Byron Leads Off Class A Boys Pre- Season Preview: #25-21

The opening of the season will see some familiar faces who were used to winning (Beth Schied photo)

Welcome to a brand new season of Illinois Cross Country! Although the smallest division of cross country in Illinois, 1A is full of historic programs competing for trophies every year. Let's take a look at the opening teams and others.

21. Winnebago
2015 Finish: Oregon Sectional- 6th
Coach: Joe Erb
Key returners: Alexander Navorro (Sr.) 16:13, Jack Doyle (Sr.), 17:19, Dylan Pavlak (Jr.) 17:33, Devin Tervelt (So.) 17:56, Chase Upmann (So.) 18:05, Isiah Whitehead (Sr.) 18:24
Ray's Take: Illinois saw a handful of teams finish 1 point outside of a state qualifier in 2015, and Winnebago was one of them. Although they return 5 of their top 6 from last year, the task may be no easier as the Northern IL Oregon sectional will be top-heavy in 2016. Navorro looks to leads to Indians' pack to the state meet, as well as a top 5 finish in their deep conference.

22. Pinckneyville
2015 Finish: State- 16th
Coach: Ryan Bruns
Key returners: Garrett Johnson (Jr.) 16:20 / 4:49 Grant Batteau (Jr.) 16:02 / 11:07 Caleb Logan (Sr.) 16:53 / 49.84 (400m) Dustin Bartnicki (Jr.) Brady Louis (Sr.) Grayson Buza (Sr.)
Ray's Take: Pinckneyville finished in the pack at Detweiller last year but the Panthers return 5 from that squad, highlighted by Johnson, Batteau and Logan, and look poised for a return in November. Coach Bruns: "Any one of [top 10 runners] can have an impact on the varsity boys team. We have had the best summer ever, and I would hope that we will be competitive on both boys [and girls] sides."

23. Steeleville
2015 Finish: State- 19th
Coach: Neil Haertling
Key returners: Gavin Conway (So.) 16:40 Mel Mulholland (So.) 16:48 Hunter Fedderke (Sr.) 16:57 Patrick Rohfling (Sr.) 18:07 Brad Mevert (So.) William Qualls (Sr.)
Ray's Take: The Warriors are a good bet to compete for a top 5 sectional spot out of the southern part of the state. The Warriors lost only their top runner from a team that finished 4th in their sectional race and runner-up to Freeburg in the Cahokia Conference meet in 2015. Conway, Mulholland and Fedderke provide top 100 team score experience for the Warriors.

24. Auburn
2015 Finish: Elmwood Sectional- 9th
Coach: Rob Arenz
Key returners: Brandon Arenz (Sr.) 16:44 / 11:27 Bailey Maher (Sr.) 16:36 Jake Mehochko (Sr.) 17:30 Nic Richmond (Sr.) 17:32 Dakota Doggett (Jr.) 17:43 Austin Baker (Sr.) 16:57
Ray's Take: Senior-heavy teams tend to perform well in the postseason, and that is exactly what Auburn brings in 2016. The 6 best runners hold only about a 70 second split on each other and that will likely come down. The Trojans' pack is led by Baher and Arenz. Auburn has the chops to jump a few teams ahead of them from the 2015 sectional meet.

25. Byron
2015 Finish: Oregon Sectional- 8th
Coach: Mike McHale
Key returners: Chase Sarver (Sr.) 16:12 / 10:02 / 4:38 / 1:59 Zack Fortener (Sr.) Ethan Fortener (So.) 17:27 Drew Linhart (So.) 18:02 Kirk Martin (Sr.) 18:26 Jonah Pearson (Jr.)
Ray's Take: The Byron Tigers return 6 of their 7 from 2015 and their best runner is Sarver, who has shown great range from XC to track distances down to 800. Sarver's speed makes him a dangerous All-State contender and a good #1 for the Tigers. They have some ground to make up on other teams to reach state, especially since the northern Illinois sectional looks to be very tough in 2016.