NXN Midwest Preview: Can Judy Pendergast Help Naperville North Bounce Back?

Judy Pendergast set the Detweiller Park course record with a stunning 15:53.8 to win the Illinois Class 3A State Championship last weekend, while her No. 6 nationally ranked Naperville North team placed runners-up behind bubble team Minooka. (Photo by Colin Boyle)

Terre Haute, IN | Sunday | Girls 1:00 CT/2:00 ET | Boys 1:30 CT/2:30 ET

Projected Team Scores
States: IN, IL, OH, MI, MO

Girls Race Preview

Flo50 teams: No. 6 Naperville North (IL), No. 7 Carmel (IN), No. 10 Centerville (OH), No. 18 Yorkville (IL), bubble Glenbard West (IL), bubble Minooka (IL)
Flo50 individuals: No. 8 Judy Pendergast (IL), No. 19 Anna Sophia Keller (IL), No. 24 Sarah Leinheiser (IN), bubble Lindsey Payne (IL), bubble Madison Troy (MI)

Top returning girls: Sarah Kettel (MI), Anna Sophia Keller (IL), Rachel Bonner (MI), Dominique Clairmonte (OH), Alex Buck (IN), Lexa Barrott (MI), Anna West (MO), Lauren Johnson (IN), Cayla Eckenroth (MI)

Judy Pendergast is the real deal, but can she lead her Naperville North girls to another NXN berth? The No. 6 ranked Huskies will look to redeem themselves after placing a close second to bubble team Minooka at the Illinois Class 3A State Championship last weekend, 147 to 130 points. The two teams match up very closely, but in a large-scale race like this, Naperville should get the upper hand with an automatic low-stick in Pendergast.

Pendergast has run well all season, but her record-setting 15:53.8 run at the state meet made her a national contender. She is the individual favorite here, though Lindsey Payne (runner-up at state in 16:15) will make her work for it, as will Class 1A state champion Anna Sophia Keller, who clocked a solo 16:21 at state for the third-fastest time of the day and has never lost a cross country race to an Illinois girl.

Keller was third in the region last year and is the No. 2 returner behind defending champion Sarah Kettel of Michigan, who has won her past four races after losing a few early season battles. Fellow Michigander Madison Troy is on a hot streak and enters after clocking the fastest time of the day (17:28.2) at the state meet. The sophomore has not raced out of state before and is an 'X' factor here.

Defending team champions Carmel is back and ranked No. 7 in the nation. The Greyhounds may or may not win again, but they certainly look poised to make their sixth consecutive NXN appearance - especially after racing to a dominant 70-point victory at the Indiana state meet. The change-maker for Carmel is standout Sarah Leinheiser, who has emerged as a leader in her junior year after racing as consistent No. 6 last year. She recently clocked 17:22 at Semi-State for the second-fastest 5K in Indiana state history behind only two-time Foot Locker champion Anna Rohrer.

Not to be overlooked in team standings is Centerville of Ohio, currently ranked No. 10 and fresh off a state meet title. Leader Lainey Studebaker is arguably the top cross country runner in the state and has dipped into the 17:30s for 5K on two occasions. The only blemish on their resume is a six-point loss to No. 9 Shenendehowa of New York at the McQuaid Invitational in early October.

Prediction: 1. Carmel 2. Naperville North