MAPLE PARK – Over the past four years, Kaneland's Matt Richtman has become a fixture in Illinois cross country: from dominating on the course to showing the tenets of leadership, sportsmanship and humility off it.
Richtman excelled to the highest peaks of Illinois cross country, eventually winning the Class 2A championship as a senior, and was named the 2017 DeKalb Daily Chronicle Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
In 2014, Richtman came into a Kaneland program that already had strong runners like Austin Kintz, Andrew Lesak, Brandon Park and Sean Spaetzel. Coach Chad Clarey said that Richtman sought out the top runners and was eager to train with them in order to push himself.
“Early on, Matt’s drive was to find his weaknesses and make himself better,” Clarey said. “The two of them [Kintz and Richtman] had the luxury of going out and training together. … Coming into his junior year after Kintz had graduated is when Daniel [Occhipinti] came into the fold. I think he tried to lead and show Daniel what he could do. … [Richtman] had been eager to train side-by-side with someone like he did when he was a freshman and a sophomore.”
Aside from his signature long, shaggy hairdo, Richtman has another ritual that makes him unique in the world of cross country. After Richtman crosses the finish line, he stands in the corral, and congratulates the runners as they finish their race, even if they are from competing schools.
“Really, I started it because I was waiting around for my team,” Richtman said. “Everyone else was coming in as well. I thought it was kind of cool that even though we are competing against each other that we are still friends. We compete just as much against our own teammates as we do against other teams. We’re all kind of in this together. We’re pushing each other to do better.”
Clarey said that Richtman's attitude and positive outlook rubs off on everyone he comes in contact with. It's no wonder that some of his fiercest competition eventually became his close friends. Sycamore's Stephen Poorten and Sterling's Jacob Gebhardt, along with Richtman, represented Illinois at the Mid-East Cross Country Race, a meet that was held in Ohio that showcased runners from all over the region.
The three runners even shared a hotel room together. Richtman said that it was one of the highlights of his career so far.
“[Poorten and Gebhardt] really impacted the way I ran in high school,” Richtman said. “That also reflects how their careers turned out as well. … Wearing the same uniform as them was really cool.”
As Richtman looks forward to track season, his future looks clear. He will attend Bradley and compete on its cross country team.
“Coming into high school, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into,” Richtman said. “He made it a very positive experience for every runner on our team. ... I have to thank him for everything he has done for us. … I’ve learned more from him in all the races I ran for him than I ever thought was possible.”
Perhaps the best testament to Richtman’s altruism is a moment which Clarey said really moved him. After taking fourth place in the state in 2016, Richtman gifted his fourth-place medal to Clarey at the team’s awards night. In a letter written to Clarey, Richtman said that Clarey was as deserving of the medal as anyone because of everything he did to make him a better runner and person.
Richtman also said not to worry, because he had his eye on a medal of a different color. Richtman went on to win a silver medal the next spring in track, which Clarey also coaches, in the 3,200-meter race. Richtman also won a seventh place medal in the 1,600, as well as help the Knights take home a third place trophy as a team in the 2017 Class 2A Boys Track and Field Championships.
“You think to yourself, was that it? Was that the medal of a different color?” Clarey said. “For him to get the gold medal performance that he always hoped for in the final race of his high school career with our program was very, very special.”
Boys cross country
POY – Matt Richtman, sr., Kaneland
Stephen Poorten, sr., Sycamore – Poorten posted a time of 14 mintes, 56 seconds at the state meet this year to take seventh. That also was a school record for fastest time at a state meet. Poorten was the team MVP each of the past three seasons, and was the 2015 Daily Chronicle Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. He helped the Spartans take third in the 2A state meet as a team this year.
Jake Carani, sr., Sycamore – Carani was the pace-setter for the Sycamore pack runners this year, consistently netting the second-best time for the Spartans. His best time was his 15:31 at the state meet, in which he took 38th.
Aaron Trier, soph., Sycamore – Trier's best time came at state, and by a wide margin – his 15:28 placed him ahead of Carani for one of the only times. He was 31st at state – quite the sure from the Northern Illinois Big 12 meet, in which he took 16th.
Aidan Donohue, soph., DeKalb – He had a top time of 15:39 this year, and he was the Barbs' top finisher at the Class 3A Waubonsie Valley Sectional.
Jacob Trapp, sr., DeKalb – Voted the team's most valuable runner, the senior had a top time of 15:31 and was all-conference and all-regional.
Ben Allen, sr., DeKalb – Allen was consistent all year with five races under 16 minutes. He was fifth in the conference and posted a top time of 15:53.
Daniel Occhipinti, soph., Kaneland – He averaged just over 16:10 this year, and his best time came at the Class 2A Kaneland Sectional, posting a 15:47. He was sixth in the Northern Illinois Big 12 meet and earned his first trip to the state tournament.
Honorable mention – Riley Marks, jr., DeKalb; Manny Yepiz, soph., DeKalb; Juan Castro, soph., DeKalb; Riley Melton, sr., Sycamore; Lucas McKay, jr., Sycamore; David Lerohl, jr., Sycamore; Paul Ruetten, soph., Sycamore; Jack Cambier, fresh., Sycamore; Ryan Wade, soph., Genoa-Kingston; Brennan Peters, jr., Genoa-Kingston; Sam Webster, sr., Kaneland
• Capsules compiled by Eddie Carifio, firstname.lastname@example.org