Welcome to one of the most compelling races, if not the most compelling race, among all six races this weekend. Good luck predicting the trophy teams and order for Girls 2A. Although there are a small number of clear favorites, there are a few tricky moving parts. First, a few quick Q&A before diving into the specifics of the major players this weekend:
Q: Who is the team favorite?
A: While Latin might be the 'team to beat', Benet Academy certainly is the bettor's favorite and likely the best team 'top to bottom.'
Q: What is the major team battle story line?
A: Latin and Benet are the major favorites in an extreme contrast of styles-Latin's frontrunners vs. Benet's airtight pack of seven.
Q: Who else are major trophy contenders?
A: Vernon Hills, Belvidere North, Lakes, Saint Ignatius, Dixon, and Glenwood. Dunlap, Notre Dame, Crystal Lake South, Prairie Ridge and Bloomington occupy the next major tier.
Q: Any 'dark horses' in this race?
A: It is odd to consider the defending state champion a dark horse, but Belvidere North could win or could finish 15th. They are a team to watch. Lakes is a 'dark horse' as well.
LET'S BREAK ALL DOWN-
Lisle (Benet Academy)
Benet Academy received the bump down to 2A after finishing 12th in 3A last year. Although their pack running and lack of a frontrunner did not translate to trophy-level in 3A, it is an ideal formula for 2A state success. The Redwings have been the only team to be a consistent and clear state favorite the entire season. Evaluating this team's success has been tricky, however, because they have not run against much competition in the second part of the season. The Redwings began with an impressive 2nd place finish over York at the Leavey Invite and won the Wheaton North Falcon Classic, but neither were against much 2A competition (and the Falcon classic is a flighted meet). Note: Benet Academy also took down a 3A heavy field at Naperville North.
Benet's racing style is unique as well. The Redwings are the deepest team by far in the state, and their strength beyond 7 gives them flexibility. However, even with their small runner-to-runner splits, the team does not employ pack running in a traditional sense. Each of the postseason meets is evidence of this. Take, for example, the East Suburban Catholic League Championships, which they won handily by finishing 4-10. No runners were farther than 15 seconds from the last, but no runners were closer than 7 seconds. This 'string' pack running is also how the Redwings dominated the Bremen Regional and Thornridge Sectional. The pack doesn't appear to be invincible, either-typical frontrunner Elisabeth Camic (Jr.) has faltered back to non-scoring 2x this postseason-but they are deep enough to withstand issues in the pack. The team has been led by Camic, Emily Spellman (Jr.), and Joy Jackson (Jr.). Each of these girls are firmly in the all-state conversation. The rest of the pack is Amelia Parisi (So.), Louisa Diamond (Fr.), Mary Weber (So.), and Meagan Andrews (Jr.).
Championship Chances: Likely the favorite in the field
Trophy Chances: The closest team to a lock to finish top 3
The biggest challenge to Benet Academy will come from Latin, who ran by far the most impressive race of their season and of any team in 2A during sectionals. Ava Parekh (So.) has been a given low stick runner all year. But the most significant performance was likely that of Bea Parr (Jr.), running in her first-ever cross country season. Parr ran 18:45 at Detweiller in September, but her 19:23 second-place finish at Fenton within a minute of Parekh put her and her team on a new plane (note that Fenton ran at least a minute and a half slow that day). Last year's 3rd place finisher, Marianne Mihas (Jr.), has had a long season of injury setbacks and recovery, but is clearly on the path back to her usual self. The Romans therefore sports easily the state's strongest 1-2-3 punch, especially if Mihas' trend continues-the three could all be All-State runners. Strong races from McKenna Fellows (So.) and Olivia Syftestad (Jr.) made Latin the easy winner at Fenton and a strong favorite for the team title.
However, in contrast to Benet Academy, Latin has absolutely no room for error-there has typically been at least a minute drop off from 5 to 6, and at sectionals, it was almost a minute and a half. This gap can be a difference of about 80 points, and although the Romans have the highest ceiling of every team at state, the floor is low as well and will require once again strong performances from every runner 1-5 again. If the Romans were to run a dual against Benet Academy, it is also entirely possible Latin would finish 1-3 and Benet 4-10, with Latin 11-14. If Latin runs its best race, Benet Academy's pack will have to be very close to the front to counter... but if Latin falters anywhere, Benet will be able to respond easily.
Championship Chances: Most likely team to score under 100 points and good chance to win
Trophy Chances: Good but thin pack means possibility of falling out of the top 3
Belvidere North has been the real head-scratcher of the year. In 2018, the Blue Thunder won paced by All-State performances from Gianna Sagona (Sr.), Madison Diercks (Sr.), and Sydnie Elder (Jr.). They also returned Caitlin Corso (Sr.) along with the rest of the scoring team, so despite an unimpressive track season relative to that cross country performance, the Blue Thunder figured to be head-to-head with Benet Academy for the state title. Could it be because of coaching changes?
The season has not unfolded that way for Belvidere North, however. This began with a distant 5th place finish at the First To The Finish Invite and then a string of unimpressive performances throughout the year. Diercks' absence played a role in the Blue Thunder's disappointment, but even Sagona and Elder's times were a far cry from the 2018 performances. The fortunes of the Blue Thunder appeared to reverse at NIC-10 Conference, where Sagona, Diercks, and Elder finished 1-2-4, and Corso, as well as newcomer Alexia Pecora (Fr.), helped BN take down a tough Hononegah team. The pack was similarly strong at a somewhat thin regional, with Anna Hulstedt (Sr.) scoring to help BN defeat Dixon 26-30.
But North's sectional performance was more reminiscent of early season North. The Blue Thunder finished fifth in the Belvidere sectional, and although qualifying for state was never quite in the question, BN's staying power as a trophy contender is uncertain. Still, they return three all-staters and that means the ceiling is high for BN. They must be considered as strong top-3 candidates.
Championship Chances: Defending the state title is not out of the question but it will be difficult
Trophy Chances: Strong trophy contender
Vernon Hills was the runner-up last year to Belvidere North, and an already young team reloaded with a strong freshman class, headed by Rose Sheridan and Reina Hill. Vernon Hills' season began extremely strong, with dominant wins at Lake County, Woodstock, and especially First to the Finish. The Cougar's pack has been comprised of frontrunner Sheridan, and followed by Emma Wakefield (So.,), Hill, Carly Sear (Sr.), Anna Todd (Fr.), Rachel Ackerman (Fr.) and CJ Leuck (So.). These early season performances gave Vernon Hills the look of the midseason favorite, especially as Belvidere North faltered.
But after a strong showing at Palatine taking down 3A competition like Wheaton South, Vernon Hills' progress has stalled a little bit. This trend has been amplified by recent struggles by Sheridan, specifically a fall short of the finish at CSL Conferences and a 34th place finish as the Cougars' #6 at Fenton. Fortunately, Wakefield took Sheridan's place and ran her strongest race of the year and Vernon Hills finished a solid third, but they will need Sheridan back with Wakefield if Vernon Hills has trophy hopes.
Championship Chances: Outside chance with right circumstances
Trophy Chances: Strong trophy contender
Lake Villa (Lakes Community)
Discussion of Lakes' team obviously begins with star Brooke Stromsland (Jr.). But a major reason the Eagles needs to be considered a major trophy contender is the emergence of her teammate Olivia Schmitt (Sr.). Schmitt, a Columbia University (NY) commit, received an invitation along with Stromsland to the Naperville Twilight Invite and ran 18:11 against staunch 3A competition. The potential for two all-staters means this squad should be considered in the trophy conversation.
The Eagles also raised eyebrows with a 78-90 victory over Dixon at the Belvidere Sectional. The 3-5 pack of Maddie Perez (Fr.), Rebecca Runyan (Fr.), and Alex Bryant (Jr.) all finished in the top 30. The first 5 for Lakes crew is talented and can hang with most teams but like Latin, the minute-plus drop-off back to #6 means there is little room for error. Still, winning the most crowded sectional in the state is a major point in favor of a team that heartbreakingly missed out last year.
Championship Chances: Outside chance
Trophy Chances: Strong Trophy contender
Chicago (Saint Ignatius)
Saint Ignatius, the Fenton Sectional runner-up to Latin, has the unique benefit of three potential all-staters. Rhiannon O'Keefe (Sr.) has been the Wolfpack's lead runner for three years, and was joined at the front of races by Lexi Affolter (Jr.) at the start of this year. Kristina Dalton (Sr.) joined O'Keefe and Affolter at the mid-point of the season by winning the Solorio Invitational in 18:03. Dalton, Affolter, and O'Keefe have been interchangeable all season and finished 2-3-4 at GCAC Conferences, where Saint Ignatius beat Loyola in a 6th runner tiebreak. Saint Ignatius' three can rival Latin's three with a great race. Late in the season, Saint Ignatius strung together consecutive invitational victories at Solorio, West Aurora, and then GCAC.
Maddie Semmer (Sr.) has been the consistent 4th runner, and Mia Trotter (Jr.), Zoey Holland (So.), and Lexi Noonan (Fr.) have all scored for Saint Ignatius during the year. Saint Ignatius runs seven deep, but will likely need improvement from both packs to match with Latin or Benet (each of Latin's runners beat Saint Ignatius' runners respectively at Fenton).
Championship chances: Outside chance
Trophy Chance: Strong trophy contender
Dixon, led by potential all-state juniors Jade Miller and Paige Stees, were runner-ups to Lakes at Belvidere and have a similar team make-up to Lakes but lack the instant low stick that other teams have.
Crystal Lake South was a surprise winner at the Peoria Central Invite and will hope to replicate that performance at Detweiller again. They are led by freshman Isabella Gonzalez.
Dunlap is also led by a freshman, Saniya Mathew, and had a similarly strong performance midseason at Peoria Central but has yet to replicate that performance.
Barring a major upset, the top three individuals in the girls' 2A race should be Tatum David (Fr., Olney (Richland County) ,Parekh (So., Chicago (Latin)), and defending 2A champ Stromsland, in some order. As far as what that order will be, that is a more tricky conversation, so let us dive into that.
Freshman sensation David ran what may have been the most eye-popping performance of the season regardless of classification when she ran 16:37 at First to the Finish, taking down a relatively deep field and beating Parekh by over 30 seconds. In that race, David went far to the front, and Parekh never made much of an effort to stay with David, who pulled away and maintained a massive lead. Although this performance makes David look like a clear favorite for state, this September 14 race was the last time David was even remotely pushed by anyone all season. In the four races since FTTF, David has won by margins of 2:01, 2:09, 2:56 (Mattoon regional), and 2:02 (MacArthur sectional). Although David has been running fast, state appears to be the first race she will be running in almost two full months, so it is difficult to gauge where she is in her preparation for the most competitive she will be running by a far cry. She has run fast all year, in her favor, and has run sub-17:05 in every race since FTTF.
Parekh, last year's 4th place finisher as a freshman, is much improved from that weekend. After finishing in 17:07 at FTTF, Parekh had Lianna Surtz to run with at Richard Spring and improved to 16:53.9. Parekh's biggest step forward came at the weeknight Naperville Twilight Invite, where she beat Surtz and finished within 10 seconds of Katelynne Hart to run 16:33.9 for second. This performance was the #2 3-mile performance in Illinois until David beat it by tenths at her sectional meet. Although her times are no indicator, Parekh has been dominant running hard solo efforts at her home regional measured to be around 5k (17:16) and winning the mudfest Fenton sectional which ran anywhere from 1:30-2:00 slow (18:29). Although David does have the head-to-head victory over Parekh, Parekh has the benefit of running against firm competition all year and is more experienced than David. Is it difficult to install one as the favorite over the other, but David likely gets the small nod with a slight asterisk.
Still, neither of these girls are the defending 2A champ, which is Brooke Stromsland of Lakes. Last year, Stromsland kicked down Surtz and won in 16:32, a 50 second Detweiller PR for her. Stromsland has a number of impressive wins in 2019, including a 17:48 early season 5k win at the Lake County Invite, a 16:46 win at the Peoria Invite, and a defeat of Aly Negovetich of Grant at the North Lake County Conference meet. She also ran 17:05 for second in the 3A FTTF race and finished 3rd in 17:45 at Palatine during the sloppiest weekend of the year. Stromsland lost to Parekh head-to-head at Naperville Twilight and was 30 second behind David's time at FTTF but has to be considered a co-favorite with the other two.
The race will likely see David begin by running a hard, firm pace as she has all year. Watching Parekh's and Stromsland's responses will be interesting, since David is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. Parekh's racing style will likely put her closer to David and allow her to take the pace, but Parekh will look to front run if she gets the chance. Stromsland may take a more savvy approach and try to move in the last mile as she did in 2018. Nonetheless, this is potentially the most compelling individual race of all six, so make sure not to miss it!
A number of talented runners may also pull away from the chase pack. Bloomington Sectional's champ Olivia Rosenstein (Sr., Urbana) has run 17:26 at Detweiller. She will likely be close by familiar foe Emma Skinner (So., Morton), the Mid-Illini Conference champ with a 17:05 Detweiller best. There is a gaggle of strong individuals from the Belvidere Sectional, headed by Gonzalez and Siobhan Stoll (Sr., Marian Central Catholic). If sectionals is any indication, we should expect to see Latin runners Parr and Mihas near this group as well. Kaylie Politza (So., Lemont) has beaten Benet's pack multiple races now and will likely be running in the top 10. And of course, if healthy, the aggressive-running Sheridan will be mixing it up with these girls as well. After these girls, it will be a very crowded pack of around 40 girls vying for the 25 all-state spots.