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Mooseheart senior Wal Khat runs in the final mile toward his victory in the IHSA Class 1A Lisle Sectional. Khat advanced to the state boys cross country meet with his victory.
Mooseheart senior Wal Khat won the IHSA Class 1A Lisle Sectional title and advanced to the state meet for the second consecutive year.
Lisle, IL, Nov. 2 – So far in front of the rest of the field that he couldn't even hear the footsteps of the second-placed runner, Mooseheart senior Wal Khat had to find other motivation as he competed in the IHSA Class 1A Lisle Sectional on Saturday.
The key was to keep focused, run the fastest time possible and to not let his mind wander. By the midpoint of the race, Khat was so far ahead that the only competition seemed to be himself - though that wasn't entirely true. Just in front of the Mooseheart senior was a golf cart which led the runners around the course. And in the same way a greyhound chases a rabbit, Khat pushed himself to "race" the golf cart.
"My coach told me to try to put that golf cart behind me," Khat said. "I know you can't catch up to the machine. But I did my best."
"I told him to treat the No. 1 runner as the No. 1 runner and get out ahead," Pope said. "And then when the golf cart comes, I told him to treat that as the No. 1 runner - and he did. Obviously you can never catch the golf cart, because it's their job to be in front of you. But it gives you something to focus on."
Khat ran 16:41 on Lisle's 3.1-mile course and won by 22 seconds over Aurora Christian freshman Tanner Chada, who also finished second to Khat a week ago at the Aurora Christian Regional. With his victory, Khat competes in the Class 1A State Meet on Saturday at Peoria’s Detweiler Park. The Boys Class 1A race is the second of six to be contested on the day and begins at 10 a.m. The meet will finish the senior's high school cross country career. A year ago, he finished 24th and became the first all-state cross country runner in the school's history.
"This is a tough one," Khat said. "I think I need to be training harder to get ready. I want to get a good place - just like the other people do. Everybody wants to be No. 1, but it's not always like that."
Comparing times from sectionals is difficult because each course is set differently, but the fastest in Saturday's sectionals was Oakwood sophomore Jon Davis, who ran 14:46 at Decatur St. Teresa. Davis finished 26th in 2013.
"He is going to have competition," Pope said. "He can't allow himself to get to the point where that anxiety hinders his performance. A certain level of it will help him. But you don't want to turn it into a fear. I think he'll handle it well if he sticks to what he's supposed to do."
Maintaining a fast pace was still difficult as there was never a point in the final mile when Khat was physically pushed by other runners. Chada finished 8 seconds ahead of Chicago Latin's Aiden Sarazen. Latin easily claimed the team title, 46-142 over Beecher.
But a second phenomenon took place during the later portions of the race - fans aggressively cheered for Khat. Invariably, the Mooseheart runner's name sounded like "Walcott" when it was yelled by watching spectators. This presaged the scene at the awards ceremony, where Khat was given a massive ovation and had his name chanted by fans from all competing teams.
"It's good with all the people cheering and showing that they care," Khat said. "It's really good for them to care about what you are doing."
Pope said Khat slowed somewhat toward the end, which was a worrisome development. Last year, he finished third in the Lisle Sectional and ran 16:54. That time was 13 seconds slower than what he ran on Saturday, but Pope said the potential was there to run a more evenly-paced race.
"If he slows up at state the way he did today, he's going to have people around him," Pope said.
Other factors contributing to Khat's time might have been the cold weather and the soft nature of the ground after two days of rain. Khat, from South Sudan, admits he enjoys running in warmer weather that did not feature in the sectional and is not forecast for the state meet weekend.
"I don't know if it was because of the cold," Khat said. "This year, I think I got more used to the weather. I ran much better this year in the cold. But still, I felt it."