Andrew O’Keefe’s 2017 cross country season started in the spring, two days after the Class 3A State Track and Field championship.
But whatever strength he gained by those extra summer miles were sapped when the Granite City senior arrived in Peoria on Nov. 4 with legitimate shot at a state cross country medal.
Nobody else knew just how sick O’Keefe was, because he didn’t tell anyone. But his coach figured it out when O’Keefe crossed the finish line in the middle of the pack with a time 40 seconds slower than he had posted on the same Detweiller Park Park course just two weeks earlier.
“Andrew is too modest and he will never make any excuses, but he had lost 12 to 15 pounds and didn’t tell anybody,” Granite City Coach Richie Skirball said. “We still don’t know what virus it was, but the blood tests show that he had the antibodies of mononucleosis.
“It’s just a shame it had to happen the week of the state meet.”
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise fantastic season.
The Belleville News-Democrat Runner of the Year won nine races this fall including the Southwestern Conference and both the IHSA Class 3A Belleville West Regional and Granite City Sectional. He did not lose to a runner from southern Illinois until the state finals.
“I just love to compete and running is just something I excel in. I love competing for my family and representing Granite City High School,” O’Keefe said. “I feel I’ve been given this gift to run and I want to make the most out of it.
“From the end of the track season to the start of cross country, I maybe took two days off. I think it paid off; I had a good season.”
If not for a strength-sapping virus, O’Keefe’s season likely would have been even better.
Running with best runners in the state and in the top 15 with a little over a mile remaining, O’Keefe simply ran out steam because of the illness. He would finish 100th in the field of 210 with a time of 15:28.
“To be honest about it, not being an all-state runner this year never entered my mind. Even when I got sick, I thought I could finish in the top 15-25. That was the disappointing part of the year for me.”
Even less than healthy, O’Keefe appeared to be on pace to reach his state meet goals.
Running on a course that he had run his time of 14 minutes, 43 seconds over three miles just weeks earlier, O’Keefe got off to a fast start on that chilly November afternoon.
“I was watching him and while the timing device was off a little bit, I had him right at 9 minutes 30 seconds at the two-mile mark,” Skirball said. “That would have been a school record.”
But O’Keefe couldn’t hold the pace. He didn’t have much left at the two-mile mark.
“It was disappointing because of how much work I had put in. I felt like I got out really well and was right where I wanted to be. I started feeling the fatigue a little past the mile mark,” O’Keefe said. “For whatever reason, it just wasn’t meant to be that day.”
A two-time Class 3A state qualifier going into this season, O’Keefe’s junior year was highlighted by a fourth place finish at the Peoria Central Invitational, which was held at Detweiller Park. His time of 14 minutes, 43 seconds on the fast, flat course was a personal best.
“Detweiller is my favorite course. In my three years of high school I have set personal best time each season I have run there," O’Keefe said. “I know the course well and I have a lot of confidence when I run there.”
Following the state finals, O’Keefe went on to compete at the Nike Midwest Regional High School Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, which was held in late November. Still battling the virus, he failed to qualify for the national finals.
Gradually working his way back to full strength, O’Keefe is currently training for the state indoor track and field season, which will begin in late February. O’Keefe competes in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meters.
“The difference between Andrew O’Keefe this year than in the past was that the last couple of years he proved that he could run with the top runners,” Skirball said. “This season he learned to and proved that he could win against them.”
O’Keefe is the latest in a line of family members to shine at Granite City.
Older sister Natalie played basketball and was one of the best in the state in the high jump while competing for the Warriors. Older brother Will was also a top cross country and track and field runner who is currently attending and competing at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri.
Natalie recently completed her collegiate career at Southwest Baptist.
“Will just set a new (personal record) in the mile so he’s doing well. We’re still very competitive with each other,” O’Keefe said. “I really have no idea where I want to go to school. I’m starting to look a little bit.”
2017 Belleville News-Democrat
All-Area Cross Country Team
Runner of the Year
Andrew O’Keefe, Granite City, jr.
Coach of the Year
Carl Florczyk. Freeburg
Class 1A First Team
Charlie Parrish, Freeburg, sr.
Luke Goebel, Mater Dei, sr.
Justin Mumford, Wesclin, frosh.
Brandon Schnitker, Nashville, sr.
Blake Hatter, Freeburg, jr.
Carson Smith, Freeburg, jr.
Alex Detmer, Mater Dei, jr.
Isaac Sinn: Sparta, soph.
Corbin Schwable, Freeburg, jr.
Kevin Medlin, Mater Dei, sr.
Javon Watkins, Madison, sr.
Eli King, Columbia, sr.
Ethan Sturm, Columbia, soph.
Class 2A First Team
Adam Robson, Waterloo, sr.
Casmir Cozzi, Mascoutah, jr.
Jackson McAlister, Waterloo, soph.
Eli Ward, Waterloo, soph.
Brandon Johnson, Mascoutah, sr.
Drake Bleier, Triad, frosh.
Cayden Kirkham, Waterloo, sr.
Matt McNicol, Mascoutah, sr.
David Lunk, Waterloo, sr.
Jarod Willis, Triad, soph.
Class 3A First Team
Andrew O’Keefe, Granite City, jr
Roland Prenzler, Edwardsville, jr.
Franky Romano, Edwardsville, sr.
Lucas Capistrant, O’Fallon, sr.
Jack Pifer, Edwardsville, soph.
Will VanAlstine, O’Fallon, jr.
Cassius Havis, Alton, soph.
Hayden Ybarra, O’Fallon, sr.
Max Hartmann, Edwardsville, jr.
Holden Potter, Edwardsville, sr.
Second Team (One Combined List)
Todd Baxter, Edwardsville; Garrett Blenkush, O’Fallon; Kelvin Cummings, Alton; Drew Detmer, Wesclin; Nick Edwards, O’Fallon; Joshua Foster, Columbia; Matt Gilster, O’Fallon; Nicholas Hanratty, Highland; Benito Hernandez, Collinsville; Jackson Howell, Belleville East; Gavin Love, Nashville; Bryaun Manuel, East St. Louis; Kortez Mathews, East St. Louis; Zach Panek, Belleville East; Deric Patton, Triad; Brylee Portell, Highland; Jacob Ramirez, O’Fallon; Gabe Sherrill, Highland; Cade Smih, Freeburg; McKallen Smith, Freeburg; Cree Stumpf , Roxana; Darion Taylor, Mascoutah; Patrick Thompson, Mascoutah; Ben Walter, Triad; Reiss Wegman, Wesclin; Evan Wilkerson, Freeburg; Braeden Williams, Mascoutah; Caleb Zgonina, Nashville;
Honorable Mention (One combined list)
Caleb Bagwell, Triad; Jack Blomme, Granite City; Isaiah Barker, Triad; Liam Brauer, Gibault; Landon Davis, Nashville; Matt Dawson, Waterloo; Wyatt DuClos, Red Bud; Tony Harold , Granite City; Garrett Headen, Red Bud; Collin Henderson, Wesclin; Kristian Knecht, Mascoutah; Sam Kreinburg, Waterloo; Seth Martin, Triad; Deric Maurer, New Athens; Tristan Oestreich, Columbia; Jeremiah Perry, Granite City; Jack Perulfi, Edwardsville; William Ray, O’Fallon; Jimmy Reed, Belleville West; Luke Robben, Belleville West; Austin Roberts, Collinsville; Tyler Roesener, Okawville; Dillon Rule, Belleville West; Jacob Sewell, Collinsville; Elgin Scherff , Gibault; Andrew Stevenson, Mater Dei; Tyler Tindall, Granite City; Quinten Titchenal, Belleville East; Zach Walters, Edwardsville; Jarrett Warmack, Roxana; Christopher Wichlac, O’Fallon