Boys Cross Country: After a record relay run in track, Dan Watcke and No. 1 Hinsdale Central aiming for a top finish this fall

In May, Hinsdale Central senior Dan Watcke and teammates had three second-place Class 3A finishes at the boys track and field state meet by a combined 3.04 seconds.

Three weeks later, their 4x800-meter relay was faster than anyone in Illinois high school history.

Watcke, senior Michael Skora, junior Aden Bandukwala and recent graduate Colby Revord won the Nike Outdoor Nationals on June 18 in Eugene, Oregon, in 7:32.14. The No. 7 fastest U.S. high school time ever broke the previous Illinois state record of 7:34.10 by York runners in 2000. They also again broke the school record that before their achievements last season had been 7:48.3 from 1982.

“With what happened at state, I think we all felt we had something to prove,” said Watcke, who anchored in 1:50.79. “We were super relaxed. We were like, ‘Let’s just go out and win.’ We knew we could run the state record, but we weren’t really thinking about it.”

The Red Devils continue striving for similar results in cross country as the 3A preseason No. 1 team by both ILXCTF and MileSplitIL. All-stater Watcke, Bandukwala, Skora and senior Jesse Gamboa return from last season’s state lineup that finished second in 3A (175 points) to Sandburg (130) and just ahead of Downers Grove North (139).

“Obviously we all want to win state as a team, but I think if you’re in Illinois and you trophy (top 3) or are very close, you’ve had a very good season. We want to put ourselves in the best possible position to do that,” Watcke said.

Last season, Watcke was a top-25 all-stater (14th, 14:46.16 for 3.0 miles), but his goal was at least top 10. No. 2 team finisher Bandukwala (30th) was 4.97 seconds from 25th. Gamboa (131st) and Skora (148th) were the Nos. 6-7 Red Devils finishers.

“I’m still disappointed in my race but doing so well as a team kind of softened the blow,” Watcke said. “I was running super well going into that but I had been sick for two weeks. I was pretty tired leading into it.”

Watcke’s first significant breakthrough came sophomore year, when he won 3A state track titles in the 800 (1:54.24) and the 1,600 relay (anchoring in 3:19.48) – events where in May he and the Red Devils were second by .59 (1:53.23) and .57 (3:20.38), respectively.

Regardless of the results, Watcke always strives to be better.

“He is a race day competitor. That’s simply said. Everyone gets nervous but Dan channels it in a really positive way,” Hinsdale Central coach Jim Westphal said. “He’s not a rah-rah guy, but he’s vocal and with the younger guys he’s positive. He’s also a tremendously hard worker. When one of your top guys is also one of the hardest workers, that goes a long way.”

Watcke’s parents, Molly and Craig, were standout college runners at Michigan and Kansas, respectively. 2020 Hinsdale Central graduate and older sister Emma is excelling for Wisconsin. The family moved from Minster, Ohio, in the middle of Emma’s junior year. At the time, Dan was an eighth grader.

“She’s a super great role model. She does all of the little things that make you a good runner,” Watcke said.

As a freshman, Watcke was 82nd at state cross country. Hersey senior Josh Methner won in 13:49.86, the state-record time for Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

“That was just crazy to see what a kid that’s just a couple of years older could do. It was something to strive for,” Watcke said. “I just want to go out there every meet and do my best to try to be the first one across the line.”