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 the season's end.
2020 Shazam XC Championship coverage
2020 Season Finish: 6th at 1A Elgin (Harvest Christian) Sectional
Head Coach: Jake Christiansen
Outlook: The Palos Heights girls' 2020 season was a great success, says coach Jake Christiansen: "The women had one of their most successful seasons in the past few years, both in terms of team camaraderie and trophies. They won the Metro Suburban Conference (Red Division) Championship, then took 2nd at Regionals and 6th at Sectionals. More importantly, they overcame everything thrown at them and ran like champions."
This season, the Knights return their top four scorers from that meet and a couple more girls for depth to give them another shot at a repeat performance. Junior Anna Enderle, Shazam all-state runner (20th in 20:08) runner-up at the 2020 Kankakee (McNamara) regional, leads the way with juniors Molly Bugos and Katie Steinhagen close behind. The other scorer from last year is senior EB Friesen. These four represent a typical pack with a one-minute split and need Kaylee O'Sullivan or another to step as a consistent fifth to keep Chicago Christian as favorites in the Metro Suburban Red division. There is a logjam at this point in the rankings so Chicago Christian will need some strong early season performances to prove they have the depth to stay in the rankings.
2020 Season Finish: 8th at Shazam D1 Championships
Head Coach: Scott Stoll
Outlook: The 2020 campaign, despite setbacks, was a clear success for the Alleman girls, according to coach Scott Stoll. "We had a very successful 2020 season with five girls under 20 minutes and a [home] regional championship," Stoll says. "Even with two girls in the top five quarantined for the sectional, the team still qualified for state." The state qualification was followed by a stellar 8th place finish at the Shazam championships despite only five finishers. This was aided by the 40-second split through tour runners off of Rylee Noack.
The 2021 version of the Pioneers will need to weather significant losses to bounce back this year. With some graduations (including Maddie Kindelsperger) and other athletes leaving the team like top-3 runner Emma Shrake, and no real notable additions at the moment, Alleman's success will be buoyed by Tess Hendrickson, Rylee Noack, and Clarissa Ostrowski. These three athletes have the chops to move through the postseason as individual athletes, but if Alleman fields a scoring five they will be dangerous as a team. The Western Big 6 conference championship will be a good test for the Pioneers, where there is a considerable gap between Quincy, Geneseo, and the rest of the conference.
2020 Season Finish: 7th at 1A Stanford (Olympia) Regional
Head Coach: Mike Lynn
Outlook: This is a team with the potential to put together a solid pack race, but did not get the stars to align last year and ended the season early missing qualification for sectionals. Some of the pack is lost to graduation, but most of the key scorers from last year return. In 2020, the Turks saw Sara Scheuermann, Lydia Snider, and Bella Porritt all take turns as the #1 runner. In addition to these three, Alida Proehl has broken 21:00, but then there is a drop-off in depth. Over the course of the 2020 season, Megan Ward cut three minutes and Grace Smalley is in the 22:00 range, so these two runners are candidates to bridge the gap. Qualifying for the state meet will be a bit of a tall task, as the Turks are the fifth-ranked team in the regional alone. But do not count them out in October
2020 Season Finish: 9th at 1A Elmwood Sectional
Head Coach: Michael Melick
Newcomers: Nellie Melick (Fr.), McKayla Harms (Fr.)
Outlook: Keep an eye on El-Paso Gridley as a high-ceiling team that could make some noise in the postseason at Detweiller if everything goes perfectly. "We have some great girls in our district, potentially a trophy contending team, but it would require a lot of pieces falling into place," says coach Michael Melick. In 2020, the Titans ran out of fuel by the sectional meet and finished in 9th, almost 40 points out of the qualifying range. But in 2021, many of the athletes they need are coming back. There is an impressive range of accolades accumulated over the last couple of years. Junior Ruby Slightom posted a 18:21 Detweiller performance at the 2019 state meet, but struggle to find continuity in 2020. Both Charlie Hamilton and Jenna Kent have also broken 20 minutes
A possible x-factor for the Titans is Lizzie Uphoff, who qualified for the pole vault state championship and also ran on the El-Paso Gridley 4x800 team with Kent, Slightom, and Valerie Hamilton. El-Paso Gridley has a considerable amount of depth in comparison to some of the other teams in this part of the rankings but will need to cash in on a couple of the lottery tickets of their newcomers to make a run at top-10 in the state. Nellie Melick, Lauren Shaffer, and McKayla Harms are three potential sub-20 runners to look for.
2020 Season Finish: 11th at 1A Elmwood Sectional
Head Coach: Rob Havens
Outlook: The Cardinals return their top-6 looking to improve upon a disappointing 11th-place finish at the Elmwood Sectional. Discussion about the team has to begin with junior Megan Derrick, the teams' #1 runner in all their meets in 2020. Derrick's best cross country performance is 19:10 from the 2019 Elmwood Sectional but should be able to improve on that with a more normal 2021 season (Pleasant Plains' 2020 season was dominated by in-conference triangular meets). Derrick focused on the 800 in track and bested at 2:28.9, and qualified for the state meet with a sectional 800 title.
The Cardinals' have decent depth after Derrick. Juniors Jaidynn Albers and Vianne Taft finished just 10 and 20 seconds behind Derrick respectively at the 1A Petersburg (PORTA) regional. Senior Izzy Dossett and sophomore Melia Johnson also scored throughout the season for the Cardinals. This comprises a pack that can all run under 21:00 but will need more athletes joining the front of the pack if Pleasant Plains' ceiling is to be higher than simply sectional contender.