2A Girls Pre-Season Preview: Benet Academy Is #1 Once More

It was hard to argue that the 2A state championship race was something of great proportions in terms of upper level star power. Tatum David of Olney Richland County took the scene by storm with the fastest ever effort by a freshman in 16:04. Talented harriers Brooke Stromsland and Ava Parekh gave it their all in amassing an exciting performance for the fans. Team champion Benet Academy of Lisle came in as expected with a dominating performance to earn their first championship.


15. Mt. Zion

Head Coach: Kelly Fox

Last Season: State Championship- 15th place

Key Returners: Ashleigh Anderson (Jr.), Lucy Griffith (Sr.), Sofia Munoz (So.), Lilly Griffith (Sr.), Emma Mallory (Jr.), Alexia Finch (So.), Celeste Wolf (Sr.)

Key Newcomers: Celeste Gram (Fr.)

Breakdown: Mt. Zion finished the season in the top 15 in 2A and returns most of their varsity squad to make another run at the state meet. The Lady Braves do not have a star frontrunner but are deep through five runners. This pack is comprised of Seniors Lilly and Lucy Griffith, juniors Emma Mallory and Ashleigh Anderson, and sophomore Sofia Munoz. Each of these runners were in the 19:00-19:30 range this past season and look to make an improvement for the pack to push Mt. Zion into the top 10. There is a potential newcomer, frosh Celeste Gram, who can have an immediate impact on the front of the Braves' pack. Graham finished 25th at the 2019 IESA cross country state meet with a two-mile time of 12:09 for Mt. Zion. This could be an addition that sends Mt. Zion into the top-10 range in the state. Mt. Zion runs against conference rivals Mahomet-Seymour and Charleston this year. The Braves will look to avenge a 1 point defeat to Mahomet-Seymour from 2019. 


14. Chicago (St. Ignatius)

Head Coach: Matthew Haffner

Last Season: State Championship- 5th place

Key Returners: Lexi Affolter (Sr.), Lexi Noonan (So.), Mia Trotter (Sr.), Zoey Holland (Jr.), Rosie Sullivan (Sr.), Maeve White (Sr.), Montserrat Curran (Sr.)

Breakdown: The Wolfpack was a trophy contending team in 2019, but lose two all-state runners to graduation and will be looking to compete for a top 10 place at state this year. Saint Ignatius is led by senior Lexi Affolter, but there is about a minute back to its pack that includes Lexi Noonan, Mia Trotter, and Zoey Holland.

Coach Matt Haffner's squad as a lot of depth as he described it, "a large group of girls is vying for top-7 spots, so it becomes a bit easier to talk about goals." The Wolfpack will also look to a pack of freshmen to contribute at the varsity level this season. Saint Ignatius is the defending GCAC conference champion, and will have their hands full in conference competition against Mother McAuley, Fenwick, Trinity and conference favorite Loyola. Coach Haffner adds: "As usual we will focus on things we can control - doing little things well so that big things can happen."


13. Bloomington

Coach: John Szabo

Last Season: State Championship- 17th place

Key Returners: Kaitlin Skeate (Sr.), Raegan Kaeb (So.), Laylani Rivera (Sr.), Lauren Gardner (Jr.), Paige Kaeb (Sr.), Nicte Rivadeneyra-Braswell (Jr.)

Breakdown: The Purple Raiders qualified for state in 2019 and finished top 20, and return most of their scorers to improve on that position. They return all-stater Kaitlin Skeate for her senior season as the 15th fastest returner in the state. Close behind her should be sophomore Reagan Kaeb. Kaeb finished about 1:45 behind her previous Detweiller best of 18:35 at state, and with that time, Bloomington's finish probably looks more like 14th place.

The Raiders also return Laylani Rivera, Lauren Gardner, and Paige Kaeb from the state qualifying team. Look for Nicte Rivadeneyra-Braswell to join this group in the top six as well. This group has a major depth drop-off after this top six, so there will need to be some consistency from the initial group to bring Bloomington back to state and search for a top-10 finish. Bloomington runs in the powerful Big 12 conference, and will run meets against Peoria Notre Dame, Normal Community, Urbana, and the Champaign area schools. A top-two finish at the conference meet will be a strong finish for the Raiders.


12. Dixon

Coach: Simon Thorpe

Last Season: State Championship- 9th place

Key Returners: Paige Stees (Sr.), Jade Miller (Sr.), Grace Johnson (Sr.), Taylor Hills (Sr.), Emily Conderman (So.), Kait Knipple (So.), Paige Riley (Jr.)

Key Newcomers: Keeley Mick (Fr.)

Breakdown: The Dixon Duchesses return some major firepower upfront with arguably the division's best 1-2 punch in seniors Paige Stees and Jade Miller (perhaps Latin is in this conversation as well). Both were top-15 runners and could be top 10 in the state this year. Their 3-4 runners both graduate, so there is a gap to fill for the next group, comprised of Grace Johnson, Taylor Hills, and Emily Conderman.

There are a number of potential freshman contributors, led by Keeley Mick of Dixon Reagan middle school. Dixon will be able to test its mettle this year against conference power Winnebago and rival Rock Falls, both of whom Dixon defeated at the Big Northern meet in 2019. Winnebago is the favorite this year so Dixon will look to upset the 1A champions.


11. Dunlap

Coach: Christopher Friedman

Last Season: State Championship- 13th place

Key Returners: Saniya Mathew (So.), Macy Priess (Sr.), Aasiyah Adnan (Sr.), Paige Acklie (Jr.), Taya Zimmerman (So.), Faith Meghrian (So.), Alexis Wirth (Sr.), Natalie Morris (Sr.)

Key Newcomers: Abbie Gleason (Fr.), Morgan Catt (Fr.), Morgan Phillips (Fr.)

Breakdown: Last season was a mixed bag for Coach Christopher Friedman's deep squad. "We were up and down all season last year," says Friedman. "It never felt like we got in a rhythm, and then the injury bug hit us towards the end of the season. The team was disappointed with the state team result." The bright spot from the state meet was sophomore Saniya Mathew's all-state performance, although her Detweiller best came from earlier in the season. Macy Priess also is in the all-state conversation. The Eagles will need to look to a number of returners to fill out the depth, including Aasiyah Adnan, Paige Acklie, Taya Zimmerman and Faith Meghrian.

There is a crowded freshman class led by Abbie Gleason and Morgan Catt who may contribute to varsity depth early in the season. Dunlap is the defending Mid-Illini conference champion and will run its most competitive in-conference meets this year against Pekin, Washington, Morton and Metamora. What to expect this year? Friedman: "Goals in 2020 are hard since we don't know what the end of the season looks like, but continuing our streak of conference championships is likely at the top of the list.


10. Highland

Coach: Douglas Bradley

Last Season: State Championship-16th place

Key Returners: Julia Loeh (Sr.), Jessica Borror (Sr.), Grace Meyer (Sr.), Faith Brindley (Jr.) Liv Heinzmann (So.), Maddie Dortch (So.), Madalyn McCall (Sr.), Paige Schaible (Sr.)

Breakdown: Highland returns their full team from a state-qualifying squad last year. Coach Douglas Bradley: "Everyone is back from last year's team, so the expectations are pretty high." The Bulldogs are a pack team through and through, with a tight front pack of seniors Julia Loeh, Jessica Borrow, and Grace Meyer. The rest of the scorers can come from a large group of individuals, especially Faith Brindley, Liv Heinzmann, Paige Schaible, and Maddie Dortch. The small Mississippi Valley conference comprises a tight group of the Bulldogs along with Mascoutah, Triad, Civic Memorial, and Waterloo. Highland however should be the favorite and any one of their girls could potentially be the conference champion.

9. Lake Villa (Lakes)

Coach: Travis Shepherd


Key Returners: Brooke Stromsland (Sr.), Becca Runyan (So.), Maddie Perez (So.), Alex Bryant (Sr.), Krista Gfesser (So.), Kayla Dieringer (Sr.), Kaileen Arnholt (Jr.)

Key Newcomers: Madison Twarling (Fr.), Paige-Elicia Caruth (Fr.), Riley Beerbower (Fr.)

Breakdown: This is the first big jump in the list, to a list of nine teams that are trophy contenders. Lakes is #9 and is the defending state-runner up, and returns four of their top seven from that team. Travis Shepherd in his first year as a head coach gives high marks to the previous season: "Last year, we had an amazing journey where the girls ran with a lot of confidence and the results showed." A big part of the trophy performance was the all-state showing from Olivia Schmitt, who has graduated.

The biggest strength of Lakes is Brooke Stromsland leading the pack. Stromsland is the state favorite and will try to repeat as state champion, with Tatum David leaving the state. Stromsland's near #1 stick is a massive advantage, but Lakes also returns scorers Becca Runyan, Maddie Perez, and Alex Bryant. Lakes is #9 of the nine trophy contenders because it is in greatest need of a fifth scorer. This could be either state athletes Krista Gfesser or Kalya Dieringer, but keep an eye on freshman Madison Twarling out of Lindenhurst Milburn. With a reliable #5, Lakes may make a large jump.

Lakes will be able to compete with the strong teams in its conference and region. They will run duals against NLCC teams such as Grant, Antioch, Wauconda, and Grayslake Central, which may be their strongest competition in the conference. Stromsland and Aly Negovetich will continue their conference rivalry. 


8. Chatham (Glenwood)

Coach: Mike Garber

Last Season: State Championship- 14th place

Key Returners: Nia Gibson (Jr.), Emma Leahy (Jr.), Parker Doggett (Jr.), Kiersten Patzia (Sr.), Abby Teaman (Sr.), Reagan Weichold (Sr.), Carly Wilcoxen (So.)

Key Newcomers: Ava Gorrie (Fr.), Lydia Gurnsey (Fr.), Elise Destasio (Fr.)

Breakdown: Mike Garber's team is a traditionally strong team that is especially deep this year and has the potential to make major strides forwards as well. All-State contender Nia Gibson leads the team, but fellow juniors Parker Doggett and Emma Leahy are not far behind. There is a wealth of depth for the Titans, and anyone of Kiersten Patzia, Abby Teaman, or Reagan Weichold can round out the scoring. Carly Wilcoxen joins this group as seven girls who have broken 20:00 for three miles.

Glenwood's middle school state championship team also sends its three best eighth-graders to compete, Ava Gorrie, Ludia Gurnsey, and Elise Destasio. These girls who ranged from 11:54 to 12:08 for two miles can make a major impact on Glenwood and add to its depth. Glenwood becomes a top three worthy team if a couple more athletes join Gibson in the all-state conversation. In the Central State Eight, Glenwood will find its best competition against Normal University but remains the favorite in the conference. With so much potential on the young end of this team, keep a close eye on Glenwood again this year. 


7. Crystal Lake (South)

Coach: Ken Greenfield

Last Year: State Championship- 6th place

Key Returners: Isabella Gonzalez (So.), Addie Frisch (Jr.), Emma Murphy (Sr.), Bianca Garay (Sr.), Chelsea Greene (Sr.), Anna McDermott (So.), Elise Gorman (Jr.)

Breakdown: Coach Ken Greenfield identified last season's 6th place finish at state as the best ever for the Crystal Lake South Gators. With seven of their top eight from last year returning, there is space for even more strides forward this year for this group. South is headed by Bella Gonzalez, the top class of 2023 runner in 2A returning. Gonzalez broke 17:50 twice at Detweiller last year and can compete to be the best runner in the north part of the state this year, along with Brooke Stromsland. Following her is a host of experienced runners with state meet experience. Junior Addie Frisch broke 18:30 last year, and seniors Emma Murphy, Bianca Garay, and Chelsea Greene are all candidates to run under 19:00 this year as a pack. Two returners who can make an impact by running themselves into the top five are sophomore Anna McDermott and junior Elise Gorman. Greenfield believes there is a group of freshmen who can contribute as well. 

South will have the benefit of running against staunch competition all year long in their region and their conference. Fellow 2A trophy contender Prairie Ridge, as well as Crystal Lake Central and Burlington Central are some of the best 2A competitors. Huntley, Jacobs, and McHenry will all have formidable squads as well. If Crystal Lake South is at the top of this group, then this means they are in good shape to compete for a top 3 spot in the state. Coach Greenfield: "There are a bunch of returning runners and freshmen that have the talent and have put in the work to make an impact. I'm very excited about the work ethic and dedication of our youngsters."


6. Peoria (Notre Dame)

Head Coach: Dan Gray

Last Year: State Championship- 10th place

Key Returners: Maria Stedwill (So.), Eileen Zopel (So.), Irene Ehrhart (Sr.), Teagan Cover (Jr.), Caroline Williams (Sr.), Maci Cave (Jr.), Olivia Finch (So.), Regan Ruggiero (So.)

Key Newcomers: Kaitlyn Bentley (Sr.), Abbi Socha (Sr.), Elle Couri (So.)

Breakdown: One of the youngest candidates for a trophy this year is the Irish of Peoria Notre Dame. Super sophs Eileen Zopel and Maria Stedwill are the top returners, and although only Stedwill turned in an All-State performance last year, Zopel is in the range for potential all-state accolades as well. They may be joined by senior Irene Ehrhart in that range as well. The other scorers will likely come from a group that includes juniors Teagan Cover and Maci Cave, as well as senior Caroline Williams and sophomore Olivia Finch. There is not as much returning depth for the Irish as some of the other trophy contenders so there will be less room for error from the front group this year as they compete. There is a small freshman class for Notre Dame, which could be another depth challenge. However, because there is so much talent in the front running group, there is a very high ceiling for Notre Dame. A top 5 finish at state is very possible, as is a trophy placing. 

Notre Dame appears to be the favorite in the Big Twelve conference for this season of regional racing but will have its biggest challenge from Normal Community. Normal West and Bloomington are other contenders that can challenge the Irish in that conference. That racing in the central part of the state should be compelling, especially if Notre Dame runs against some out-of-conference competition such as Dunlap and Morton. Coach Dan Gray praises the team: "If circumstances were the usual, we would be looking at qualifying for State, and have the ability and work ethic to push for the Top 5 Teams in Class 2A, provided we stay injury-free. The team works so well together as a group."

5. Crystal Lake (Prairie Ridge)

Coach: Kelly MacDonald

Last Season's finish: State Championship- 3rd place

Key Returners: Colette Janik (Jr.), Rylee Lydon (So.), Rachel Soukup (So.), Bridget Jewell (Sr.), Allie Klauser (Jr.), Sophie Robinson (Jr.), Leah Walters (Jr.)

Key Newcomers: Olivia McPherson (Fr.), Addison Taege (Fr.), Ella Hartmann (Fr.), Grace Turnman (Fr.), Ali Storz (Fr.)

Breakdown: Prairie Ridge entered the state meet on the fringe of trophy candidates but walked away with a third-place trophy. Breakout performances from freshmen Rylee Lydon and Rachel Soukup gave Prairie Ridge the boost it needed behind all-stater Colette Janik. "I have an incredible group of kids who work hard and do not complain," said coach Kelly MacDonald. "All of that led to them exceeding expectations in the fall of 2019 that lead to a 3rd place finish." Like Fenwick, Prairie Ridge now is a favorite rather than a Cinderella. The team is young and looks to contend for the next couple of years. They will need someone stepping up into the #5 spot for this year, however. Bridget Jewell, Allie Klauser, Sophie Robinson and Leah Walters lead the way for the returners looking to round out the scoring. Coach MacDonald also has a strong group of freshman that can fill the need as well. 

Prairie Ridge will compete with Crystal Lake South for supremacy in the Crystal Lake district, as well as for bragging rights at the top of the Fox Valley Conference (included in this pack are Huntley and Cary Grove). This is a very young team and a trajectory of development can result in Prairie Ridge being a power for the years following this season. Coach MacDonald: "They do what is asked of them and believe in the system. This group is hungry for more and willing to work for it."


4. Vernon Hills

Coach: Suzanne Curry

Last Season: State Championship- 11th place

Key Returners: Rose Sheridan (So.), Emma Wakefield (Jr.), Reina Hill (So.), Anna Todd (So.), Rachel Ackerman (So.), Hannah Thomas (So.), CJ Leuck (Jr.), Emma Anderson (So.), Ella Boehme (Jr.), Anja Hofmeier (Jr.), Itzel Ocampo (Sr.)

Key Newcomers: Jadyn Parker (Fr.)

Breakdown: Vernon Hills was a contender throughout 2019 but faltered in the postseason. "We had a strong 2019 season with a very young team, but we didn't perform our best at the state meet," said coach Suzanne Curry. "We will continue to train as if there is a state competition of some sort." Top returner Rose Sheridan looks to regain the form she had in a dominant first half of the 2019 season, but she will also need some help from the rest of the pack for the Cougars to rise back to trophy contention. Emma Wakefield and Reina Hill are all-state candidates, and the pack is rounded out by a handful of star sophomores (Anna Todd, Rachel Ackerman, Hannah Thomas). A very dense pack behind these girls make Vernon Hills one of the deepest teams in the 2A division

Vernon Hills is a relative newcomer to the CSL North and will have staunch competition from teams such as Highland Park and Deerfield, but look to them to aim to win that division. The CSL South provides some of the finest competition in the state like Maine South and New Trier so the Cougars will always be able to test themselves against these standards. The attitude that the Cougars bring to this odd season will have to be a strength in making improvements from last year. Curry adds: "As coaches, we hope to continue to have an inclusive, supportive team atmosphere and improve individually and as a team, regardless of the restrictions we have this season." 


3. Oak Park (Fenwick)

Coach: Kevin Roche

Last Season: State Championship- 4th place

Key Returners: Bella Daley (So.), Katie Cahill (Sr.), Maggie O'Malley (Sr.), Maria Quinn (Sr.), Mia Scharpf (Jr.), Mikaela Burns (Jr.), Ava Martinez (So.), Delaney Seligmann (Sr.), Courtney Yungerman (Sr.)

Breakdown: Fenwick's fourth-place finish at state was likely a surprise to everyone except themselves. Three weeks after finishing third in their conference, the Friars packed it up in teal shorts to finish just a few points shy of a trophy. "We were very pleased and proud of 2019," reflects coach Kevin Roche. "There was adversity the team went through yet they persevered and did so together. Their bond, work, and drive came together well during the championship season."

Seniors Maggie O'Malley and Maria Quinn lead the team again this year, who will not be sneaking up on anyone in 2020. Sophomore Bella Daley and Senior Katie Cahill made some strides last year as well, and form a pack that also includes Mikaela Burns. There is not as much firepower on the Friar team than some of its competitors, but if the pack falls in the right spot in this crowded state level, they will find themselves in a trophy spot. Scoring can also be rounded out by Courtney Yungerman, Delaney Seligmann, Ava Martinez, and Mia Scharpf.

Fenwick will have strong conference competition come from teams like Trinity, Saint Ignatius and Mother McAuley. A true barometer for the Friars will be Loyola, who improves greatly from last year. Fenwick will have their hands full with the young Loyola squad but can still win the Catholic League. 

2. Chicago (Latin)

Coach: Dan Daly

Last Season: State Championship- 7th place

Key Returners: Ava Parekh (Jr.), Marianne Mihas (Sr.), Bea Parr (Sr.), Mckenna Fellows (Jr.), Olivia Syftestad (Sr.)

Key Newcomers: Reese Benford (Fr.)

Breakdown: Latin returns their full scoring squad from 2019. Poised as a major trophy contender, Latin's lack of depth landed them in 7th after #4 runner McKenna Fellows dropped from the state race before the two-mile with respiratory issues. The story of depth is the same for Latin, although a major difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of the Romans is Marianne Mihas' health. Despite the compromised track season, Mihas posted national-caliber 1600 and 800 times alongside Parekh, who is the team's front-runner now. Parekh is one of the clear state championship contenders and will hope for a chance to compete against Brooke Stromsland for that title with Tatum David now out of the picture. 

As mentioned before, Latin's depth situation makes the Romans somewhat of a different team to evaluate. In the late stages of the season, Bea Parr joined Mihas and Parekh as an all-state contender and at full strength, those top three are likely the best in this classification. Syftestad and Fellows are strong 4-5 runners, but there are currently no alternatives for Latin. There is a strong middle school feeder program for the Romans who may benefit from improvement in the 9th grade. The top returning 9th grader is Reese Benford, who would have to improve to join that top five.  

Latin is also in a difficult situation only being able to run against Chicago competition, which is uncertain given the situation of CPS athletics. Latin is likely the best team in Chicago, so look to them to be on top of competition this year. Hopefully, a state series will occur so we can watch a showdown between Latin and this year's favorite... NEXT PAGE