Highlights from the 2020 St. Joe-Ogden Invite that occurred in an unusual situation that Covid-19 presented
Class A small school opening act-
In June 2021, Belleville (Althoff Catholic) girls became the first IHSA team to be crowned a team champion since the start of the pandemic in any sport. Althoff Catholic used a balanced attack of sprints and distance to overcome Winnebago by a single point. Despite the heat of the day, it was a glorious return to the best that Illinois track has to offer.
Now, cross country is returning and will conclude with a November 6th state meet at Detweiller. This follows Detweiller's first hiatus from Illinois in over 40 years, and the Girls' 1A race at 9:00am will give us the first team champion and individual champion in its return. The small school division will also be a good initial test case for how difficult it truly is to cover the sport this year, with so many gaps in results and unusual circumstances preventing teams from running at full strength throughout last year. But isn't it all the more fun to know that there is no way to predict who the surprises will be?
Pay attention to the postseason rule changes that were put in place prior to the 2020 cross country season. 1A no longer has the same qualifying rules as 2A and 3A--in order to compensate for 1A's long list of member schools, six teams will now qualify from each of the five sectionals. Thirty teams will make it to the line at state, and a total of 260 runners. It will be the largest state field in history. We will continue to rank the top 25 teams but remember that all these teams and more will be able to compete on November 6th.
Unclassified means teams not quite in the top 25 or ranked, but are on the verge of being noticed by the masses. Unclassified teams are dangerous because they have a chip on their shoulders and will do anything and everything to prove everyone wrong. Don't be surprised if several of these teams get into the rankings at some point during the season and even make it to state.
Gook luck to all!
2020 Season Finish: 7th at 1A Seneca Sectional
Head Coach: Peter Nelson
Outlook: Mercer County would have just missed the 1A state meet last year by a slim 12 points behind Orion in 2020. Luckily, the Golden Eagles return all seven of their runners from that sectional team, led by junior Eden Mueller and sophomore Maddie Hofmann. Mueller qualified in both the 3200 and 1600 in 2021 and turned in 12:00 and 5:31 best times in those events. Sophia Santiago is another key pack runner. Mercer County lacked depth on the distance side in track and will look to more runners in the pack to round out a potential state qualifier.
2020 Season Finish: 6th at 1A Belleville (Althoff Catholic) Sectional
Head Coach: Kurt Peters
Outlook: The Cougars of Breese Central finished in a solid position to qualify for the IHSA State meet if it would have happened. However, most of their strength has graduated and will need to replenish depth to repeat such a performance. The four returners, Elizabeth Detmer, Lucia Knapp, Elizabeth Schroeder, and Haley Huelsmann are very close on cross country times but will need additional help. The initial pieces are there.
2020 Season Finish: 7th at 1A Belleville (Althoff Catholic) Sectional
Head Coach: Colton Strotheide
Outlook: Breese Central's state qualification would have come at the cost of crosstown rival Mater Dei, since the Lady Knights finished seventh in the sectional. Mater Dei enters the season in a great position to improve that finish by returning all of their top 5, led by Alexis Kampwerth. Kampwerth has run 19:47.7 exactly twice in her cross country career, first at the IHSA state championships in 2019 and again in the 2020 Freeburg regional. Four runners finishing within a minute and a half behind her should get the Lady Knights into solid position for state qualification.
2020 Season Finish: 10th at 1A Elgin (Harvest Christian) Sectional
Head Coach: Molly Oliver
Key Returners: Ali Tabellione (Jr.), Gabi Walker (So.), Maddie Fleming (Jr.), Alexi Hallgren (Jr.), Maggie Taylor (So.), Grace Moller (So.), Sydney McLeod (Jr.), Lorelei Travers (Fr.), Adrian Blair (Fr.)
Outlook: The three-time defending GCAC White and Regional champion DePaul Rams return most of the scoring squad, highlighted by Ali Tabellione and Gabi Walker. Consistency from these two as well as Maddie Fleming makes these three the cornerstone for the Rams in 2021. DePaul enjoys the addition of some impact freshmen, most notably Lorelei Travers from St. Josephat who has broken 6 minutes for the mile twice to date.
Head coach Molly Oliver is looking ahead to a season where her squad can make some noise: "This is my 5th year as coach and every year the unexpected has happened. Being a smaller 1A school when I started to now being on the larger side, we are looking forward to being a worthy opponent to some of these consistently dominating teams. Our goals for this year are to defend our conference and regional titles, and qualify for state as a team for the first time in school history."
2020 Season Finish: 13th at Shazam D1 Championship
Head Coach: Andrew Wszalek
Outlook: The Sabers, a top-15 team from Shazam last year, is a likely candidate to see the top-25 at some point this season, and sooner rather than later. Their finish was highlighted by Kennedy Ramshaw, who narrowly missed an all-Shazam placing in 26th, and a strong turnaround after an 8th place finish in the loaded St. Teresa Sectional. The only scorer that St. Thomas More loses is Reese Hoga and returns four runners under the 21:15 mark for 3 miles. A top-6 placement at sectionals will be difficult but within the realms of possibility for the Sabers.
East Dubuque (Coop)
2020 Season Finish: 10th at 1A Oregon Regional
Head Coach: Michael Eyres
Outlook: East Dubuque and Galena will both have a new look in 2021 with the two schools uniting for a Coop athletic program. East Dubuque is a miniature team and didn't field a scoring team in 2020, but this team is most worth watching because of their harrier, junior Hailey Heiar.
If not for coach Michael Eyres suggestion, she might not have even run that season. "I convinced Hailey to join right around when COVID hit as she was already in track," he recalls. "She then went on to put in an extreme amount of mileage which led to her great season and finishing fourth at the Shazam meet." Heiar's second place at the Seneca sectional disrupted Winnebago's near-perfect pack, and she sports at 17:49 3-mile best from 2020. Running in 2A for track, Heiar qualified in both the 3200 and 1600, sporting an all-state performance in the 3200 running 11:15 despite the extreme heat. She also appeared in the Palatine Distance night 3200, running her personal best 11:06. "Hailey will continue to have a huge impact on our team as I believe she will contend for the individual state champion," Eyres forecasts.
Heiar will have her eye on individual title as a serious contender, but she could also join her team if the newly combined squad gives serious support. Emily Gockel is the only other East Dubuque runner in the pack, but Galena's squad, including Samantha Callahan and Gwen Hesselbacher can also give some assistance. There will probably need to be one more athlete in that pack to make ED-G a potential state qualifier.
2020 Season Finish: 5th at 1A Belleville (Althoff Catholic) Sectional
Head Coach: Carl Florczyk
Outlook: Looking to extend a streak of five consecutive state meet qualifiers, the Lady Midgets will need to overcome the loss of their top three runners from the previous team. Alexis Vogel, Kalee Marshall, Bailey Stambaugh, Macey Slightom are the bulk of the pack, but the team lacks the front-runners to allow for a distant fifth scorer. That help could potentially come from senior Carmen Stein on the 2019 state team but absent from Freeburg's 2020 cross country season results.
2020 Season Finish: 14th at Shazam D1 Championships
Outlook: A perennial relay powerhouse, the Blue Bullets of Knoxville competed well to a 14th place at the Shazam championships, and return 5 of their 7 runners including the top 4 scorers from the race. Knoxville achieved that despite usual top runner Bryan Bahnks, now a junior, fading into their fourth spot. Bahnks led a team of herself, Mackenzie Rader, Kynlee Stearns, and Kailee Shreaves to a 10:17 4x800 which was good for third in 1A in 2021. Knoxville's depth drops after their top 5 returning runners, and as of the start of August, do not have a coach listed on IHSA.org for the season. Still, the strength of this pack which stayed within a minute from each other makes this squad a potential top-25 team to begin the season.
2020 Season Finish: 7th at 1A Harvest Christian Regional
Head Coach: Gail Casey
Outlook: The 2020 cross country season ended early for Montini, who were victims of three unfortunate circumstances: the loaded Harvest Christian sectional, the one-year-long switch of seven to six regional qualifiers, and top runner Katherine Gertsen's DNF. Gertsen, a junior, and sectional qualifier Izzy Juda (Sr.) lead Montini in a year hoping for a bounce back. Montini returns enough front-pack strength to be a top-25 team-however, their depth sinks dramatically after their top-5, so there is no margin for error for this squad if they want to make it through the regional and sectional gauntlet they are assigned to.
2020 Finish: 11th at 1A Harvest Christian Sectional
Head Coach: Dustin Franckey
Outlook: Despite the Panther's distant 11th-place finish at the Harvest Christian Sectional, the Panthers may have enough firepower up front with two sub-19:20 runners (Trixie Johnson, Madeline Royer) to be competitive and sneak in a sixth-spot for the state meet. Coach Franckey's team will look to Lorena Arnett, Mackenzie Swan, and potentially some newcomers to make the jump to the next level.
2020 Season Finish: 4th at 1A Belleville (Althoff Catholic) Sectional
Head Coach: Ryan Bruns
Outlook: The Panthers only ran against conference competition all season until the postseason, and were undefeated against all those schools except DuQuoin, Hamilton County, and Benton within the conference. This is a great year to improve, with almost the full-scoring team returning from 2020. Taylor Kurtz owns the team's best time from 2020 (20:52) but the rest of the pack is not far behind. This pack strength brought the Panthers a state qualifier in the 4x800 in 2021.
Coach Ryan Bruns is optimistic looking at the prospects of this pack: "I believe the girls will run in a pretty tight pack, and I believe if they stay healthy and hungry, they can surpass all team records for our school."
2020 Season Finish: 10th at Shazam D1 Championships
Head Coach: Scott Edwards
Outlook: The Shells 'qualified' for state with a sixth-place finish in the St. Teresa regional and return most of their team to make a run for a similar finish. The team is headed by Riley Doyle and Gabrielle Woodruff. Zoey Losch has also broken 20:30. A fifth runner in that area will be needed if the Shells want to replicate their top-10 placing at Shazam last year- even with most of the scorers coming back, their #2 and #3 are among those having left. Can they continue their state qualifying streak that extends back to 2018?