By Jeff Vorva
Who saw this coming four years ago?
Hinsdale Central’s Aden Bandukwala won his second straight Class 3A individual cross country title on Nov. 4, and that put him in an elite class as he became just the 18th runner in state history to win back-to-back titles.
Since the Illinois High School Association state meet started in 1946, it’s been hard to find repeat champs. Legends such as Craig Virgin of Lebanon and Lukas Verzbicas of Sandburg are on that list.
Now Bandukwala joins them, even though it was something that no one – not even Bandukwala himself – could see coming when he started school during the pandemic of 2020.
“I never imagined it going in,” he said of the two titles. “It took some time and also a lot of help as well.”
Heck, he said he didn’t even get serious about running until he got to high school.
“When he came in a freshman, he showed he could be a good runner,” Central coach Jim Westphal said. “But he had a steady rise, if you will. He had a goal of finishing in the top 10, and winning it as a junior was a surprise.”
It was a pretty big surprise when you consider that it was the first varsity race he had won. He had not finished higher than third in a race his entire junior year until he ran under rainy and windy conditions and came up with a time of 14 minutes and 46.15 seconds at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Oh, and he became the first champion in the rich history of Hinsdale Central cross country, which had won Class 3A state championships in 2013 and 2014 and was a runner-up twice.
Prior to Bankukwala’s triumph, Central had 13 medalists in the state championships, and the best finish was Blake Everstsen’s fourth-place finish in 2015.
“It was a surprise for people,” Bandukwala said. “And honestly, I was surprised myself. That wasn’t really a goal going into it. At the same time, I knew I was going to be up there.”
“No one made a move. I was the first guy to make a move with about 1,000 meters to go, and only one person ended up responding to it.”
Teammate Dan Watcke finished third in that race.
With one state title under his belt, Bandukwala came into the 2023 season with the pressure of being the defending state champ.
“Going into the season, I told myself I had to repeat,” he said. “If I didn’t repeat, it would be easy to say I had a bad year. Well, I don’t want to say a bad year. But it definitely would not have been ideal. I felt a little pressure the day of the state race.”
Even though he didn’t win any races in September, the senior, who is heading to Duke for track and cross country, was ready by November. He came out in first once again with a 14:13.56, four seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
“He took it [the pressure] in stride,” Westphal said. “He has such a calm demeanor that it didn’t affect him. The only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourself. He knew he was the favorite coming back, but I don’t think it had an impact on his training or who he was as a person.”
Bandukwala did not let his early-season results bother him.
“I knew where I was at during that point in the season,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to race really hard. That’s been how I performed in September for the last three years. So, it didn’t hurt my confidence because I knew it was just a step in the process.”
Hinsdale Central finished 22nd in the meet. After Bandukwala’s first-place performance, Maxwell Lowe finished 33rd, Evan Kurimay was 128th, and Cooper Revord was 212th. ■