When Ryan Watts first toured the Edwardsville High School campus, there was one facility that stood out to him.
It wasn't the track and field complex.
Nope, it was the baseball stadium — Tom Pile Field — that gleamed like a diamond in the summer sun.
"Edwardsville is such a nice school and I love it here, but the baseball facilities are insane," Watts said. "I wish I could have played on it once or twice. But coming in it was like, 'Wow, this is awesome, I can't wait to play here.' "
That was the plan.
But Watts went running in another direction — to the cross country and track and field teams.
All of a sudden, after a strong sophomore running campaign, Watts' hopes of pitching on the historic mound were replaced by another dream — to become one of the best runners in school history.
He took a big step toward that goal as a junior this fall by winning the Southwestern Conference, Granite City Regional and Normal Community Sectional championships.
"In all the years that I've coached, I don't know if I've seen a transformation in such a short time," Edwardsville cross country coach George Patrylak said. "He changed from being a good runner to an elite runner."
Watts, the Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys cross country runner of the year, turned in a personal best time of 14 minutes and 41 seconds while winning the Granite City Regional on Wilson Park's 3-mile course.
Watts originally had visions of joining coach Tim Funkhouser's squad to become part of the third winningest baseball program in state history.
"Before I transferred to Edwardsville, I was not a good cross country runner," Watts said. "I was the 17th guy on a team (West Aurora) that didn't make it out of regionals. But I was always pretty good at baseball."
His tall frame and build made him a perfect fit on the mound. But it was also a position that primed him for the grueling work as a long-distance runner.
"Pitching specifically is all mental and distance running is probably the most mentally challenging sport in the world," Watts said. "It's like the old saying, 'Pitching is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.' "
Watts recorded a then-personal-best clocking of 15:30 during his sophomore season.
He knew then that running was going to be his sport of choice.
"Coach turned me into a 15:30 guy with very minimal training," Watts said. "Once I saw that and the potential that he saw in me, I realized that this could be something special."
Initially, Patrylak was hesitant to have Watts give up baseball.
"I was hoping he wasn't looking at the success and trying to justify scholarship money with success and give up his passion," Patrylak said. "I talked to the family and he loved the team and the program and once he gave that 100 percent buy-in — that's when things took off. His mind became completely focused on the sport."
Watts took that mental strength he gained from baseball and molded it into something he could use on the cross country course. From digging deep for that extra zip on his fastball, he turned that power into extra speed on the final mile of the course when his body ached and muscles rebelled.
After transferring from West Aurora High midway through his freshman year, Watts said he only ran 70 miles the offseason before his sophomore campaign.
But coming into his junior season, through the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdowns, Watts said he and his teammates put in more than 600 training miles.
"We held each other accountable, if someone missed a day, we'd call them out and you wouldn't miss another run," Watts said.
In the first race of the season at Granite City, Watts reeled off an eye-popping 15-minute race that stoked the flames of interest from others around the state.
That interest heightened after he finished third in the unofficial state meet held by ShaZam Racing in Chillicothe, Ill.
"By the end of the season, he went from the 135th returner to third at our unofficial state at ShaZam," Patrylak said. "That's incredibly impressive."
The cross country season officially ended Oct. 31 during the sectional round. Watts took gold in the Class 3A Normal Sectional with a time of 15:21.8.
He was Edwardsville's first sectional champion since 2011.
Watts is turning heads among college coaches as well with his rapid progression.
"I have a couple of schools on my mind," he said. "I want to keep it on the down low, but I'd love to go to a Power Five (conference) school."
Watts has a few more goals in mind before leaving Edwardsville. His main one is to break the school's record of 14:20 set by Stephen Pifer in 2002.
"I'd love to win a state championship in both track and cross country next year," Watts said. "I think that'd solidify a good high school career. I'd love to help get the team into the top 3 next year (at state)."
ALL-METRO BOYS CROSS COUNTRY FIRST TEAM
2020 All-Metro boys cross country first team
Tyler Guthrie, senior, Father McGivney
Signed with SIU Edwardsville. Season-best time of 14:53.80 ranked third in the area on a 3-mile course. Five victories included the Class 1A Carlinville Regional and Madison County small school meet. Also runner-up in four meets, including the Class 1A Decatur St. Teresa Sectional. Fourth at Granite City Invitational against a field that included area’s best from Illinois. Second team All-Metro selection last season.
Byron Jones, junior, Belleville East
Consistently finished near top of every meet against area competition in Illinois. Ran a season-best time of 15:32.96 on 3-mile course to finish fourth in the Class 3A Granite City Regional. Jones was second in Belleville West Invitational, third in Southwestern Conference meet and fourth in Granite City Invitational. He also had top time in Granite City Regional tuneup meet. Finished season 40th at Class 3A Normal Sectional. First All-Metro selection.
Cullen Krieg, sophomore, Festus
Started season strong and finished even stronger despite fighting through a knee injury that threw him off course for a few weeks. Krieg ran 15:56.50 (5 kilometers), his fastest time of the season, to finish second in Missouri Class 4 state meet to help Tigers win record-tying seventh successive state team championship. His performance was area’s fourth-fastest at state meet regardless of classification. Krieg also won the Forest Park Invitational’s Green Division, was third in the Festus Bowles and fourth in Class 4 District 1 meet. Third team All-Metro selection last season.
Justin Mumford, senior, Wesclin
Didn’t get chance to earn third Illinois Class 1A all-state finish because of COVID-19 but still made most of final campaign by winning eight meets. Only event Mumford didn’t win was the Granite City Invitational, where he was second behind Edwardsville’s Ryan Watts, the All-Metro runner of the year. Mumford’s top 3-mile time was 14:50.9 while winning the Wesclin Invitational, and he blazed to a 14:40 to win the 2.95-mile Mascoutah Invitational. Closed season with a 36-second victory in the Class 1A Althoff Sectional. Also was a first team All-Metro pick as a freshman and earned second team honors as a junior.
Geordan Patrylak, junior, Edwardsville
Packed a strong punch in the Tigers’ No. 2 position behind All-Metro runner of the year Ryan Watts. Patrylak was Edwardsville’s second finisher in all five of its team titles and also during its third-place finish in the Class 3A Normal Sectional. He was runner-up in three meets, twice running personal bests in those finishes — 15:08.9 in the Granite City Regional on a 3-mile course; and 15:46.5 in the Southwestern Conference meet on a 5-kilometer course. Patrylak wrapped up the season by finishing ninth at the sectional meet. First All-Metro selection.
Trevor Peimann, senior, Timberland
Ran fastest time of any area competitor in any classification at Missouri’s state meet, finishing second in Class 5 with a personal-best time of 15:40.2 on the 5-kilometer Gans Creek Course in Columbia. That marked an 88-place improvement from Peimann’s previous-best state finish. Peimann never finished lower than fifth in eight races, including a runner-up showing in the Class 5 District 4 meet and Forest Park Invitational’s Green Division. He was Timberland’s first state medal winner since 2015. First All-Metro selection.
Andrew Smock, junior, Ladue
Finished 11th in Missouri’s Class 5 state meet with a personal-best time of 15:56.2 that was the third-best area performance on the 5-kilometer Gans Creek Course that weekend. Smock’s first all-state effort culminated a season that included three individual victories, including at the Class 5 District 3 meet, which Ladue also won as a team. Smock also won the Eagle-Crusader meet at McNair Park and Clayton-Ladue meet at St. Vincent Park. First All-Metro selection.
ALL-METRO BOYS CROSS COUNTRY SECOND TEAM
2020 All-Metro boys cross country second team
Nick Cimmarusti, senior, Francis Howell
Won individual titles in four meets, including his third consecutive GAC South Division crown. Season-best time of 15:39.45 came in fifth-place finish at Camdenton Invitational. Finished 21st in Class 5 state meet in 16:11.6 after a third-place showing in the Class 5 District 3 meet. First All-Metro selection.
Ethan Koop, senior, Marquette
Ran season-best time of 15:51.70 to finish eighth in Missouri’s Class 5 state meet, which was area’s second-fastest time that weekend on the 5-kilometer Gans Creek Course. Koop also won the Class 5 District 1 meet and posted three other top-10 finishes. Earned first-team All-Metro honors as a junior.
Charles Krasnoff, junior, Ladue
Won Eureka Invitational, finished second twice — including in the Class 5 District 3 meet — and third once before ending up 15th in the Class 5 state meet with season-best time of 16:03.60. Helped Rams win three team titles and finish seventh in Class 5 state meet. First All-Metro section.
Caleb Lind, junior, Lutheran St. Charles
Helped Cougars to runner-up team finish in Class 3 state meet by finishing fifth individually. Lind’s season-best time, which also was a school record, came on same course in September when he won the Gans Creek Classic’s Blue Division in 15:56.50. Also won the Class 3 District 2 meet, finished third in the Forest Park Invitational’s top division, was fourth at Festus and fifth at Fort Zumwalt North. First All-Metro section.
Ryan Luitjohan, junior, Edwardsville
Helped Tigers win five team championships, including Southwestern Conference and Class 3A Granite City regional meets. Posted five top-seven finishes, highlighted by a third-place showing in Madison County large school meet. Fastest time on 3-mile course was 15:36.52 to finish sixth in regional event. First All-Metro section.
Ian Schram, sophomore, Festus
Ran in top position much of the season for the Tigers, winning the hometown Festus Bowles title with a season-best effort of 15:56.28. Schram also won the Class 4 District 1 title, was fourth at Parkway West’s Dale Sheppard Invitational, sixth in Gans Creek Classic’s top division and ninth in Class 4 state meet as Fetsus won state record-tying seventh consecutive championship. First All-Metro section.
Drew Stover, senior, Edwardsville
Posted five top-10 finishes for the powerhouse Tigers, who won five team championships before posting a third-place showing in the Class 3A Normal Sectional. Stover’s top time on a 3-mile course was 15:33.49 as he finished fifth in the Granite City Regional. Finished season 30th in sectional meet, which was area’s fifth-best effort. First All-Metro section.
ALL-METRO BOYS CROSS COUNTRY THIRD TEAM
2020 All-Metro boys cross country third team
Connor Del Carmen, senior, Marquette
Won individual titles in first two meets of the season at Parkway West’s Cowboy Classic and Dale Sheppard Invitational, including season-best time of 16:04.84 in the latter. Ran to three other top-10 finishes, including a fifth-place showing in the Class 5 District 1 meet, and was Marquette’s second-best Class 5 state meet finisher, crossing 55th.
Tyler Freiner, junior, Timberland
Improved more than 100 places from sophomore season when he finished 17th in Class 5 state meet with a personal-best time of 16:08.5 on 5-kilometer Gans Creek course. He was 122nd at state last year. That capped a season that included five top-five finishes, including a victory in the Terry Meatheany Invitational, a runner-up showing in the GAC South meet and fourth-place district effort. First All-Metro selection.
Conrad Hogenkamp, senior, Chaminade
Never finished lower than third in six races, highlighted by a third-place showing in the Class 4 state meet in a personal-best time of 16:01.30. Hogenkamp helped lead Red Devils to fourth-place team finish for program’s first state team trophy since 2001. His state time was sixth-best for an area runner that weekend on the Gans Creek course. Won the Class 4 District 3 title. First All-Metro selection.
Johnny Martin, senior, Ladue
Broke the 16-minute barrier in his final high school race, finishing 13th in the Class 5 state meet with a personal-best of 15:59.9 on the 5-kilometer Gans Creek course. Solid season also included a fourth-place finish in Class 5 District 3 meet while helping Rams to that team title and a sixth-place effort in the Clayton-Ladue meet. First All-Metro selection.
Lance Miller, junior, Mascoutah
Only finished lower than sixth once in 10 races and helped Mascoutah to nine team titles, including the Mississippi Valley Conference, Class 2A Highland Regional and Class 2A Olney Sectional crowns. Individually, Miller’s top time of 15:42.7 came in fifth-place finish at Belleville West Invitational. He also had area-best finishes of fourth at the Highland Regional and sixth at the Olney Sectional. First All-Metro selection.
Trey Peterson, freshman, Collinsville
Posted six top-10 finishes in debut season, including victories at Alton and Triad. Peterson’s season-best time of 15:25.96 came at Alton, when he won by more than 45 seconds. He also was sixth in the Madison County large school meet, seventh in the Southwestern Conference meet and finished the season 28th in the Class 3A Normal Sectional — the fourth-best finish for an area runner.
Joe Schwartz, sophomore, Waterloo
Beat a strong field of competitors to win the Mississippi Valley Conference individual title, which was one of his seven top-10 finishes. Schwartz’s top 3-mile time of season was 15:37.94 in Granite City regional tuneup. He finished fifth in the Class 2A Highland Regional and 16th in the Olney Sectional. First All-Metro selection.
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