3A Girls Team Cross Country Pre-Season Preview: #1-#15

The cross country scene on Illinois' biggest stage is expected to be MAJOR this season. Consider the fact that defending state champion Glenbard West lost only one girl in its top seven (albeit the great Madeline Perez) and did not even contest themselves after the IHSA season. The Lady Hilltoppers will be in the proverbial catbird seat once again with the likes of a hungry and national teams like Naperville North and New Trier on their heels. Thus the pre-season hype is ready to explode. Don't forget about the hunters lurking just down under and waiting for their opportunity to pounce on those who they catch slacking.

1. Glen Ellyn (Glenbard West)
Head Coach: Paul Hass
Last year’s finish: 3A State Champions, Lake Park Sectional champions, Fenwick Regional Champions, West Suburban Silver Conference champions.
Key returners: Lisa Luczak (Sr.)- 9th, Lindsay Graham (Jr.)- 17th, Grace Rogers (Jr.)- 21st, Janie Nabholz (So.)- 45th, Kathryn Kenwood (Jr.)- 63rd, Megan Ozog (Sr.)- 74th), Kate Dorsey (Jr.), Abby Shaver (Jr.),  Christina Sedal (Jr.) , Nicole Berneche (Jr.), Caitlyn Reick (Jr.).
Projected top 7: Luczak, Graham, Rogers, Nabholz, Kenwood, Ozog, Dorsey.
Newcomers: Lindsey Payne (Fr.), Claire Kenwood (Fr.)
Coach Hass’ Take: The team has had another good summer of training, though Lisa Luczak has been sidelined for three weeks due to a hamstring injury.  Obviously we hope that she can begin running again soon because she looked incredible on Glen Ellyn’s Freedom Four race (July 4th) where she ran four miles in 23:06!  Lindsay Graham, as you can see from her summer training blog, is running well and the rest of the girls have been getting in their summer miles in the cool summer weather.  

Of course the goal over the summer – as well as the season – is to remain healthy and have each girl focused upon improving upon their 2013 training and meet performances.  Both Graham and Luczak dealt with injuries last year in either cross country (Lindsay) or track (Lisa) and they are both highly motivated to end their 2014 campaign with better individual state finishes than last year.  Grace Rogers’ improvement is an ongoing phenomena that is similarly fueled by the poor taste of not qualifying her 4x800 relay to state last spring, while last year’s newcomers Janie Nabolz and Kathryn Kenwood are well ahead of where they were a summer ago both in miles and in seasoning and are ready to make big improvements. Megan Ozog, Abby Shaver, and Kate Dorsey have all dedicated themselves to running many more miles this summer and, based upon early appearances, it is paying off.  Finally, incoming freshmen Lindsey Payne and Claire Kenwood have each showcased some talent during the summer and could make an appearance in the top seven even before the state series IF they remain healthy and continue to improve.  

Needless to say, we are looking forward to the 2014 season which, we believe, holds enormous potential for the lady Hilltoppers.  

2. Naperville North
Head Coach/coach: Dan Iverson
Last year’s finish: State Runners-Up, Nike Cross Nationals- 13th
Key returners: Elly DeTurris (Sr.)- 8th, Claire Hamilton (So.)- 15th, Judy Pendergast (Jr.)- 34th, Kate Shannon (Jr.)- 43rd, Emory Griffin (Jr.)- 57th, Ella Guppy (Jr.)- 58th
Projected top 7: The returners would start that list, but there are probably about ten other kids with very reasonable hopes of making the list by the end of the year.  They include (seniors) Emily Hamilton, Abby Sikorcin, Anna Mandarino, Jenny Smith, (juniors) Allison Ray, Jenny Gibson, (sophomores) Gabby Champion, Grace Martinez, Kathryn Abe
Newcomers: Natalie Dunnett (Fr.), Anna Platou (Fr.), Sam Prazma (Fr.), Shannon Jennings (Fr.), Sarah Schmidt (Fr.)
Coach Iverson's Take: We think we can be very good this year. Of course, we also can think of 5-6 other teams with similar aspirations, so we are very aware that our path towards the top of the state is full of very capable competitors. In many ways, our team is similar to years’ past in that we have tremendous depth. We hope to have power up top this year again, and everyone has had a really good summer of training. As I write in early August, everyone is healthy. Kate Shannon is coming back from a hip injury that sidelined her back in track, and so she will be taking her time getting back to where she was last year.  She may not be a factor for us early, but we hope to have her rounding into shape when championship season comes. She certainly seems on track for that now.  

We will set our season targets next week when we start the season officially, but I assume we will have some pretty high targets again this season.   

3. Winnetka (New Trier)
Head Coach: John Burnside
Last year’s finish:  State- 3rd
Key returners:  Mimi Smith (Sr.)- 1st, Kelli Schmidt (Jr.)- 24th, Molly Schmidt (So.)- 33rd, Oona Jung-Beeman (Jr.)- 54th, Cara Keleher (So.)- 61st
Projected top 7: Smith, K. Schmidt, M. Schmidt, Jung-Beeman, Keleher; plus a combination featuring Katie Glew (So.), Caroline Fix (So.), Grace Fagan (So.)
Newcomers:  It is too soon to make any predictions about our freshmen.  We have a large incoming class that seems full of talent but we will need to see them race a couple of times to see if they can make an impact on the varsity level.
Coach Burnside’s Take: Summer training went very well.  Our young team is developing into a stronger, more cohesive group. Several of our younger athletes have become the type of leaders that will get the team through difficult workouts and tough weeks. Last year's success changed the attitudes and expectations of the varsity team. There is been a real desire to improve over the last 10 months.  The girls have a greater expectation of themselves and their ability as a team. We are all well aware that all of the top teams will be as strong if not stronger than last year.  Much of last year was searching for a team identity. This year the girls are starting with a confidence in themselves and each other that took most of last year to establish.

Mimi Smith continues to lead the team on a daily basis. Her contribution to the development of this team over the past year cannot be overstated.

4. Schaumburg
Head Coach/coach: Courtney Smith/Caitlin Smith
Last year’s finish: State- 7th
Key returners: Ellie O'Connell (So.)- 11th, Ali Gutt (Sr.)- 22nd, Caroline Kurdej (Sr.)- 30th, Erin Falsey (Sr.)- 87th, Valarie Schackelton (So.)- 167th, Nadine Pola (Jr.)- 169th, Annie Finneran (So.), Rebecca Hinz (So.), Aditi Singh (So.)
Projected top 7: O'Connell, Falsey, Gutt, Kurdej; others
Newcomers: Lauren Kubinski (Fr.)
Tony's Take: A third coach in four years usually spells doom for a sports team- especially at the high school level. Jason Beer exits and enters Courtney Smith but the beat won't stop for a team full of talent. O'Connell led the way much of last season but she will have company with the vastly improved Erin Falsey. Erin appears to have taken on the DNA prowess that her big sister Colette left on the all-time Lady Saxons record boards several years ago. Colette had a breakout junior year on the track that translated to a top 10 finish and sub-17:00 clocking her senior year in xc. Erin ran well during the spring in the 800 (2:17), 1600 (5:08), and 3200 (11:16). She very could be the team's top runner during the season. Gutt will not make matters easy though. She clocked 11:11 for a team lead on the track last spring. However, the team goal is to get the bottom end of the scoring pack as close to the top. If this can happen, we be witnessing deja vu all over again like in 2010 when the Saxons pulled off a big surprise victory over rival Palatine to win the state championship.

5. Palatine
Head Coach/coach: Joe Parks
Last year’s finish: State- 4th, NXN MW- 3rd
Key returners: Kelly O'Brien (Jr.)- 5th, Amy Kieliszewski (Sr.)- 29th, Kara Burton (Sr.)- 89th, Sabina Yosif  (Jr.)- 164th (were all in our top seven all of last season)
Projected top 7: O'Brien, Kieliszewski, Burton, Yosif; others.  It is really hard to say off summer training alone, but a handful of girls are training everyday with the top four returnees.
Newcomers: No big new obvious blue chip additions that I now of for sure, but a solid group of incoming freshman (Lauryn Simon, Maddie Craver, and Jaclyn Frank off hand) and some returnees that have not got a lot of attention in past years but are ready to step in to fill the gaps.
Coach Park's Take: Really like the attitude and work ethic of this team. Summer training has gone well, all healthy, and putting in solid work.  Goals and expectations this year remain as high as always... continue to be one of the best programs in the state and hopefully beyond. Pretty simple, we don't like losing. Not coming home last Fall with a trophy and just missing out on NXN were tough, so hopefully there are some extra incentives.  

We return some real solid core from last year’s top seven. Kelly, Kara, Sabina, and Kelly were at one time or another our #1 or #2 in some big time meets last fall, so all four are experienced and all have the capability of stepping up at any point.  While we lost three solid seniors in McPherson, Cox and Lincoln, their leadership will be missed, but they did not have to carry the entire load last year, so hopefully the loss will not be too big to recover from.

Either way I feel we have some girls that can make big jumps and plug the holes.  Megan Beach and Kelly Ocock are both 11:40 3200m seniors who are looking to get their first crack at a varsity spot, along with juniors Sam Lechowicz, Morgan Balog, and Rebecca Duran who went 1-2-3 in the MSL Fr-So race last fall.  Soph Anna Buckstaff had a solid, but not spectacular freshman XC season after being hurt much of it, but finished track with a 5:23 mile and is getting much stronger and coming into her own. Another soph Izzeh Stankiewicz has shown some real improvements this fall.  After a so-so frosh XC campaign last year and running the long hurdles this spring she has jumped right in with the top group through much of this summer. Our frosh group looks depth-wise to be one of the better groups I've ever had in the summer.  

Overall, I don't necessarily expect us to pick right up where we were last year, but I wouldn't be shocked if we are better than last year’s team by the end of the season.  

It could be a knee buckling experience for teams who aren't ready for the post-season

6. Hinsdale Central
Head Coach: Mark McCabe
Last year’s finish: WSC Silver Conference- 2nd, Lyons Twp. Regional- 1st, Hinsdale Central Sectional- 3rd, State- 14th
Key returners: Alexa Haff (So.)- 2nd, Annie Zaher (Jr.)- 32nd, Camila Horowicz (Sr.)- 76th, Emma Sullivan (Jr.)- 94th, Sara Folliard (Sr.)- 124th, Sara Brennan (Sr.)- 151st, Molly Caveney (So.)
Projected top 7: Haff, Zaher, Horowicz, Sullivan, Folliard, Brennan; others
Newcomers: Sophia Horowicz (Fr.), Grace McCabe (Fr.), Reilly Revord (Fr.)
Coach McCabe’s Take: Summer training has gone extremely well. It always does, but this year the depth of committment and consistency has been as good as we've ever had. We took our usual team trip to Wisconsin this summer and I can say i've never coached a team with more potential in terms of unity than this one.

Our specific team goals are something we have talked about and set; as usual, we discuss those internally and are not for public consumption. I will say our goals this year remain the same as always: to be the best we can be in every way. As always we feel that we to be a program that "does it all and does it all "the right way."

We want to continue to be consistency one of the top competitive teams in the state every year (I have a ranking of the top programs from 2000-2013 that I compile; it's based on state meet placings, 20 pts for 1st place on down to 1 pt for 20th place; we rank third behind Naperville North and Palatine. We [want to] be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. So our goals for this season are high- we are excited for what lies ahead.

7. Naperville Central
Head Coach: Ainslinn Hicks
Last year’s finish: State- 11th
Key returners: Katie Hoffman (Sr.)- 10th,  Rachel Hoffman (Sr.)- 49th, Ellie Marcet (Jr.)- 62nd, Maggie McClowry (Jr.)- 74th, Isabel Lopez (Sr.)- 83rd, Alana Austin (So.)- 104th, Nicole Hoffman (Sr.), Haley Becker (Sr.), Carolyn Carpenter (So.), Stephanie Schafer (Jr.)
Projected top 7: K. Hoffman, R. Hoffman, N. Hoffman, Marcet, McClowry, Lopez, Austin
Newcomers: N/A
Tony's Take: It's always double trouble for foes who have to deal with talented twins. It's even more dangerous when the rare presense of triplits are on the scene. The Hawk's starting line-up consistents of Katie, Rachel, and Nicole Hoffman. Katie has the most polished resume with a 17:21 clocking and 12th place all-state showing. Her teammate Marcet lead the on the track in the 3200m. The return of all the starters means the 1-5 scoring split should be lowered well below the 1:18 they put at state. 

8. Wheaton-Warrenville South
Head Coach: Rob Harvey
Last year’s finish: State – 12th  
Key returners: Sara Atkins (So.)- 20th, Allison McGrath (So.)- 55th, Kendall Laveen (Jr.)- 66th, Natalia Boettcher (Sr.)- 77th, Emma Schroer (Jr.)- 100th, Stephanie Gorski (Jr.)- 102nd, Mary Erdman (Jr.)- 123rd; as well as 19 of last year's top 20.
Projected top 7: The state returning line-up plus others
Newcomers: N/A
Coach Harvey's Take:  We had a very good summer of training. Being a young team, they had to learn that with higher expectations comes a high level of training. They responded very well to the challenges presented them over the summer.

Tony's Take: It is obvious that Coach Harvey is downplaying things. He has stockpiled his team with talent over the past two years and it is just a matter of time before he is back in the elite trophy class.  While there are no superstars on the horizon within the Tigers camp, they do have gamers. We all know that gamers are by-products of being a champion. McGrath and Atkins are the main cogs on this solid team and they will be pushing for low scores each weekend.

9. Geneva
Head Coach/coach: Bob Thomson
Last year’s finish: State- 8th
Key returners:
Brooke Nusse (Sr.)- 37th, Emma McSpadden (Jr.)- 46th, McKenzie Altmayer (Jr.), 71st, Gabrielle Thomson (So.)- 82nd, Emma Ehrhardt (So.)- 118th, Mary Grace Neville (So.), Heidi Stimac (Sr.)
Projected top 7: Nusse, McSpadden, Altmayer, Thomson, Erhardt; others
Newcomers: N/A
Tony’s Take: The Vikings appeared have rebuilt their program from the low point they experienced after the exodus of the late 2000's when this team made history by winning state with six freshman. The new era again features some good young talent led by Nusse and McSpadden. They are the upperclassmen now and leaders on the team. Let's see if they can move the group back into the trophy chat. As for Coach Thomson, he is a very underrated coach who rarely gets the big program numbers but yet he knows how to coach up good talent. This is a credit to him and his coaches.

10. Lockport
Head Coach: Evon Schlotter
Last year’s finish: State-5th
Key returners: Morgan Bollinger (So.)- 6th, Emmie Hahn (Jr.)- 45th, Haley Beaumont (Sr.)- 59th, Karlee Stortz (So.)- 75th, Alicia Ary (Jr.)- 110th
This summer of training has been a nice one.  The cool weather made it a bit easier for all teams in the state of Illinois). The five returners from last year's top seven have all spent a fair amount of the summer preparing for the coming season (some a little harder than others, as always).
Projected top 7: We have yet to do any "official" 5K time trials in August, but from recent timings the top 12 at this time appear to be the following: Ary, H. Beaumont, Jorie Beaumont,  Bollinger, Aubrey Friedrich (a new incoming Freshman), Hahn, Madisyn Hannion, Isabella Krockey, Emily Stoklosa, Karlee Stortz, Taylor Stortz, and Emily Zaplatosch.
Coach Schlotter’s Take: We, as a team are looking to try to match last year's success, not only in the "win/loss" column, but in the way that our group functions as a team.  At the very top of our list is staying healthy~this is such a critical element for every cross country team at the start of the season, and we plan on working very hard in that arena…
We have a bit more experience coming into this season and would love to use it to our advantage. We are excited about the challenges that lie in front of us this year.  This Saturday we run another "short" time trial. This is the first since the "no contact" period and this will help us to gain a better understanding of the type of work that has been done over the last couple of weeks.

Last, but not least is Morgan Bollinger.  Our wonderful young "All Stater" has probably rested more than run this summer due to some lingering leg pain she experienced toward the end of the track season last year.  We wanted her "pain free" before we started the season this year, so she is a little behind where she would prefer to be right now ;).

11. Lake Zurich
Head Coach/coach: Ian Silverman
Last year’s finish: State-15th
Key returners: Kristie Houghton (Jr.)- 39th, Nicole Syverson (Sr.)- 85th, Laura McNair (Sr.)- 142nd, Jemma Kim (So.)- 131st, Maryjane Koza (So.)- 111th
Projected top 7: looking at Caitlyn Shepard (Jr.) to help fill in, maybe Ruthie Rosenkranz (Sr.), Christina Eddleman (Sr.)
Newcomers: N/A
Coach Silverman's Take: a good summer's training, lots of teamwork and consistency, nothing fancy. Looking to retain North Suburban title, repeat trip down state. We have nice depth and some good experience in our kids, with excellent team leadership. They're highly motivated and they understand what kind of work they need to do to stay at the level of competitiveness we've gotten to. So we're optimistic.

12. Oak Park- River Forest
Head Coach/coach: Tom Tarrant
Last year’s finish: State- 13th
Key returners: Mary Blankemeier (So.)- 4th, Hannah Gorin (Sr.)- 63rd, Mahal Schroeder (So.)- 116th, Ainsley Tran (Jr.)- 128th, Haley Thompson (Jr.)- 136th, Matilda Msall (Sr.), Aimee Valentine (Sr.), Hallie Voss (So.)
Projected top 7: Blankemeier, Voss, Thompson, Tran, Gorin, Schroeder, or Kathryn Lingen, Caroline Gallo (So.), Msall
Newcomers: Kathryn Lingen (Fr.)
Tony’s Take: It was a just a few years ago that Sarah McCabe put away the whistle and stepped down as head coach. When that usually happens with a good coach the program slips up. However, Coach Tom Tarrant built the team from the ground up with the services of Mary Blankemeier and the rest could be termed history.  But the truth of the matter is despite Blankemeier's lofty times on the track (4:55.58 full mile/10:46.17 two mile) she has a solid group of teammates who got her back... and her teammate are going to need to step it up in the interim because Blankemeier will be sitting on the sidelines with a stress fracture that she acquired over the summer.  "Mary will be out 4-6 weeks," said Tarrant . "We are hoping to keep her up to par with regular pool runs. It's just another challenge for our team."

That trend should continue this fall and the prospects of equaling the 13th place finish at state should be a lock. Perhaps if some greediness can leak into the girls, they might be able to push into the elite top 10 ranks.

13. Downers Grove North
Head Coach/coach:  Tim McDonald
Assistant Coaches:  Elizabeth Tumpach, Bruce Ritter, Matt Maletich
Last year’s finish:  4th in West Suburban Conference-Silver, 4th in Lyons Township Regional, 5th in Hinsdale Central Sectional, 21st at IHSA State Meet
Key returners:  Kaitlyn Bonfield (Jr.)- 98th, Angela Budach (Jr.)- 125th, Grace Maletich (Jr.)- 27th, Emma Moravec (So.)- 113th
Projected top 7:  I believe our top 7 will be the four above plus three of about ten potential candidates.
Newcomers: Ashley Johnson (Jr.), Zoe Covey (So.), Katie Cantlin (Fr.), Carli Nehls (Fr.)
Coach McDonald's Take: We have had a solid summer.  The girls are all healthy and excited about the upcoming season.  We have not run any races together, but some of the girls have run local races over the course of the summer.

Our season goals are pretty high (strong showing in conference, some great finishes at invites, and a trip to Peoria in November).  Most importantly, we want to be consistent every meet.  If we are able to stay healthy, this team could be a much more competitive version of last year’s team.  I told the girls before the summer began that this upcoming season is not a rebuilding year. It is time for us to realize our potential and have a strong cross country season.  

We have more quality depth than we have had in a long time.  Obviously, we want to see some improvement out of the four returners from our state team last year which I believe they are more than capable of.  I would not be surprised if some of our returners make some big jumps in their level of performance from a year ago as well.  Any one of the four newcomers could be in our top 7 at the Fenton Invite also.  Thankfully, we have an early-season meet with Jacobs, Plainfield North, Highland Park, and Shepard (Monday, August 25th) to see how everyone responds to some competition.

14. Hoffman Estates
Head Coach/coach: Kirk Macnider
Last year’s finish: State- 20th
Key returners: Meagan Biddle (Jr.)- 72nd, Alondra Aguirre (Sr.), Reena Prahbu (Jr.), Yazmin Nunez (Sr.) and Kaylan Williams (Sr.) all return from last year’s state squad. Junior Carly Dagan had a break out track season (5:31/11:40) and has only been running varsity miles for six months. Sophomore Misbah Baig ran an excellent 5:37 at the indoor JV MSL meet and then had to be shut down for IT band issues. She will make a large impact.
Projected top 7: Biddle, Aguirre, Dagen, Prahbu, Baig, Nunez, Williams.
Newcomers: Talented freshman Allison Schrader will look to make an impact as the season develops.
Coach Macnider's Take: Summer training reflected the team’s desire to compete with the very best at the state meet. Summer miles and strength training were simply outstanding. The core, top 7 group has that special interchangeable quality that elite teams depend on. Our team goal is to run our very best rest of the year at the state meet. Last year, we ran an inspired race at sectionals and very, very flat at State to finish 20th. The girls have not forgotten about that performance. This is an experienced team ready to run fast.

Tony's Take: It is fully expected that Beadle take the reign of the team by the strap and pull it to the next level. The raw talent has been there for the Hawks over the past five plus years. She has clocked 5:00i/11:08 for 1600m and 3200m on the track; Aguirre is no slouch as 11:20 proves nor is Nunez and her 11:37 personal best.

15. Downers Grove South
Head Coach:  Doug Plunkett
Last year’s finish:  State- 9th
Key returners: Amanda Thate (Sr.)- 25th, Abby Kargol (Sr.)- 69th, Michaela Hackbarth (Jr.)- 107th, Jill Boyle (Jr.)- 127th
Projected top 7: Thate, Kargol, Hackbarth, Boyle, Maggie Seitz (Jr.), Katie Stapleton (So.), Lizbeth Alcantara (Jr.).
Newcomers: Lizbeth Alcantara (Jr.), Alyssa Taglia (Fr.), Hailey Rodden (Fr.), Kelley Hackbarth (Fr.)
Coach Plunkett's Take:  We return four of our top seven from last year (they were our 1-4-5-6 from the state meet). The top three are all coming off great track seasons. Amanda Thate was 10th in the 1600m (5:03), Abby Kargol was 5th in the 3200m (10:50), and Michaela Hackbarth was 2nd in the 800m (2:13).  Those three, along with Jill Boyle, who ran in the state CC meet each of the last two years, will be our top four and lead the team this year.  The big question for us is who will step up into the #5-6-7 spots.  We have a nice group of 6-7 mostly freshmen and sophomore girls who will be battling for those last three spots.  The team has worked hard, gotten in the miles, and had an overall solid summer.  I expect Kargol to be strong out of the gate and be a top contender all season long. Thate and Hackbarth both have dealt with some minor, nagging injuries and have had a more cautious summer. I expect that they will probably come along a little slower, but become more noticeable near the front by the middle part of the season. The rest of the team is pretty young and inexperienced.  They may struggle some at the beginning, but we expect them to be more competitive as the season progresses.  In terms of team goals, we expect to win our 16th straight WSC Gold title and advance to the state meet for the 4th year in a row.  It's a little early for us to have a specific state meet goal, but if I had to go out on a limb right now, I'd predict somewhere between 10th and 15th.  Hope it works out that well.