So we begin with team subjective rankings. These are teams that are on the bottom spectrum of the ranking system, but in no way are we saying these squads are bad. In fact, don't be surprised if several of these squads step up and surprise some of the so-called elite programs by season's end.
Head Coach: Chris Hawk
Last Year's Finish: Decatur MacArthur Sectional- 8th place
Outlook: The Charleston Trojans, coached by Chris Hawk, have a good trio at the front in seniors Megan Garrett, Grace Spoonhour, and sophomore Ila Richter. There is a drop-off in-depth after this top three and will need improvement from Lilly Long and Casey Fisher, as well as the rest of their pack, to improve on their 8th place in a deep mid-state sectional. Still, the Trojans are strong enough at the front to lead off the top 25 in girls 2A.
Head Coach: Vince Neil
Last Year's Finish: Belvidere North Sectional- 9th place
Outlook: Burlington Central is one of many strong teams in the deep northern Illinois region. Despite a good team performance at the Belvidere sectional, the Rockets found themselves in a distant 9th. A senior-heavy varsity roster, they return six of their top seven from last year, led by Erin Jossart and Brooke Barkocy. These runners along with sophomore Michaela Kruse can shoot for the 18:30 range to lead this team, and should be followed by seniors Avery Anderson, Jocelyn Victoria, and Fiona Pedone. Coach Vince Neil will look for more depth to fill out his top seven and hope for a trip to the state championship this year.
23. Chicago Payton
Head Coach: Kelly Block
Last Year's Finish: Fenton Sectional- 9th place
Key Newcomers: Fiona O'Toole (Fr.), Tyler Glunz (Fr.)
Outlook: Payton comes in as the top team from the CPS on the Girls' 2A side. Their season is in one of the most uncertain situations because of CPS' constantly changing semester plan. When they get to running, the Grizzlies are anchored by a strong sophomore class led by Lola Feurer and 2019 state qualifier Josephine Dziedzic (19:04). Coach Kelly Block is also looking to some freshmen, including Fiona O'Toole from Latin, to add young depth. All of Payton's projected varsity runners will return for the 2021 season and this appears to be a team whose state prospects will improve with the new sectional alignment. Coach Block: "We had a great 2019 and have so much talent, but the year was cut short by the teacher's strike. We will have 20 strong runners who will compete for the top 14 from all grade levels. We will be competitive with the big 3A teams from CPS."
Head Coach: Johann Gonzalez
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 22nd place
Key Newcomers: Alexa Gonzalez (So., transfer), Isabella Alongi, Amy Vargas, Ayani Vazquez, Evelyn Wirkiowski
Outlook: Trinity was a surprise qualifier for the state in 2019, posting one of their best races of the season at the right time at the Fenton sectional. Johann Gonzalez called this experience 'fun and stressful at the same time'. Hopefully, there will be less stress this year, as Trinity returns their full varsity team. Sophomore Delaney Burns and Senior Kate Foley were the anchors at state and can be top-50 runners this year. The pack behind these two are about a minute behind at their best, although this is not reflected in their PR's. Coach Gonzalez hopes to take the season one step at a time: "Goals for the season are to stay healthy and do everything we can to have a full season."
Head Coach: Darren Latham
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 23rd place
Key Newcomers: Amelia Martin (Fr.), Addison Heard (Fr.)
Outlook: Mascoutah qualified in dramatic fashion for state by eeking out of the Decatur MacArthur sectional by one point over Springfield High. This was assisted by a third-place finish by Chloe Latour, the team's top returner as a sophomore (season-best: 18:39). There is a tight pack across all grades of Isabella Hart, Maggie Benton, Abigail Uptergrove and Jenna Schanz. Each of these girls have run around 20:00 or lower, but will likely have to run within a minute behind Latour as a pack to repeat as state qualifiers. Coach Darren Latham also notes newcomers Amelia Martin and Addison Heard as candidates to contribute. Coach Latham: "We hope to better [our result of qualifying by one point] this year!"
Head Coach: Greg Storm
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 20th place
Breakdown: Coach Greg Storm's Carbondale program finished in its highest state placement in 2019 with 20th and hopes to improve on that this year. On paper, the Terriers should be returning all their scorers, but the status of top returner junior Anna Schurz is unknown for the season. This makes Madeline Prideaux, last year's 50th place finisher at state, the top returner, followed by seniors Kara Holub and Sadie Torre, as well as Abby Menkaus. The presence of Schurz will be crucial for an improvement on last year since Carbondale lacks depth after Menkhaus. Rose Kippenbrock (Sr.) and Alyvia Bergman (Jr.) could round out the top 7, until the Terriers find some newcomers.
Coach Storm: "Obviously our goals are a bit fluid due to the restrictions we have, plus the unknown of a state series. Our hopes are that we get the opportunity to battle for our 4th consecutive conference title plus improve on what we did last year [at state]."
Head Coach: Joel Zehr
Last Year's Finish: 19th at 2A State
Key Newcomers: Arlie Akers (Fr.)
Breakdown: Morton qualified for state in 2019 and finished top 20 even with a 3:30 split on 5 runners, which will happen when your top runner is a perennial all-state runner as Emma Skinner is. Skinner is the fourth-fastest returner in 2A this season and will likely be competing for a top-3 position at best, but is the best athlete south of Chicago with the departures of Tatum David and Olivia Rosenstein.
Morton does have some firepower behind Skinner, but like other teams in this rankings range, lacks some depth. Anna Klopfenstein and Adeline Smith are sub-19:00 candidates this season. There is then a minute drop-off to the pack of Nora Schmidgall and Katie Honegger. Morton should still be in the conversation for state qualifying but will need improvement here to make the next step. The Potters could receive a boost from freshman Arlie Akers, who ran 11:48 at the 2019 IESA state championship for Morton Middle School.
18. Crystal Lake Central
Head Coach: Brett Wilhoit
Last Year's Finish: Belvidere Sectional- 7th place
Breakdown: Crystal Lake Central is our second northern Illinois team in the top 25 and can make progress towards qualifying for state with their full returning varsity roster. Senior Kylie Smith (31st) and sophomore Annie Ferrero (48th) are returning state qualifiers and both ran under 18:30.
The Tigers have a second pack about a minute back with seniors Nadia Sardjev and Meghan Easterday. However, there is a drop-off to the fifth runner. Grace Moore and Giselle Lemke are the next two returners, but Central will have to have one of these runners improve by about a minute to be in the state qualifying conversation with the other Northern schools. With their in-town rivalries against trophy contenders Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge, the Tigers will be able to test their mettle all season long.
Head Coach: Tim Plotke
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 12th place
Newcomers: Casey Kittridge (Fr.), Emma Amberg (Fr.)
Breakdown: Lemont was a top-15 team a year ago, but now has some significant team turnover losing three scorers from the state meet last year. They do return junior Kaylie Politza, last year's 5th place finisher (17:22). Politza will compete for a top three finish at state this year. Her lowstick will anchor the Indians throughout the season, but do not have a clear pack that emerges after Politza. Destiny Vargas, Kailey Wasyliw, and Jenny Martinez have each run times a minute apart from each other.
Coach Tim Plotke will round out his scoring team with frosh Casey Kittridge, who ran 12:33 at the IESA state championship, and the varsity squad with frosh Emma Amberg. Lemont's geographic location makes it unclear what sectional they would be placed in on a normal season, but an improvement in pack coherence and their low stick should give them a chance to qualify for state out of any sectional.
Head Coach: Jama Grotelueschen
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 18th place
Key Newcomers: Ava Boyd (Fr.)
Breakdown: The Bulldogs are a pack running team very well set up to improve on their 18th last year at state, which all of their six top returners juniors or underclassmen. There is a pack of juniors led by Elizabeth Sims and Klein Powell and rounded out by Grace Lietz and Chloe Allen. Sophomore Ella Scott rounds out the top 5, a group that snuck into the state meet with a 5th place finish at the Bloomington sectional and then posted an impressive 35-second split on 5. Callie Jansen and Olivia Bunting also returns as varsity athletes. Keep an eye on frosh Ava Boyd, a 12:28 athlete from Mahomet-Seymour's middle school team.
Coach Grotelueschen: "If we have a state series, we definitely look to improve on [our 18th place finish from last year]. If no state series, we will continue to develop our runners (many returning in 2021) and work towards PRs and building confidence."