Cross Country Season 2015... On The Verge!

Last year's 3A state championship race was like must see action (Colin Boyle image)

-3A/2A boys storyline by Ray Lewis - twitter: @Ray Lewis

-1A storyline by Alex Goodlad-

-3A/2A girls storyline by Tony Jones- twitter: @ilptt - Illinoisprepster ; @milesplitil - Milesplit Illinois

The build up to the official start date of the 2015 cross country season is about 1 week away but why wait until August 12 on the official day of the season to get your fix. The start-up of the season has already been in effect with our summer running blog series, pre-season returning rankings, and computer rankings. For many distance running fiends, the pursuit of cross country happiness actually started as soon as the 2015 IHSA track and field season ended for the vast majority of the returning teams and individuals. But of course each new season begins with its own set of rules. MileSplit Illinois has decided to launch its own hyperactive attack. Check out a few salvos thrown out to the masses:

Anna Sophia Keller has been the queen of 1A girls cross country the last two years

-Let’s start with Class A girls

It is official. While they were competitive last season- and should be this season- the tradition of team dominance by Decatur (St. Teresa) was broken. The Bulldogs finished fifth and was awarded a promotion to Class 2A this season. The 1A throne now belongs to St. Joseph-Ogden who concluded a spectacular season with the same dominating pack running style Class A state championship team. The Spartans have to be the odds on favorite right? Unless something unforeseen happened within the last calendar year, they will return five of the top seven from a killer state championship team. However, don’t automatically give SJO the title without considering some stiff competition. Last year’s state runner-up Urbana (University) will have a full squad returning along with fourth place finisher Petersburg-PORTA.

Projected pre-season top five teams: 1) Petersburg (Porta), 2) Urbana (University), 3) St. Joseph (Ogden), 4) Seneca, 5) Tolono (Unity)

Individually, the race for supremacy could be a little more interesting this season than in the past. Two-time defending xc state champion Anna Sophia Keller (Jr., Effingham St. Anthony) won the state 3200m and 1600m titles last spring in Charleston. Keller indeed won her first triple crown but it was paid with a tough price. Keller indicated then under a hot sun that she had to miss training time due to a sore hip. Perhaps, it is the growing pains that has allowed Daly Galloway (Jr., Gardner-South Wilmington [in the fall]) to narrow the gap. Galloway ran 10:46 to finish just four seconds in back of Keller in Charleston. Keller has continued to miss crucial training days this summer. It may be a matter of time before Galloway becomes a true title threat. The senior Brauer twins Maria and Adrienne ran extremely well during the past school year and now appear on the verge of making Class A more than just a two girl event. It is not to say they will beat the Keller-Galloway duo but some added quality in terms of big times should be witnessed all season long.

Projected top ten individual girls: 1) Anna Sophia-Keller (Jr., Effingham St. Anthony), 2) Daly Galloway (Jr., Gardner- South Wilmington), 3) Arielle Summitt, (So., Urbana University), 4) Katelyn Robbins (Fr., Liberty), 5) Maria Brauer (Sr., Petersburg-Porta), 6) Adrienne Brauer (Sr., Petersburg-Porta), 7) Annemarie Michael (Jr., Urbana University), 8) Kirstie Ramsey (Jr., Kewanee-Weathersfield), 9) Isabella Wolke (Jr., Christian Liberty Academy), 10) Keri Burmester (Sr., Red Bud)

Jon Davis is equally talented and intense when it comes to cross country

-The Class A Boys will be heard loud and clear

After the Monticello finally earned the coveted state championship trophy that the program has long deserved, the Sages will be looking for more hardware despite a few graduation loses. The quest to get to the top of the podium will not be easy with Tolono (Unity) lurking. Veteran head coach Dike Stirrett has been coaching 42 years and a gold ring would look good on his finger. The Rockets set themselves up well after the success of the track team winning it all. Let’s not forget that the 4x8 relay took first place honors in 7:59.63. This could be a great foreshadowing for the fall considering all four members of that relay return for cross country duties. And it is a luxury that there are seven starters returning they will be pushed to their limit by some very familiar names who have well proven coaching and talent returning.

Projected top five teams: 1) Tolono (Unity), 2) Rockford Christian, 3) Shelbyville, 4) Monticello, 5) Elmwood Brimfield

Keller is not the only defending 2014-2015 school season triple-crown winner. Oakwood senior to be Jon Davis completed the task on the boy’s side by sweeping the 3200m (record time of 9:05.23) and 1600m at state. Davis is certainly the heavy favorite for his third state title in a row, but he indicated on several occasions that he would like to get back to San Diego and complete some unfinished business in the Footlocker National Championship. In order words he was not pleased with finishing 37th out of 40 runners. Tanner Chada of Aurora Christian will be motivated after missing the entire track season with a knee injury. The junior finished third in Peoria last fall. Nick Monkemeyer has been a mainstay for his Rockford Christian team which includes two top ten finishes in the state championship. Monkemeyer could be ready for the next big step this fall as he has already ran 15:39 on the Detweiller course this summer.

Projected top 10 individuals: 1) Jon Davis (Sr., Oakwood), 2) Tanner Chada (Jr., Aurora Christian), 3) Nick Monkemeyer (Sr., Rockford Christian), 4) Tyler Johnson (Sr., Pleasant Plains), 5) Seth Williams (Sr., Rock Falls), 6) Matt Osmulski (Sr., Elmwood-Brimfield), 7) Marcus Skinner (Sr., Shelbyville), 8) Ross McCormick (Sr., Seneca), 9) Hunter Cobbley (Sr., El Paso-Gridley), 9) Brayden Hamblen (Jr., Rock Falls), 10) Cory Landon (Sr., Carlinville)

Maryjeanne Gilbert is the one to watch this fall

Mahomet-Seymour will look to overthrow Yorkville for 2A Boys supremacy-

The 2A Boys’ team championship race is a logjam, with several teams returning most of their runners, and young teams with success are now maturing. Defending champion Yorkville lost their top two runners but return all five others- Mahomet-Seymour brought home the runner-up trophy and returns six of their seven. Top ten finishers Springfield, Grayslake Central and Vernon Hills all at least four of their seven from last year. The depth in this year's class is unprecedented and the championship looks to be compelling... but one team seems to be the clear pre-season favorite. Is it the defending champion Yorkville, who will now navigate their first season without the Hoffert twins Jake and Luke? Is it Mahomet-Seymour pack, looking to improve on a second place finish? Or is there a sleeper in the pack?

Projected top five teams: 1) Mahomet-Seymour, 2) Yorkville, 3) Metamora, 4) Darien (Hinsdale South), 5) Springfield

The 2A Boys' individual race is now more wide open than it has been in several years. Ten of the top thirteen finishers from last years' race return and all of them are very capable of winning the race this fall. Shane Williamson, Alex Keeble, Eryk Yunk, Charlie Nodus, Luke Beattie, Jack Aho, Ashton Hyatt... the list just grows, and there are dozens of others as well. If there are so many runners though, why will this race come down to two names in particular? And who are they? We could tease you and say that Keeble is the favorite to win the state title after posting a very fast 14:49 from the Detweiller at Dark meet. Unfortunately, though, championships are not won in July. Aho competed in 3A for track and posted 9:12 for 3200m. He automatically threw his name into the hat with that performance. The report could go on and on...

Projected top 10 individuals: 1) Jack Aho (Jr., Grayslake Central), 2) Shane Williamson (Jr., Vernon Hills), 3) Alex Keeble (Sr., Mahomet-Seymour), 4) Heath Warren (Sr., Springfield), 5) Jake Gillum (Jr., Metamora), 6) Charlie Nodus (Sr., Hinsdale South), 7) Luke Beattie (Sr., Woodstock), 8) Eryk Yunk (Sr., Belvidere North), 9) Walmer Saavedra (Sr., Chicago Lindblom),10) Cole Barkocy (Jr., Crystal Lake Central)

-Yorkville girls, Maryjeanne Gilbert will look to depend team and individual state titles

The challenge that lies ahead for four-time defending state champ Yorkville is real. They will have to try and get the fifth one without Skyler Bollinger. Bollinger has been the face of the Foxes since she was in middle school. Now she will compete for Great Oak, California for her senior year. Coach Chris Muth and company will be ok though in chasing after Winnebago who won five titles in a row on the Class A level. The Foxes will use experience and youth to continue their winning formula. Alexis Grandys did not have a great spring but she has the mind of a champion when you consider that she finished runner-up in Peoria last fall. Watch for the new yearlings led by freshman Olivia Borowiak to make an impact.

Runner-up Lake Forest would have put a serious challenge to Yorkville, but instead they are were moved up to the 3A ranks due to enrollment changes. The Scouts return all seven of their runners. Dunlap and Lemont should fight it out as the best challengers to Yorkville when the dust settles.

Projected top five teams: 1) Yorkville, 2) Lemont, 3) Dunlap, 4) Chicago (Latin), 5) Belvidere North

The individual race alone will be worth every dollar and cent with Maryjeanne Gilbert commanding the spotlight. Gilbert won the state title with ease in 16:12- the second fastest time ever by an Illinois girl for three miles. Maryjeanne went on to become an All-American in the Footlocker National Championship where she placed 12th. Gilbert should once again become locked in record times, a state title, and even more ready for the national exposure that is sure to flock her way. So when it is all said and done it will be Maryjeanne, Maryjeanne, MARYJEANNE!

Top Ten Girls chart: 1) Maryjeanne Gilbert (Sr., Peoria Notre Dame), Jenna Lutzow (Jr., Belvidere North), Alexis Grandys (Jr., Yorkville), Kortney Schardt (Sr., Lakes), Madison Ronzone (Sr., Aurora Rosary), Karina Liz (Sr., Aurora Central Catholic), Lauren Whitehouse (Sr., Mahomet-Seymour), Miranda Kruiswyk (So., Dunlap), Vivian Overbeck (Sr., Vernon Hills), Kate Jacobs (Jr., Woodstock)

-3A Boys will the crown jewel of cross country once again

It was just last November when Hinsdale Central and Orland Park (Sandburg) came into the state meet as favorites, and the Red Devils big race experience overcame the Eagles depth and they won their second straight state championship. Hinsdale Central returns a strong team... but Sandburg's track season this past year was historically good, running more than 10 runners in the 3200m under 10:10. Will Hinsdale Central be the pre-season favorite to three-peat, or will Sandburg's historic depth land them a pre-season ranking #1? And where do last year's #3 and #4 teams, LaGrange (Lyons) and Naperville (Neuqua Valley) fit into the rankings, as both programs return several pack runners? Lake Zurich had one of the best Frosh-Soph teams in recent memory last year. Where will their young pack land them in the preseason? And finally, one year after Elmhurst (York) barely qualified for the state meet and ran a surprise sixth at the state championship and third in the NXN Midwest Regional Championship- narrowly missing a berth to the national championship. Will the Dukes regain their status as a perennial trophy contender?

Projected top five teams: 1) Orland Park (Sandburg), 2) Hinsdale Central. 3) Naperville (Neuqua Valley), 4) Lyons Township, 5) Lake Zurich

Seven of the top twelve finishers at Peoria last year return: Matt Pereira, Kevin Salvano, and Connor Horn are among them. Pereira is the first returner but is he the favorite? Charlie Kern was one of the top freshmen in the country last year and he is now seasoned. Horn has finally been healthy for a year and finished fourth in the state 3200m. Perhaps the most surprising development this past track season, however, was the emergence of Irwin Loud, finishing second in the 3200 (he is the #1 returner for this coming fall). Which one of these runners will enter the season as the favorite, and why does history tell us THIS year's state meet will be one to remember?

Projected top 10 runners: Matt Pereira (Jr., Lake Zurich), Charlie Kern (So., Elmhurst York), Irvin Loud (Jr., Oak Park-River Forest), Connor Horn (Sr., Neuqua Valley), Kevin Salvano (Sr., Buffalo Grove), Keagan Smith (Sr., Huntley), Connor Madell (Sr., Lyons Twp.), Blake Evertsen (Jr., Hinsdale Central), Dustin Macuiba (Sr., Gurnee Warren), Chris Brenk (Sr., Hinsdale Central).

-Naperville North: On the verge of all-time greatness in 3A girls annals

Naperville North Head Coach Dan Iverson seemed a bit surprised by the way that his team dominated the state meet last fall. The Lady Huskies crushed a solid field that contained an awesome team in Palatine that qualified for NXN (4th in Portland, OR) and then #1 Glenbard West who very well could have punched their tickets to Portland. The same three teams could be head and shoulders above everyone this fall. Naperville North will return five of their top seven state finishers along with some incredible depth that could spell regulars from racing every weekend. As well the Huskies added some leg speed to their already dangerous arsenal with a 4x800 relay state championship this past spring. But the mainstay for the defending state champions is their tight-knit pack running. Even with an emerging super talented runner Judy Pendergast to stretch out the 1-5 split, the Huskies should still reign supreme when locked and loaded.

Palatine lead man Joe Parks indicated that his biggest concern for his team is complacency. This is rather hard to believe since Palatine has historically done well in cross country over the years. The Pirates do return 10 key runners including the powerful Kelly O'Brien.

Glenbard West is a team that can strike its way to the top when healthy. Of course the rise and fall of the fall of the Hilltoppers will rely on Lindsay Graham's health. But Lindsey Payne is reportedly in great shape after playing soccer during the spring. Glenbard West will be a senior dominate team this fall for the first time in a long time.

Other teams that need to be considered are New Trier despite the lost of Mimi Smith. The Trevians will have six state returners back in tow; Hinsdale Central will be as good as Alexa Haff, Anne Zaher, and the returning varsity cast will take them; Minooka and 3A newcomer Lake Forest will surprise this fall.

Top five projected teams: 1) Naperville North, 2) Glen Ellyn (Glenbard West), 3) Palatine, 4) Minooka, 5) Winnetka (New Trier)

Individually, there is belief that a bevy of girls could be the harrier queen it all goes down in late November. Defending state champion Lindsay Graham is still hobbling around after missing most of the track season with a growth plate issue in her foot. While she is in on the mend, runners such as Judy Pendergast, Kelly O'Brien, and Brooke Wilson have been improving at an alarming rate. Pendergast won the state 3200m time and posted the state's #2 time of 10:34.55. She could be the early favorite in the official preview. But what should be taken note is a changing of the guard in terms of age leadership. For the first time, perhaps, the upperclassmen are leading the charge. It appears advancements in coaching girls intelligently through puberty is starting to show a winning formula after frosh-soph years success. Let's hope the trend continues.

Projected top ten runners: 1) Judy Pendergast (Sr., Naperville North), 2) Kelly O'Brien (Sr., Palatine), Ashley Tutt (Jr., Minooka), Lindsay Graham (Sr., Glenbard West), Anne Zaher (Sr., Hinsdale Central), Audrey Ernst (So., St. Charles North), Rachael Lau (Sr., Plainfield North), Brooke Wilson (Jr., Prospect), Meagan Biddle (Sr., Hoffman Estates), Emma Milburn (So., Lake Forest)