Andrew Walmer will lead US #14 Mahomet-Seymour into battle on Saturday (Mark Capapas photo)
The defending state champions look much like their northern Illinois 3A counterparts Lake Zurich- twin (well actually triplets) brothers joined at the top by another top runner, and then the 4-5 placement determining well the Rams fall. The ridiculousness of senior Jack Aho ballooned the sectional 1-5 split to 117 seconds, so although they did beat a solid Crystal Lake Central team, we will want to see some solid performances from those pack guys to put Grayslake Central firmly in a trophy position. The Rams have a great shot of finishing 1-2 at state, with senior Matt Aho following his brother closely behind.
Crystal Lake (Central)-
Cole Barkocy (Sr.) made newspaper headlines with his noble gesture in assistance of Crystal Lake South junior Jack Becker at the Fox Valley Conference meet, but now more relevant to racing, he and Weston Sterchi (Sr.) provide a 1-2 that helped Central win their conference and puts them squarely into the trophy conversation. Brandon Tomasello (Sr.) has emerged lately as well, and if another runner joins the front pack, it could be difficult to beat the Tigers.
Sycamore boasts a top runner who will surely be a state championship contender in 2017 in Stephen Poorten (Jr.). Similarly to Grayslake Central, their split can appear to be very high because of Poorten's front stick, but Sycamore has beaten some of the top teams in the state this year and is running well at the right time, with nearly all runners finishing within 10 seconds of their PR, reports coach Michael Lambdin. Building on that performance will be the teams approach, says Lambdin. "Our goal is for everyone to end the season with their fastest time of the year. If we are able to hit those PRs, our place in the team standings will take care of itself."
Sterling's studs Jacob Gebhart (Jr.) and Jonathan Landis (Sr.), give the Golden Warriors a massive advantage with possibly two all-state runners. This allowed Sterling to finish in a relatively comfortable fourth in a very deep sectional despite their fifth runner finishing 55th, the highest fifth runner score for a qualifying team. Coach Greg Hendrix knows there is still room for improvement, which means high hopes for the Golden Warriors: "Our Sectional performance was good, but not great. I think we have room for improvement in all of our top 5 runners. We always seem to run well at Peoria, so myself and the team are not satisfied with just making it to state. Our Sectional performance was good, but not great. I think we have room for improvement in all of our top 5 runners. We always seem to run well at Peoria, so myself and the team are not satisfied with just making it to state."
Dixon's scoring split at sectionals was a minuscule 13 seconds, and this proved to be extremely important for the Dukes who squeaked past Hampshire for the final qualifying spot by just 4 points. Sean Masterson (Sr.) brought it home for Dixon, but was joined very closely by Jonah Fulton (Jr.), for a cohensive team built for at least a top 10 finish.
Fenton was victorious in its home sectional. The winning formula including all scorers finishing in the top 20 and a scoring split of only 19 seconds, easily the tightest in the sectional. Fenton has come on strong at the end of the year and is one of the most experiened squads in the state with no underclassmen on the varsity team. Jose Vazquez-Perez (Sr.) and Christian Sanchez (Jr.) paced the squad finishing under 17:00 minutes on a slow course. A perfectly executed race by the Bison could get Fenton to finish as high as 17th or 18th.
Arlington Heights (St. Viator)-
Sectional champion Sam Brey (Sr.) led St. Viator to a state qualification by finishing second, in what was a solid showing for St. Viator. Kevin Goss (Jr.) was fouth and Brady Collis (Jr.) was the other top 20 finisher in 17th. This is the Lions' fifth appearance in the state meet in the last six years, and almost certainly will beat their placing last year, which was 24th as a team. Brey should be a solid all-state contender.
Payton finished behind Northside at CPL but won its regionals and then defeated Northside at the sectional, thanks especially to a third place perfrmance from Alejandro Vargas (Sr.) and a tenth place finish by Matthew Marchbanks (Jr.). These two are the lone upperclassmen on a young Grizzly squad that will look to make a run at being the best 2A team in the city league for the next couple years following. Payton could finish top 20 with solid performances from all of its runners.
Northside worked with 2 runners in the top 11 to qualify with the fourth position out of Fenton, Kyle Friedler (Sr.) and Alex Ortiz (Sr.). Northside finished 6th at the CPL Championships, and was the highest finishing 2A team, and was again led there by Ortiz. Northside will look to get as many runners under 17:00 as possible and finish potentially in the top 20 of the meet.
Coach Patrick Sheridan's recap of Elmwood Park's fifth place finish at the Fenton Sectional, especially after losing top runner Amadeus Lopez (Sr.): "Rather than let it be a death blow to the goal of qualifying for state as a team for the 4th year in a row, the 7, no seniors, circled the wagons and completed a solid week of workouts and were mentally focused and not phased by the adversity. Our #4 and #5 [Alex Martinez (Jr.) and Justin Nieves (Jr.)] did their best to keep our score/split low, and they really gutted out solid races. They persevered and got 5th place. I've never been so happy with a 5th place. It may be one of my most proud moments as a coach. With our top runner in the line up, we may have been in the top 3 fighting for the sectional title, but we had to make the best of a bad situation, and the boys really showed maturity and integrity by getting the job done."
Elmwood Park continues its streak of qualifying for state and, with a young team getting the job done, will give the state a preview of its potential before making a run at several more years of qualifying for the state meet beyond this year.
Marion proudly poses with their first place sectional trophy from the Decatur MacArthur Sectional (Beth Scheid photo)
Decatur MacArthur Sectional
Marion took home the MacArthur sectional title beating a very good Danville team with two runners in the top 10 of a deep individual field. They are led by rising 2A star John Bruce, a freshman, who has gone head to head with some of the best experienced runners in 2A.
Coach Eli Baker: "Our sectional performance was very close to what we expected. We have been strong over the last 3 weeks of season and I feel we are peaking at the right time. I feel that our times weren't what we wanted but I will blame a little of that on a windy day. Our top five got the job done but we have to change a couple of things for the race on Saturday." The goals for the meet are high: "We have big goals for our team Saturday. It has been 13 years since Marion has had a team at state and we don't want to just be there we want to be towards the top. I think that we can be a top 10 team but would love to see top 5. If we can run solid 1 through 5, I think we can do that."
Danville has succeeded in making waves by winning their conference for the first time in 34 years. The sectional was a little underwhelming in comparison, however, says coach Todd Orvis. "I have to say that although a second place finish is a tremendous accomplishment, our team was disappointed in not winning the sectional," says Orvis. "Unfortunately, we had a couple guys come up short of their potential on Saturday." Philip Hall (Jr.) had a difficult race, so do not expect him to be as far back at state as he was at sectionals. Danville is definitely a top 10 team but if they can fix things from last week, they may want to set their sights higher than that.
Ranking as high at #5 this season were the Titans of Chatham Glenwood. Glenwood was just 7 points behind Danville but has beaten sectional champion Marion earlier in the year and has shown they have firepower to make noise in 2A. Chris Durr (Sr.) has been the pack leader the entire year and is a surefire bet to race for all-state. The rapid improvement of sophomore duo Dathan and Drey Maton has been a massive advantage for Glenwood as well and the experience racing at state for these two, who finished 122nd and 150th at state last year. Glenwood has a great shot at surpassing their 12th place finish from last year.
Jackson Esela (Sr.) leads another young cross country squad, this time for the Senators team who finisehd 6th at state in 2015. Shaul Latif (Jr.) is the only other upperclassman on the sectional top 7! Watch especially freshman Kyle Boughter and sophomore Will Formea to get a feel not only for this team's chances to move ahead into a top 10 slot but also to start towards challenging for a trophy in the years coming.
Charleston finished a comfortable 48 points ahead of Mattoon to finish 5th at the MacArthur secitonal, and this was assisted by solid performances from two two men Nick Oakley (Jr.) and Austin Ames (So.), in spite of the third runner coming mre than a minute after Ames in 49th place. Although Oakley was the only PR that was set, coach Landrus believes that 7 personal bests is within reach, and that result should help give Charleston its highest finish in school history which would be 16th place or better.
Mahomet Seymour has thrown 2A (and some 3A) opponents aside all year, and now get the opportunity to flex its muscles at the state meet in hopes of redemption for last year's implosion at state. The pack of Brian Butcher (Sr.), Mathias Powell (So.), Ryan Hodge (Jr.), Ben Craw (Sr.), Gabe Pommier (Sr.) and Riley Fortune (Jr.) is led by Andrew Walmer (Sr.) , with any number of these runners capable of finishing all-state for coach Neal Garrison. "We were pleased with our sectional team performance," reflects Garrison. "We have only won the sectional meet 6 times in the 47 years of our program. So we feel very fortunate to have gotten the win." Mahomet will want to take care of business carefully at state before moving on, but we have seen consistency and dominance from the Bulldog squad all year and we expect to see much of the same this Saturday. "We know we can't control what the other teams and the other runners do. So we aren't going to focus on the other teams as much as just trying to run our best effort for the day. We hope to leave with our runners knowing they ran well."
The #2 ranked team almost all year has the misfortune of proximity to conference rival Mahomet-Seymour, which means runner up performances at conference, regionals, sectionals, and possibly state. But the Pioneers have still been spectacular in their own right, thanks in large part to Jared Schuckman (Jr.) and Jack Franklin (Sr.) running like crazy all year long. Sophomore Zach Woolford has come on strong as well and gives the Pioneers a long of front end depth to vault them high above any other team for #2 in the state. Expect big things from the Pioneers this weekend at Peoria.
Metamora ran a team with just one senior at sectionals, and that senior is star Jake Gillum, one of the most talented middle distance runners in the division and a contender for a top 3 spot at Detweiller. The rest of the team is young but is built for now as well. Adam Gilbreath-Glaub may be the best freshman in the state right now, and Robert Pedroza is solidly their third runner as a freshman as well. Gene Jones' squad has the chops to finish in the top 5, but also position themselves for a solid go at it moving forward. Watch this dangerous Redbird team!
Peoria (Notre Dame)-
Patrick Bruch (Sr.) has come through as the top runner for the Irish this year, in a season where their competition in the middle of the state has been extremely tough, but keeping their spread down less than 90 seconds put them on the right side of a very tight pack where eighth place LaSalle-Peru was only 7 points behind Peoria ND, who was fourth. A very eventful race for Notre Dame, which included a few runners finishing far back due to the heat but also solid finishes from others such as Jimmy Holmes (Sr.) means the Irish and coach Dan Gray will be shooting for a top 15 finish at Detweiller.
The other team to survive the mess at the Metamora sectional were the Eagles from Dunlap. Coach Chris Friedman's report gives a good summary of what transpired to bring Dunlap to state: "Our sectional performance was nerve wracking but ultimately great! This team has been incredibly hard working and has had two years of bad luck. We did not run a great team race at sectional, but Drew Fick (Sr.) and Carson Potts (Sr.) did enough up front to help us and then Gabby Gavino-DaCosta (Jr.) passed probably fifteen guys over the last half mile to save us." Dunlap has been ranked in the 14-18 range all season long, and are shooting for a top 15 and possibly top 12 spot.
Wheaton Academy Sectional
Riverside-Brookfield made school history by winning a sectional race for the first time ever, which is exciting acording to coach Larry Forberg especially because they did so without running their best race. The Bulldogs were a convincing meet winner by placing their fourth runner inside of any other team's third runner. Now, after an extremely successful season thus far, the Bulldogs have their sights set on maximizing their potential at state. Coach Forberg: "Of course [our team goal is] to run the best as race we can. Hopefully the seniors can say they ran their best race of their high school career at the state meet. We are not talking place with the boys but we think we can surprise some teams and confirm for ourselves what we have known up to this point, and that is our best race has been run so far."
Aurora (Illinois Math and Science Academy)-
Coach Paul McLeland's club has quietly vaulted themselves into the state meet with a solid performance finishing second at the Wheaton Academy sectional. "We were real happy with the Sectional race but not totally surprised," said McLeland. "We were only 11 points behind 1st at the regional and ran a poor race there. Times were slow at the sectional but the race went well, moving up throughout the race." Sophomore Daniel Chen is the team's top runner and he is joined closely by senior Braxton Schuldt.
Darien (Hinsdale South)-
Hinsdale South lost their two best runners from last season and dealt with some injury problems during the year too. What has helped, however, is Chris Joseph (Sr.) taking on the role of frontrunner while Brett Haffner (Jr.) has returned from injury. Sectionals proved to be tough, however, says coach Jim Dickerson. "We were not very proud of how we ran at Sectionals. Charles Thuruthiyil (Sr.) has been getting better all year and he saved us. He has never been in our top 4 and was our 3rd man. Our runners are happy to get another week to race." Although they were ranked preseason top 10, Hinsdale South has faced a little bit of adversity and now evaluates their goals based on the postseason performances, which inlude a second place at West Suburban Gold. Dickerson: "We want good individual races to end the season on a positive note. I think top 12 would be great and top 15 will be solid. But mostly we need to run our race, try to get some p.r.'s, enjoy the experience of running at state, and the place will take care of itself."
Wheaton (St. Francis)-
St. Francis ran one of their best races of the year at the right time to get them to the state meet. Coach Scott Nelson reports that all seven runners ran personal bests for the sectional course and were able to cut down on the split at this race. Their top runner, Nick Brouch (Sr.), was outkicked by Jesus Palmerin (Sr.) from Kennedy for the sectional win but still posted a great 15:29 time and looks to be a possible all-state contender. Nelson says that the team intends to aim after PR's for all seven runners again and to put the pack closer to Brouch.
Chicago (Brother Rice)-
The Crusaders are left patting the dust off their jackets after edging out Wheaton Academy by just a point for the final qualifying spot. "Our sectional race was not good at all, far from our best," says coach Tom Wazio. "We did not run as a team like we had done in our previous two races. After winning the regional the week before, we felt that we should have been 2nd at the sectional and at worst 3rd if we run to our capabilities. So, to finish 5th by just 1 point, and come so close to ending our season, it was not the feeling we wanted. However, we've been given another chance to show what kind of team we are and hopefully we can have a great team race like we did in the regional and end the season on a high note."
The team is led by Joe Sweeney (Sr.) and have a pair of sophomores in Tommy Gleeson and Dan Spellman to support Sweeney. Rice can finish in the top 15, if their regional win is any indication.