for it.' It was pretty remarkable - a great finish for a state cross country meet."

Bandukwala said he could tell his lead had shrunk and just tried to finish strong.

"I made a move when he caught up to me and gave myself a cushion to be able to hold onto the lead,"

Central placed 22nd overall with 461 points. Downers Grove North ran away with the title with 79 points, followed by Plainfield North with 125 and Plainfield South with 134. Westphal said the team had aimed for a top-15 finish, but the result was commendable.

Seniors Maxwell Lowe (33rd at 14:54.25) and Evan Kurimay (128th at 15:35.78) were the next highest finishers for the Devils (see Page 34 for a full listing). Westphal praised the efforts of both.

"I thought they did a really nice job. We were really proud of how they competed on Saturday. Max finished just outside the All-State (top-25) mark," he said.

Lowe felt good about his race.

"Sub-15 (minutes) is pretty hard to get, so I was happy to get that time," he said, noting he shaved nearly 30 seconds off his previous best.

He said being a part of last year's state runner-up roster was special, as was the camaraderie that this year's team forged.

"The amount of accomplishments I've been a part of still amazes me to this day," Lowe said.

Kurimay was pleased with being able to run at state in his final season, shaving 15 seconds off his previous fastest time in the process.

"I think it was a good race considering where I started the year," said the relative newcomer to cross country.

Helping the team qualify for state was among his highlights.

"The whole season our competition was really good," he said. "That was a really good thing for us to qualify, and I was really happy to see that Aden was happy."

Reflecting on his freshman Red Devil campaign, Bandukwala said just the prospect of racing in the final meet was thrilling back then.

"I remember thinking that my goal was just to be on the state team my senior year," he said.

Bandukwala, who's also the reigning 1,600-meter state champ in track, is proud to be in the exclusive club of two-time state cross country titleholders, including runners who went on to national acclaim and even the Olympics.

"There are some notable names for sure," he said. "It's great putting my name there in school history."

Girl runners place 13th

Hinsdale Central's head girls cross country coach Mark McCabe knew his team would be a work in progress this season. But he didn't expect just how much progress they'd make, with an impressive 13th-place finish at Saturday's IHSA 3A state cross country meet in Peoria.

"Nobody had us ranked higher than 19th. We did as well as we possibly could have. I'm really proud of this group," McCabe said.

Sophomore Lily Hodneland paced the Red Devils with a time of 18:16.84 for 75th place. She was followed by seniors Pola Dygon (77th at 18:17.88), Camden Griffin (98th at 18:29.28) and Kennedy Boyd (126th at 18:44.67) (see Page 34 for a full listing).

York took top team honors with 77 points, followed by Downers Grove North with 92 and Barrington with 115.

Griffin said team members had to step up after losing a strong senior class to graduation.

"During the state race and many others, we packed together to try to push each other. I met my goals, which was ultimately just to improve my time and race competitively, which I did as my PR this year was over 50 seconds faster than the years past," she said.

Griffin fondly recalled bonding activities during the season, like summer training runs for fro-yo, the team sleepover and T-shirt making before state.

"I will miss being a Red Devil cross country runner," she said.

Boyd reflected proudly on the Devils' 2023 campaign.

"As a team, we really tried to work on putting all the pieces together throughout our regular season, and it really paid off during our sectional and state meets," she said. "We were able to really surprise a lot of people and work together more then we ever have."

Individually Boyd found her first Peoria race rewarding.

"My state meet experience was so much fun," she said. "I will forever miss cross country at Hinsdale Central."

Benet Academy

Two Benet Academy cross country runners from Hinsdale earned all-state honors in the IHSA 2A state meet on Saturday.

Junior Finn Richards placed fifth with a time of 14:44.75 and senior Charlie Phelan finished 20th, clocking in at 15:06.10. The pair helped Benet capture seventh place as a team.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean