Top ranked Monticello got by #2 Tolono (Unity) at Champaign St. More.. Part 2 is Saturday (Beth Schied photo)
Decatur (St. Teresa) Sectional:
I have been trying to make fewer remarks about how tough this sectional is, but man this one is a killer! Three of the top five teams, four of the top ten teams, and seven of the top 20 teams show up at this sectional! A potential top 15 team will alas have to go. Let’s start with the favorites (note the plural noun): #1 Monticello and #2 Tolono (Unity). Both of these teams appear at this point evenly matched and it really depends on which pack and which front runner has the better day. Next we have #5 Shelbyville who has been quietly dominating races, including most recently the Carlinville regional. Well this race they will have bigger fish to fry as gear up for yet another potentially strong showing at both this race and state. #9 St. Joseph-Ogden has ran into a bit of health trouble early in the season but their top five at this point can hold their own against every other aforementioned team. And if their front three all run the best races they’ve ran before (at different times), then the Spartans could be a major surprise factor. Now we look at probably the biggest question mark of them all (not that any team should feel too comfortable trying to qualify out of this sectional by ANY means), which is what the heck will the fifth team be? There are many candidates that come to mind, not all of whom are necessarily ranked. The first is the Effingham regional champions #12 Robinson, who was an under-radar team for a while, but are really coming through at these late season meets. #13 Paxton-Buckley-Loda has a good pack and a strong front runner. #17 Mt. Zion and previously ranked Carlinville have the front running talent to contend, however gap trouble could very well throw them off-balance. Watch finally (if you’re not tired of watching) for Urbana (University) and Teutopolis.
Now, the individual race seems every bit as tough (arguably tougher) than the team race and the top ten might be the individual cut-off again. The individual favorite is of course Jon Davis of Fithian (Oakwood) who just improved upon his old record at St. Thomas More with a 14:52, and who knows what that translates to in a course like Detweiller or St. Teresa. Tuscola’s Eric Ponder has been running a strong season and thus far beating everyone not named “Jon Davis”. Next there is Carlinville regional champion Curtis Reed and Mohammad Hosseini representing Mt. Zion. They’ve made it into the top ten last year and coach Mike Harbeck will make sure of that this year. The team leaders of all the top ten ranked teams: Marcus Skinner of Shelbyville, Andrew Warnes of Unity, Matt Norveil of Monticello, and Brennan Guido of St. Joseph are all worth a mention in the pack of talented runners in this race. Finally, watch for Nick Porter of Paxton, Cory Landon of Carlinville, Sawyer Sprague of Argenta (A.-Oreana), and Effingham regional champion Noah Tennison of Carlinville.
Edwardsville (Metro-East Lutheran) Sectional:
A lot of names that we saw in this sectional last year we will also see in this sectional. #10 Freeburg looks to defend their title with the very well-known pack motif led by regional champion Jonathan Kraus. As for other team contenders, there is no one else who is ranked top 20 in this sectional, but Nashville and recently Sparta would very conceivably be in anyone’s top 25 list. These River-To-River conference rivals have been competing with each other since the beginning of the season. Nashville had the upper hand earlier and the season, as did Sparta a bit later, but the one point differential that separates Sparta as the Chester regional champions and Nashville as the runner-up signifies that they are evenly-matched. What to finally wonder about this sectional is which other teams could crop up for state, as the possibilities are looking pretty open. Fairfield seems like a fair possibility with a strong top runner, as does Columbia with a pack and a front man going for them. Watch also for Carterville, Benton, and New Athens.
One runner that jumps out at me in this individual race is Fairfield’s Benton regional champion Corbin Kakac, who is definitely looking to be a noticeable individual favorite. But at Edwardsville, he might meet his match, which could very well be Chester regional champion Harrison Thomas of Carterville. Kraus is also very reliable at running good races in the late season and will definitely be in the hunt. Finally keep an eye out for Dylan Huether of Sparta, Jordan Love of Nashville, Taijhan Nelson of Murphysboro, Charlie Parrish and Alex Mack of Freeburg, and Kristian Avise- Rouse of Columbia.
#3 Elmwood-Brimfield aside, who is the definite favorite of this sectional (with or without their presumed top five runner John Barratt) and will run this sectional however they need to preparing for state, this could be any team’s race. #11 Rochester is looking to be the ideal runner-up candidate as they have strong front man Michael Gleason and a nice top five split, as we saw very well at the Quincy regional where the Rockets reigned supreme. Now one can look at #14 Pleasant Plains and dismiss them for their gaps. But one must remember how well they raced at sectionals last year’s sectionals with this same kind of ranking, so don’t count the Cardinals out just yet. #15 Tremont looks to rebound from last year’s powerhouse with this year’s pack team that has very sound potential to make a statement tomorrow. Previously unranked #19 Stanford (Olympia) appears to be coming on very strong at the right time with Connor Stine as the front runner and a 50 second 2-5 pack behind. #20 El-Paso (Gridley) has been an exceptional team all season, but is now looking vulnerable with gaps still pretty high. Typically they put it together come sectionals, though. Macomb, the champions of their own regional, as well as Monmouth (M.-Roseville and Aledo (Mercer County), should put on a lovely show in the very likely scenario that at least one of these teams sneaks into the top five.
The individual race looks to be between Matt Omulski, who seems to be the front runner of Elmwood, and Tyler Johnson of Pleasant Plains, who started strong early in the season and since then has never disappointed the 1A community with how he’s competed against all the top 1A competition. But Rochester’s Michael Gleason and Omulski’s teammate Nathan Herridge could very well win this race as well. Dark horses of this race include Macomb regional champion Nathan Ault of Monmouth-Roseville, Kelly Hoffmann and Derek McCoy of Elmwood, Wilson Pfenderer of Tremont, Hunter Cobbley and Andy Layden of El-Paso, and Connor Stine of Olympia.
Since midseason, we have had Westmont ranked. Their team consists of a strong top three and a respectable enough of a four and five to beat out their competition. However, it appears as though they have met their match in their area, as we’ve witnessed at the Aurora Christian regional with their third place finish. While none of the teams are ranked in the top twenty, there are definitely some teams in this race (besides Westmont) worthy of a top 25 ranking. This would include the Aurora Regional champions Elgin (Harvest Christian Academy) who boast a 50-second scoring split, and undoubtedly have the kind of pack to win this sectional. Lombard (Montini) also has the kind of formula to finish high in this sectional, as do the Kankakee regional champion Beecher who we’ve also seen in and out of the rankings. Beecher we’ve sometimes seen with a nice top five split. If the Bobcats get that down to where it needs to be, they could take the title. To grab spots, watch for Cullom (Tri-Point), Fairbury (Prairie Central), and Elmhurst (Timothy Christian).
The individual favorite here would have to be Aurora regional champion Tanner Chada of Aurora Christian. As of late season he’s been getting into great form, as we have witnessed in the Amboy invite. This would be followed by Brandon Wilkerson of Tri Point who was the Kankakee regional champion, as well as Nick Dea and Anthony Alessi of Westmont.
Four very notable top ten ranked teams, arguably trophy contenders, attend this sectional. This includes #4 Rockford (Christian) who looks to be the favorite in this sectional as the Winnebago sectional champions but by no means the definite favorite. #6 Winnebago tied with Rockford at regionals but their sixth man alas did not break the tie. The Indians could very well take the sectional championship, as could #7 Sterling (Newman Catholic) who could come out with yet another surprising race and take the sectional champion. And let’s also not count out #9 Johnsburg who really surprised us early in the season almost beating Rockford at the first to finish. With a stronger fifth man race, this scenario is not unrealistic. As for who looks to qualify out of sectionals, this will be a toss-up between #16 Rock Falls who has looked good all season, and #18 Galva who only finished 3 points behind Rock Falls at regionals.
The individual race will be a very close affair between a plethora of candidates. To start with Nick Monkemeyer of Rockford (Christian) who consistently runs how he needs to in this kind of race. Peru regional champion Al Baldonado has also made some late season moves, and will be a big contender for the title. Hailing Winnebago, we have both regional champion Nathan Smith and Nathan Ambrose. At least one of those runners runs a good race and finishes close up front. The same can be said of the Rock Falls duo of Seth Williams and regional champion Brayden Hemblen, as well as Bryson Reyes and Chris Ahlers of Newman and Matt Stelmasek and Noah Miller of Johnsburg. Finally, keep an eye on Ethan Stanley of Galva.
#1 St. Joe Girls will be ready to duel at Decatur (Beth Schied photo)
Decatur (St. Teresa) Sectional
With plenty of room for upset, we should see some high profile names (whatever that team is) go to state, whether they expected them or not. #1 St. Joseph (Ogden) appears to rule the roost at this point of the season, with the gold standard top five split led by Abby Fisher. The other team worth discussing is #4 Urbana (University). The Illineks saw their way early season into the #1 ranking, but now appear to have an absence in their roster that’s fudged some of their late season performance. If their full team is healthy, expect nothing short of amazement. #3 Decatur (St. Teresa) will be looking to defend their title as the meet hosts of this regional. With their very well-known fifth runner gap this season, this will not be easy for them to accomplish but by no means is it undoable. #9 Monticello has very successfully rebounded their team after many losses from last year’s team, and should be able to find their way into the top five spots, even of this tough sectional. #11 Tolono (Unity) has also had a great season and definitely worthy of a trip to Detweiller. However, “should” doesn’t mean “will”, as there are many teams (quite a few ranked now or before) also in contention for that fifth spot. This includes #19 Shelbyville, Litchfield, Carlinville, Mt. Zion, Effingham (St. Anthony), and many others that I haven’t mentioned.
Individually, we have the usual “stacked” race here in Central Illinois. The featured favorite is obviously Anna Sophia-Keller of St. Anthony, with her usual dominance. But Arielle Summit of Uni has been such a standout freshman who would be favored for second place (in the meta-race between people not named Keller). Her teammate Annamarie Michael is also well worth the mention as a scenario of Uni having a 2-3 individual finish is not unrealistic. Megan Bailey hailing for Mt. Zion seems to be emerging talent to take into account as the Carlinville regional champion with a strong time of 18:24. Watch also for Nicole Blagwell of Unity, Madison Tutich of Monticello, Colleen Madden of Carlinville, Lauren Evelti and Bree Tschosik of St. Teresa, and (as implied before) Fisher of St. Joseph.
Edwardsville (Metro-East Lutheran) Sectional:
Three ranked teams of note race in this sectional. This includes our well-known favorite, #10 Freeburg who has held their own against preseason hyped teams such as Rochester, and even beat them earlier in the season. The Lady Midgets have looked good with their depth all season and this race should be no different. However, this sectional will not be a simple “tapering act” to win as they will go against #13 Carterville. They may not look the best on paper from running in the slower/longer southern Illinois courses, as well as sitting one of their top five runners out as of recently. But the Lady Lions have gotten the job done last year, and could very well do so again and defend their section title. #16 Herrin, as everyone knows, are endowed with a strong top two, which gives the tigers a massive scoring advantage. Their pack has also been developing rather nicely. The rest of the teams in contention for state are unranked, and have been pretty low profile, but could definitely surprise. Among these teams include Sparta, Murphysboro, and Belleville (Althoff Catholic) who all have strong runners in the front and a decent pack behind them in the back. Despite obvious large gaps, big races like these could be where teams like Red Bud shine where their top two could very well go 1-2 in points.
And that brings us to the individual race… Keri Burmester of Red Bud would be the favorite as the teammate of top ten veteran and defending sectional champion, Deanna Deterding who has consistently beaten her most races. The Herrin 1-2 of Kara Martin and Maura Farrel will also be key players in this in this sectional race. Finally look out for Leslie Drone of McLeansboro (Hamilton County), who was the very noticeable Harrisburg regional champion, Ashley Brenning of Sparta, Emily Marler and Ashley Gilmore of Freeburg, and Grace Rowan of Belleville.
Whatever happens in this sectional, it will be very interesting and give us a rough idea of who will be contending for the state trophy, as we have four of the top ten ranked teams in this sectional. First, we have the favorite #2 Petersburg (PORTA) who has been traditionally known for the twins Maria and Adrienne Brauer functioning as a strong top two, but recently this has become a strong top three with Anna Tamborski finishing in between these two at the Farmington regional. The numbers are on their side in this twenty team meet with low scorers such as these. However, let us not count out #6 Rochester who finished only three points behind the Lady Jayes last Saturday. The Rockets have a strong pack led by Madeline Campbell, as do #5 Rock Island (Alleman) and #8 Eureka, who are led by Kaytlyn Golding and Quincy McSweeney respectively. Any of these teams look to finish in the top four (and any order is conceivable). As for that fifth spot, there are many possible candidates. The first is Elmwood who of course are the masters of peaking at the right time and should put in the race they need for this occasion. But other teams include the Regional champion hosts Macomb, Monmouth-Roseville, and Canton, all of whom have been ranked before.
The individual race will comprise of some very familiar faces, the stand-out favorite having be Maria. But Nicole Beebe of Canton, based on her standout regional race at Farmington, should give the Brauer twins a run for their money. Other than them, all of the other aforementioned team leaders will be top finishers. Other potentially strong finishers include the Macomb regional individual champion Carly Garnett of Carthage (Illini West), Cassandra Mundekis of Manito (Midwest Central), Abbey Green of Delavan, Karla Mendoza and Ashley Plumband of Macomb, and Ericka Hibser of Lewistown,
While there are not many ranked teams for this sectional, there are many under-radar teams that we see coming into this sectional that could surprise many in these coming races. The first of these teams would have to be #18 Palos Heights (Chicago Christian), who snuck into the rankings after taking the Aurora Christian regional title with barely any resistance. Some of the top finishers in that regional should also be top-contenders in this sectional, which include Westmont, Elgin (Harvest Christian Academy), and Aurora (A.-Christian). Representing the Luther North regional are the champions Des Plaines (Willows Academy) and for Kankakee, the champions Clifton (Central). Both of these teams should also be in contention for the title and a spot at state.
Daly Galloway of Gardner (G.-South Wilmington), the Kankakee regional champion is no doubt the favorite in this race. But also watch for Isabella Wolk of Arlington Heights (Christian Liberty Academy), the regional champion of Luther North, and also Maeve Dunaway of Willows Academy, who finished a relatively close second at that same regional. Becca Wert of Aurora Christian and Valerie Richter of Harvest Christian Academy, the top finishers of the Aurora Christian regional, should also be in the mix.
This race will definitely be a race that one should eyeball on. Teams have come out strong out of this sectional before when one would least expected it. A prime example would be #7 Kewanee (Wethersfield) who won this sectional last year and busted the rankings to come in fourth at state. The Flying Geese will be looking to defend their title and perhaps pull off a similar feat next week. Besides Wethersfield we have four other ranked teams. #12 Seneca came off strong from the get-go at the beginning of the season and never disappointed since. Watch for their top four to score low in this race. #14 Chillicothe (Illinois Valley Central) has flustered in and out of the rankings and have found their way back in after beating #15 Henry (H.-Senachwine). Both of these teams have all-state caliber front runners as well as a good top three base. The key for both of these teams will either be the fourth and fifth runners catching up to their two and three and/or their top three digging deeper into the front. #20 Woodstock (Marian) has entered the rankings from a really nice pack backing up their top runner, and as the Regional champion over Winnebago who was ranked for a while. Dark horses for this race include Prophetstown, Winnebago, and Byron.
Individually, we are looking at a race between Kirstie Ramsey of Wethersfield and Abigail Jones of Woodstock Marian, who are uncontested champions of both of their respective regionals. Other contenders include the St. Bede regional champion Demi Johnson of Illinois Valley Central, Eva Bruno of Seneca, Jillian Monier of Henry-Senachwine, and Corrie Reiley of Prophestown.