In what has been a relatively thin year at the Boys' 2A level, the Knights of Kaneland have consistently been the front-runners and enter as the team favorite, although not as the clear favorites. There are a few other teams involved and the race proves to be compelling. Some quick points before in-depth looks at the main players for Saturday.
Q: Who is the team favorite?
A: Kaneland. With two potential top-5 finishers, Kaneland has room for error in the back of their packs. But the margin between Kaneland and the pack has shrunk since September.
Q: What is the major team battle storyline?
A: Kaneland will have to fend off upstate rival Dixon and 2A newcomer Saint Ignatius to win the title.
Q: Who else are major trophy contenders?
A: Morton, Mascoutah, and Glenwood occupy the first tier. Sycamore, Marmion Academy, and St. Francis are on the periphery of the conversation.
Maple Park (Kaneland)
The undefeated Knights come off a defeat of Dixon and appear best poised of the 2A field to make a run at the 1st place trophy. This strong squad will have two runners finish long before any other schools with the Austin Adams and Dan Occhipinti duo- it is possible for both to be top four in team scoring. Kaneland won the 2A race of the early season First to the Finish invite convincingly, scoring 71 points to Marmion's 185 and Saint Ignatius' 190. This cemented the Knights as the season-long favorite. The Knights went on to finish 1-4 and 9 for 19 points at their conference meet to win, adding to invite wins at Crystal Lake South, Antioch, the Rock River Run, and both Regional and Sectional meets.
After Adams and Occhipinti are seniors Ethan Walker, Ethan Neale, and Ben Durbala, as well as juniors Isaiah Dallal and Parker Malone. Dallal and Walker have been the typical 3-4 runners and have consistently finished within 30 seconds of their first two finishers. The trick for Kaneland will be finding a performer to finish as the fifth runner to solidify a championship. Durbala began the season as the team's fifth but was lost to injury for nearly a month and a half before returning as the team's 7th at Belvidere. Kaneland's five was over 40 seconds behind Walker in the three spots, which might be a little too far for comfort for coach Chad Clarey's squad. Fortunately, Kaneland might not need a stellar performance from five because of its power upfront. Kaneland is the favorite in the 2019 Boys 2A race.
Championship Chances: Best chances in the field
Trophy Chances: Likely to trophy
Dixon has been the #2 throughout the course of the season and finished just points behind Kaneland at sectionals. The Dukes major Invite highlight was at the Peoria Invite with a massive victory in 68 points over runner-up Springfield with 202. There, it was a split on five was only 38 seconds off Brock Drengenberg's (Jr.) 15:26. Like Kaneland, Dixon has had a dependable pack of four-Sterling regional champ Drengenberg at the front, Christian Seagren (Sr.) second, and Cadyn Grafton (Jr.) and Logan Griswold (Sr.) three and four. Peoria Central proved to be the closest Dixon has come to finding a reliable fifth runner, but a 33 second split between four and five prevented the Dukes from defeating Kaneland at sectionals. It is more urgently that the Dukes address this issue than Kaneland, since it lacks the firepower at the front of the race, but has an advantage at the fourth position. at the moment.
Trophy Chances: Very good
Chicago (Saint Ignatius)
Saint Ignatius defeated Dixon at First to the Finish, but did not have the pack at the time to challenge Kaneland. Now, the Wolfpack come off a convincing win at Fenton, and Jacob Flynn (Sr.) appears to be established as a top-10 runner in the state. Saint Ignatius has a clear #2 in Liam Linnen (Jr.), and a #3 in Harry Lesak (Sr.), although Kaneland and Dixon are ahead of Wolfpack up through this point. Saint Ignatius will hope to ride the depth from a strong sophomore class after these three runners, comprised of Brian Moore, Theo Conroy, Nick Kiley, and Zach Kiley. Although Saint Ignatius also lacks the firepower of Kaneland, they will have to counter with depth and put as many as seven within Kaneland's 5 to have a shot at the championship.
Championship Chances: Good challenger chance
Trophy Chances: Very good
After these three teams, there is a jumble of teams that have rapidly switched rankings and ordering throughout the season. There especially has been some shake-ups with the recent Sectional results, so it is possible that any one of these teams can emerge as a trophy contender.
Morton: Paced by Lange, who is followed by Zobrist brothers Cade Zobrist (So.) and Brody Zobrist (Jr.), Tyson Martin (Jr.) and Keegan Anderson (So.). Morton has come on strong of late, and defeated Notre Dame big at Bloomington, but is thin after the top 5.
Mascoutah: MacArthur sectional champs, by 7 points over Glenwood. Mascoutah did so without any all-sectional runners. An almost all-junior group is led by Kristian Knecht (Jr.) and Avery Cozzi (Jr.), who likely will have to push for all-state if Mascoutah is to make a trophy run.
Chatham-Glenwood: The Titans ran a pack of just 31 seconds in their runner-up sectional performance. The loss of top runner Graham Turk (Sr.) put Glenwood back for the season, but the depth of the team has minimized the disaster. Cameron Smith (Jr.) and Thomas Herbst (Jr.) lead the pack. Like Mascoutah, there will have to be front of pack movement for Glenwood to be in trophy contention.
Sycamore: Sycamore finished third in the deep Belvidere Sectional for their best finish of the season. No runner for Sycamore has broken 16:00 this season, but sectional results suggest that should change Saturday. Sycamore's place ahead of Marmion suggests they will be ready to take down a few other competitive teams as well. Jack Cambier (Jr.) has the team's fastest time of the season (16:04) but Aaron Trier (Sr.) led the team in 17th at Belvidere.
Marmion: The Cadets are strongest in their first two spots with Anthony Zangler (Sr.) and Alex Carlson (Sr.), both potentially all-staters. There is a large gap back to their last 5 who run close together, highlighted by Trevis Clementi (Sr.) and Anthony Standish (Jr.). Those runners will be the key for this team to be competitive.
Wheaton (St. Francis): St. Francis ran a race-worthy of winning a few other sectionals by placing 2, 4, 6 at Fenton, but ran into Saint Ignatius. Dan Weizeorick (Sr.) could be a top-10 state finisher, and Chris Covone (So.) and Luke Orwig (Jr.) have come on strong recently. Daniel O'Connell (Fr.) is the clear #4 but St. Francis has a serious #5 runner problem to overcome before they can be considered in the trophy discussion.
The individual outlook-
This season has been a revelation for Sam Lange (pronounced Lang) of the Morton Potters, who wasn't even top 50 in the state last year as a junior. Lange, a senior, began the season with a couple of fast performances at Normal West and Galesburg, but really turned a corner with his 14:47 2A race victory over Anthony Farmer (Sr., Burlington (Central)). He has been undefeated since and matched his time at Detweiller with wins at Peoria Central and the Mid-Illini Conference meet. Lange also won the Bloomington sectional by over 30 seconds, so he has continued to be dominating the postseason. With his Morton teammates joining him in Peoria, Lange is also motivated to gain the 1 stick for the Potters in the team race. Sam Lange is the race favorite.
The top returner in 2A, Nathan Schmitt of Lake Forest, is running in 3A now, so third-place finisher Farmer is the highest returner remaining the division and one of Lange's main competitors. Farmer has been consistent, but not dominant this season, and has not won a race since August. Still, Farmer has mixed it up with most of the main players all season and will hope that a second shot at Lange will be the charm. Farmer finished third in the packed Belvidere sectional, which was won by Charlie Smith (Sr.) of Antioch. Although Smith's fastest time of the season is just 15:13 at the Lakes regional, Smith is undefeated this season, with his closest call coming in an epic photo-finish victory over Matthew Olech (Jr. Elgin (Harvest Christian)) by hundredths of a second. The weekend will be the first matchup between Lange and Smith, who was a preseason favorite as well.
Another runner to watch will be Brooks Harlan (Jr. Centralia). Harlan has won five races this year, and finished a disappointing 4th at Peoria on Oct 5th but has been undefeated since and has run faster, with his best performance being 15:16 in winning the Decatur MacArthur sectional. Harlan won that race defeating Eli Ward (Sr., Waterloo), Mississippi Valley Conference champion and 15:12 runner.
Kaneland is a major team favorite because they will have two individuals far towards the front in Adams Occhipinti. All season, Adams has finished no lower than 3rd and Occhipinti no lower than 5th. Adams was just behind Smith and Occhipinti behind Farmer at Belvidere. The presence of both Knights (dressed in black and white) in the front should be a significant advantage for both.
After this, the 2A field this year lacks much depth, and we should expect to see a large pack of runners behind this front running group. Some notable names in that group: Wilson Georges (Bartonville, (Limestone)), a sophomore, had a breakout race at Peoria Central, finishing 2nd behind Lange for 15:05. He has yet to replicate this performance, will hope revisiting Peoria for state will give him a chance to run a similar time.
Flynn won the Fenton sectional in a muddy 16:56, 16 seconds ahead of Dan Weizeorick (Sr., Wheaton (St. Francis)) who has run 15:17 this year. Flynn looks to be a factor in the team race as well.
Julian Watson (Jr., Darien (Hinsdale South)) was the fifth sectional champion at Thornridge. Finally, Adam Gilbreath-Glaub (Sr., Metamora) will be running his final race in a long, successful career. Gilbreath-Glaub was all-state his freshman and junior years, and his freshman year 20th place in 15:01 remains his best career performance to date. Watch Gilbreath-Glaub look to cap off his career in the best way possible with his highest finish ever.
Lange appears to be the favorite with a chase pack behind him. Last year, only five runners broke 15:00 and the all-state cut-off time was 15:18. These numbers are shaping up to be likely similar to the marks this year-the winner should be around 14:35-14:40, with about 4-6 runners under 15 and all-state likely cutting off around 15:20. However, conditions for Saturday are promising, so there is a good chance the race will be faster than it currently projects to be.