Class A Girls Pre-Season Preview: St. Joseph-Ogden Girls Start Season #1

The Spartans of St. Joe-Ogden won last year's state title impressively over a solid field (Matt Jortberg photo)

10. Breese (Mater Dei)
Last year's finish: 9th at state
Coach: Dave Kohnen
Key Returners: Elyse Faust (Jr.), Faith Rakers (So.), Melina Isaak (Sr.), Gretta Stark (So.), Mya Albers (Jr.), Kinsey Stockmann (Sr.)
Projected top 7: The above mentioned girls will be in the mix along with some newcomers.
Nick's thoughts on the season: The Knights return a solid core from a team that finished 9th at state a year ago. Elyse Faust led the team at state with a 32nd place finish. This could be a top ten team at the end of the season if someone steps in to fill the void left by Sophia Lager who graduated and the #5 runner can close the gap on a pretty strong top 4.

9. El Paso-Gridley
Coach: Michael Melick
Last year's finish: 15th at state
Key returners: Cate Atkins (Jr.), Julia Reid (So.), Sophi Allen (Jr.), Allison Kelly (So.), Tia Reilly (So.), Hannah Ludy (So.), Sarah Schug (Sr.)
Projected top 7: See above
Newcomers: Tori Witzig (Fr.), Amelia Miller (Fr.)
Coach Melick's outlook: "We lose our lone senior and State Final #7, Maddie Morrison, but return everybody else. The 8th grade girls last year placed well, some of those girls are playing volleyball, so I'm not sure which ones are coming out for cross country, and if they can crack our top seven. In short, I have no idea how this fall will shape up for our girls' team. I do know we will have a lot of fun and that these girls will help push each other to be better athletes. These girls were the first EPG high school team to advance to state, and I don't think they want to stay home now that they've experienced that. We have set a team goal of getting five girls under 20, and if that happens, I like our odds of making it back to State. Several of the girls were on a swim team that I coach in the summer, and they've been telling me they are getting their miles in (in addition to their yards in the pool) so I think we will come in with better fitness than 2016."

8. Herscher
Last year's finish: 10th at state
Coaches: Rick Livesey (Head Coach), Julie LaLone (Asst. Coach)
Key returners: Jillian Milton (Jr.), Kylie Lockwood (Jr.), Molly Raymond (So.)
Newcomers: Josie Mendell (Fr.), Mady Rogers (So.), Natalie Rink (Fr.), Jillian Cotter (Fr.)
Projected Top 7: The above mentioned girls should be in the mix along with others.
Coach Livesay's outlook: "Our goals are to return to state and place higher than the 10th place finish of 2016. We could have 5-7 girls within eyesight of each other and other runners adding to our depth. The girls' team has five of the seven state runners returning, so they should be a solid contender. My responsibility will be to keep them healthy."

7. Champaign (St. Thomas More)
Last year's finish: 14th at state
Coach: Tessa Hanlon
Key Returners: Fran Hendrickson (So.), Marguerite Hendrickson (Sr.), Morgan Cinnamon (Sr.), Morgan Saunders (So.), Claire Pollard (Sr.), Sydney McMahon (So.), Maris Wszalek (Sr.)
Projected Top 7: The aforementioned runners and possibly some newcomers should battle for the top 7 spots.
Nick's thoughts on the season: The Sabers have a very good chance to improve on last year's 14th place finish at state if everyone stays healthy. They should be led by Fran Hendrickson who just missed out on an all-state medal with a 26th place finish. She will likely be motivated to move up a few places. Also leading the way will be seniors Marguerite Hendrickson and Morgan Cinnamon who will want to end their careers on a high note.

6. Liberty
Last year's finish: 3rd at state
Coaches: Jared Schmidt (Head Coach), Sara Callahan (Asst. Coach)
Key returners: Katelyn Robbins (Jr.), Kaela Wellman (Jr.), Courtney Riley (Jr.), Christen Balzer (Sr.) Projected top 7: Katelyn Robbins (Jr.), Kaela Wellman (Jr.), Courtney Riley (Jr.), Christen Balzer (Sr.), Carrie Balzer (So), Grace Tenhouse (Jr.).
Newcomers: Carrie Balzer (So.)
Coach Schmidt's outlook: "Last year we were able to achieve our ultimate goal which was to get the 1st girls state trophy in school history. We lost 2 of our top 5 from last year's group and 3 of our total 7 runners. We were not even sure if we would be able to field a full 5 to score as a team, but we've managed to gain a couple of girls so that we have 6 for this year. The key group of returning runners will make up 4 of our top 5. They all have a lot of experience. Carrie Balzer will fill our top 5 in some position. I'm not sure where yet but she could be a great surprise for us. She ran her first track season last spring and did well and has made some huge improvements since starting to really train this summer.

I feel like as a group we have a ton of potential but it could take some time to show it. The experience the majority of this group will be a major asset to us, but it will be extremely important for us to stay healthy with only 6 girls. We may not run a full team at some meets this year just to play it safe if we need to. If we can figure some things out and stay healthy, I really think we could push for the top 5 again this season, and we are definitely in my mind a top 10 team. Time and health will play a major role in how high we can place. Competing for a regional and sectional championship again will be another goal for us."

5. Eureka
Last year's finish: 11th at state
Coach: Olivia Morris
Key returners: Emma Argo (Jr.), Tessa Wiegand (Jr.), Lexi Grober (Jr.), Natalie Bardwell (Sr.)
Projected top 7: Tessa Wiegand (Jr.), Lexi Grober (Jr.), Natalie Bardwell (Sr.), Kaitlyn Sapp (Fr.), Lizel Fehr (Fr.), Alexi Fogo (Fr.)
Newcomers: Alexi Fogo (Fr.), Katelyn Knapp (Fr.), Hannah Walder (Fr.), Amanda Albertson (Fr.), Katy Detweiler (Fr.)
Coach Morris' outlook: "We will have some great leaders and experience this year, hoping to use that as our strength."

4. Monticello
Last year's finish: 7th at state
Coach: Dave Remmert
Key returners: Alyssa McPike (Jr.), Morgan Elmore (Sr.), Hannah Offenback (Sr.), Samantha Zocher (So.), Madison Mesplay (Sr.), Annie Clifton (So.)
Projected top 7: Alyssa McPike (Jr.), Morgan Elmore (Sr.), Hannah Offenback (Sr.), Samantha Zocher (So.), Madison Mesplay (Sr.), Grace Talbert Fr.), Mackenzie Murphy (So.).
Newcomers: Makenzie Berry (Fr.), Shelby Bowsher (Fr.), Emma Brown (Fr.), Grace Burnsmier (Fr.), Emma Kallembach (Fr.), Claire Keating (Fr.), Caroline Maxwell (Fr.), Mackenzie Murphy (So.), Grace Talbert (Fr.), Avelyn Walk (Fr.)
Coach's Remmert's outlook: "This is the largest team I've coached. I am upbeat and positive about the upcoming season and the team which has a very good blend of seasoned veterans and rookies. Transitions are always difficult, but I'm confident that this group will find within themselves the ability to accomplish their mission as a unit. A lot depends on how much they've worked this off season and how strong they're able to build the bond between themselves and are able to rely and trust each other. I'm really happy to have our seniors back, all of whom have been with the team for their 4 years in high school. Count us in the mix come November!"

3. Williamsville
Last year's finish: 5th at state
Coaches: Tyler Casson (Head Coach) Bryan Glass (Assistant)
Key returners: Caroline Gwaltney (So.), Lexy Henrikson (So.), Aden Davis (So.), Audra Koechle (Jr.), Grace Gudwien (Sr.), Cara Buckley (Sr.)
Projected top 7: Caroline Gwaltney (So.), Lexy Henrikson (So.), Aden Davis (So.), Presley Scarborough (So.), Audra Koechle (Jr.), Grace Gudwien (Sr.), Cara Buckley (Sr.)
Newcomers: Presley Scarborough (So.)(IHSA track state medalist as Fr.), Katie Kennedy (Fr.), Jenna Rademacher (Fr.), Riley Sanders (Jr.), McKenzie Reedy (So.)
Coach Casson's outlook: "We have an extremely young team with some key upperclassman leadership! Returning our entire team and having some key newcomers our top 12 will be extremely competitive."

2. Tolono (Unity)
Last year's finish: State Runner Up
Coach: Kara Leaman
Key returners: Jordan Harmon (Jr.), Audrey Hancock (Jr.), Kylie Decker (So.), Miranda Fairbanks (Jr.), Savannah Day (Sr.), Natalie King (Sr.), Mackenzie Brunk (Jr.), Riley Millsap (So.), Rachael King (So.), Taylor Millsap (Sr.), Caroline Cousins (Jr.), Chelsie Helmick (Jr.), Evyania Pyle (Sr.)
Projected top 7: Jordan Harmon (Jr.), Audrey Hancock (Jr.), Kylie Decker (So.), Miranda Fairbanks (Jr.), Natalie King (Sr.), Savannah Day (Sr.), Caroline Bachert (Fr.) Newcomers: Caroline Bachert (Fr.), Evelyn Atkins (Fr.), Taylor Joop (Fr.), Lily Styan (Fr.), Elizabeth Hulick (Fr.), Emma Aders (Fr.), Leanna Horton (Sr.) Coach Leaman's outlook: "With the addition of six talented and dedicated freshman joining our experienced upperclassmen, we are looking strong and deep. Looking forward to some great competition in 1A!"