Benet Academy's top seven put together a great game plan in defeating a talented
When Emily Spellman crossed the line in flight 4 at the 2A Girls Chicago Latin Sectional, it was her final finish in a Benet Academy Redwings uniform. However, it signified the end of far more than just her high school racing career: it solidified a win for the defending state champions over top-rated Chicago Latin, and the end of the short era among the titan programs.
For the past two seasons, the classification narrative had remained the same: Benet Academy sent down to 2A due to changes in the multiplier structure, allowed them to deploy a pack running approach with seven potential all-staters to every meet they ran. Latin, sent up to 2A with the success multiplier, had multiple individual state champions and a front running group with depth drop-offs. This painted a showdown of two different strengths at state, but the showdown never quite came to fruition as Latin suffered a DNF and fell considerably in the state placing.
But the 2020 version of the Latin Romans doubled down on their front-running structure. Quarantine training proved to be good for Olivia Syftestad, who made strides to join fellow seniors Marianne Mihas and Bea Parr in meets. Latin made their biggest statement at the Loyola Night Flight Invitational when Syftestad, Mihas, and perennial frontrunning Ava Parekh all finished in the top 5 and narrowly lost to a highly ranked 3A Prospect team. The Loyola Munz Athletic Center course, widely believed to be closer to 5k in distance than three miles, obscured truly how fast Latin ran on the night. The Romans earned a #1 ranking, finally, over Benet with this performance.
How did Benet respond? In the same way, they had run for the previous two seasons-dominating quietly over conference and 2A competition with a steady stream of runners finishing between 18 and 19 minutes. The Redwings lost to 3A power Naperville North in September, which may have created an illusion that they were faltering. Despite that loss, a series of easy dual and regional victories told outside observers nothing more than what had already been known about Benet, that they were deep and consistent.
The stars aligned to enable a final match between the Redwings and Romans. The IHSA's sectional re-structuring put Benet Academy in the Chicago-area sectional, which was yet canceled until sectionals were reinstated halfway through the season. MileSplit IL profiled Latin's group for a Workout Wednesday on the eventual sectional course, further contrasting the star power of their heavy hitters with the relative facelessness of the Benet pack. Under the new flighted format, Benet's pack would now be fractured and have to find a new approach to be successful.
The first flight was punctuated by Parekh's new course record in 16:44. But the larger statement may have been from Benet Academy's Kelly Andrews, their #3 runner being slotted into the top flight. After a relatively pedestrian first mile, Andrews burst ahead of the pack passed Chicago Northside Prep's Elia Ton-That, and surged ahead with a smile throughout her last 800 meters to finish second in 18:07. This time was just seconds behind what Mihas and Syftestad had run on the same course the week prior, and if Andrews' the performance was indicative of where the Benet pack would fall, that meant trouble for Latin.
The second flight pit Mihas and Syftestad against Benet's top two harriers, Louisa Diamond and Elizabeth Camic. Latin wasted no time gapping the field, daring Diamond and Camic to stay with a hot pace. Diamond and Camic stalked the Latin duo until Diamond finally matched, and overtook their pack, and seemed to have the win in hand with an increasing lead at 2 miles. Yet the scales tipped in Latin's favor, possibly the furthest they ever had during the 2-year 'rivalry', when Mihas and Syftestad went for broke on a move in the back half of the course. They finished in a blazing 17:42 and 17:44 (which was an all-time three-mile best for Syftestad). Diamond and Camic, coming in at 17:52 and 18:14, hoped to break up Latin's pack in this race and came up short. Latin was in the driver's seat.
Yet since the key always for Latin was to keep the 4-5 runner split down, this race was always going to be decided in flight 3. Latin put Parr and junior Mckenna Fellows in to retain the lead against Benet Academy's Joy Jackson and Meaghan Andrews. Although Parr joined Jackson and Andrews for the first mile, Jackson's hard move-at roughly the same place Andrews surged-strung these four runners out and put a significant gap on Parr and Fellows. Now that Jackson was Benet's #4 at 18:20 and Fellows was Latin's #4 at 19:05, any non-Latin runner between those times hurt Latin's chances of offsetting the Redwing pack.
Thus was the task of Spellman and Amelia Parisi. Although Spellman faded after the first mile, Parisi pushed a total solo effort for 10th overall in the meet-18:37. This displaced Latin and solidified Benet Academy's victory, an exclamation point for a see-saw battle throughout the afternoon. With a 32-40 victory, Benet Academy was sectional champions, and once again had defeated Latin at the end of the season.
0:44 1-5 Split | 18:14 Avg
Chicago Latin High School
2:33 1-5 Split | 18:06 Avg
St. Ignatius College Prep High School
1:20 1-5 Split | 19:36 Avg
2:21 1-5 Split | 19:55 Avg
Payton High School
1:03 1-5 Split | 19:57 Avg
Wheaton St. Francis High School
1:24 1-5 Split | 20:05 Avg
Fenwick High School
1:58 1-5 Split | 19:56 Avg
With no IHSA state meet, and no Benet Shazam Champs registration, the inevitable end of the Benet- Latin 'remote rivalry' era was accelerated by a week. The Redwings reloads a pack for next year but will have to mix it up with 3A competition once again thanks to the success multiplier from their state championship.
Latin graduates all three of Parr, Mihas, and Syftestad, leaving its best state championship aspirations squarely in the hands of Parekh for the individual title.
Latin is not exhausted from their stable of talent- Fellows returns as well as Reese Benford and a number of younger runners, but the complexion will be different for Latin. They will be back. As the tide in 2A turns, how will these couple of years be remembered? It is Latin with the highlights, features, and nationally ranked times. Yet it was Benet with the state trophy and head-to-head bragging rights. A rivalry called as such, yet between two teams that seldom raced.
But how fitting the remote rivalry was for 2020 and fitting for it to be left behind in this year as well. What colors will paint the 2A girl's picture in the future? Will it be Glenwood red, colored with the deep middle school feed and veteran mix? Will be the Grayslake Central green, with emerging star Bella Domier leading the pack? We may even see the gradient hues of dyed hair, from the Vernon Hills sophomores. The reds and oranges from these two years of Benet and Latin fade like a sunset at the conclusion of these two years, and even the uncertainty of the division's future, will give way to the certainty of the recent past: 2019 and 2020 belonged to Benet Academy.