The stampede of runners at last weekend's Effingham (St. Anthony) Sectional got the job done
Opening thoughts: The first 15 and 19 of 25 final ranked teams advanced to have the right to fight on Saturday. This pretty much assures the best teams in the classification are here and extreme quality will rear its head. The top four teams all had a turn as head of the class during the season, but the last one standing on Saturday obviously matters the most.
The battle for supremacy will come down to who wants it the most. Monticello, Stanford-Olympia, and Clifton Central have been on fire as of late.
Monticello enters as the slight favorite as they have been the most lights out as of late. The Sages have a total of five healthy runners that have broken the 16:00 barrier this season, led by junior Josh Baysore's 15:21. For insurance, they have a sixth man in junior Holden Miller who has clocked 16:04. As you can see this is a deep team that does not have any vision of beating themselves.
Stanford-Olympia has been dealing with key injuries throughout the season. But somehow this team was able to win the ultra-tough Elmwood Sectional with ease (60-92 over Elmwood) minus sub 16:00 contributors sophomores Dylan Bennet and Carter Fairfield. Depth is important to a program and junior Lucas Lawless stepped in and provided a tremendous stopgap in the fifth position. On Saturday, top runners junior Charlie Kistner and senior Jon Neville will have to bring their "A" game to the battlefield. Establishing the position in the upper half of race and fight hard over the last mile should yield great returns for the Sages.
The defending champs from Clifton Central surprised some observers last year with their quick-strike ability that got the job done by four points over Elmwood. No one will be fooled this time especially after mastering virtually all of their big meets which included a split vs. Stanford-Olympia, and beating Elmwood soundly at the Amboy Invitational. The Comets will need to have their three guys, the stout trio of Isaiah Ditta, Mari Anthony, and senior Trevor Swanson in all-state positions in order to repeat. Since this is a senior loaded group, the motivation is already self-imposed.
There is one other team that hasn't garnered as much respect as it should. That squad happens to be Elmwood who has time and time again stepped up in a favorite and/or underdog role. The Trojans won the title in 2017 and were runner-ups last year by four points. They placed a distant second to Stanford-Olympia last weekend. The outlook does not favorable in terms of winning it all, but nabbing one of the three trophies is certainly within arms reach.
Don't dismiss a trailing group such as the likes of Chicago (Latin), Elgin Harvest (Christian Academy), and Niles (Northridge). They all will be among the top ten somewhere with a glimmer of hope of placing higher.
Can Dawson Smith run the table against his classification peers?
No classification runner has been able to defeat Dawson Smith (Sr., Rock Falls) in ten attempts this season. Will that be the same story this weekend? Smith has been on cruise control since placing second at the Rock River Run in late September. And why not? The ultimate goal is to move from last year's fifth spot to the top of the food chain.
Don't be surprised to find out that Noah McIntyre (Sr., Athens) has his calendar in his bedroom with the date 11.9.19 along with a bullseye dart on Smith's head circled. The setback at FTTF was his only true defeat during the season. Dawson, by the way, is the only kid to run under 15:00 (14:58). Oh, one more thing: McIntyre probably got some advice from big brother Wyatt McIntyre who was in a similar position two years ago before scoring a big win.
Ryder James (So., Paxton-Buckley-Loda) is the dark horse in the field. His team failed to qualify out of the St. Anthony Sectional where he won in a 15:55 effort. Expect for James to be looking to represent his Panther brethren and go after the win.
A glimpse of a trail of talented individuals exist with the following: Elias Bergman (Sr., Illinois Valley Central), Layton Hall (Jr., Arthur), Negus Bogard (Sr., Robinson), Drew Rogers (So., Herscher), Isaiah Ditta (Sr., Clifton Central), and Miles Sheppard (So., Hamilton/Warsaw) as they all look to be battling to place in the top five positions.