2021 Class A girls pre-season preview: #20 to #11

There are some very good returning teams listed here. Many of them competed in last year's season finale, the Shazam Champonship which turned out to be a renditon of the lost IHSA State Championship. It is likely that we will massive growth from 2020 through this fall. Stay tuned!

2020 Shazam Cross Country Championship action


2020 Season Finish: 17th at Shazam D1 Championships
Head Coach: Christine Regan
Key Returners: Kelly Giardina (Sr.), Emma Joiner (Jr.), Brodie Scrogin (Sr.), Mandy Nelson (Jr.), Marin Carlini (So.), Jor'ae Beaver (So.) 
Outlook: Prior to the 17th place at Shazam, Rockford Christian used three runners in the top-33 at the Seneca Sectional to finish 4th and safely claim a state qualifying position. Only their second runner, Mackenzie Park, leaves for graduation, giving the Royal Lions a great chance to stay competitive in the strong north sectional. 

Kelly Giardina is the top returner from last year, having run 19:14 in 2020 and 19:06 at the 2019 state meet. Giardina finished just two spots out of an all-state position in the 3200 in the 1A state track meet. Her PR is 12:09 at that event. Also on that 2019 state team were Avery Demo, Emma Joiner, and Brodie Scrogin. Along with sprinter Mandy Nelson, there is a pack of 5 that have broken 21:00. Rockford Christian rosters enough runners to provide depth that can sustain some losses as well, so the Lions have a safeguard against roster turnover to keep them in a ranked position during the season. Watch for the experienced team to make themselves a factor in the postseason and track Giardina's run at an all-state berth.

2020 Season Finish: 5th at 1A Elgin (Harvest Christian) Sectional
Head Coach: Mark Clarke
Key Returners: Ella Dwyer (So.), Claire Blotnik (So.), Ella Farris (Sr.), Annie Tibbot (So.), Jordan Reeves (So.), Sophia Mihelich (So.), Karlie Puleo (Sr.) 
Outlook: Joliet Catholic Academy is a young, up-and-coming team that returns the top six runners from their state qualifying squad in 2020. Bolstered by the strength of its sophomore class, a healthy Hilltoppers squad should be a solid pick to finish at least in the top four of the strong sectional this year. The 1-2 punch of sophs Ella Dwyer and Claire Blotnik can provide the Toppers with a couple of low sticks at most of their meets. Both runners ran below 20:00 in 2020. Blotnik led the team in the 800 and 1600 in the spring (2:34, 5:34). Senior Ella Farris and sophomore Annie Tibbot are the two other main fixtures of the pack. The fifth runner could arise from a group that includes Jordan Reeves, Sophia Mihelich, and Karli Puleo. 

In 2020, the Hilltoppers elected to run their strong underclassmen in the frosh/soph race at the East Suburban Catholic Conference meet. On the strength of a 1-2 finish from Dwyer and Blotnik, Joliet Catholic was able to give state champion Benet Academy a run in that race, ultimately falling short 29-42. An interesting mini-storyline for the ESCC is to see if Joliet Catholic runs the same group, as all five scorers in the frosh/soph race were freshmen last year. Benet should still be the favorite in the varsity race, but perhaps the Hilltoppers feel they will have the chops to improve on their 5th place in the varsity race. They have the talent to finish second.

2020 Season Finish: 19th at Shazam D1 Championships
Head Coach: Kyle Anderson
Key Returners: Addie Symonds (So.), Melody Glenn (Jr.), Bre Turner (Jr.), Ashley Wolcott (Jr.), Aleah Zehr (So.), Caroline Gallagher (Jr.), Chloe Kelly (Jr.)
Newcomers: Olivia Stage (Fr.) 

Outlook: Although Elmwood finished in 8th at their home sectional, they received a bid to the Shazam Championships where the Trojans brought up the rear in 19th place. All five scorers from the sectional meet (and the top 4 from the Shazam meet) return this year, headed by sophomore Addie Symonds who returns the 17th-best three-mile time from 2020 with her 18:47 performance from sectionals. Symonds is poised to compete for a top-3 spot in sectionals and an all-state position despite not running track.

Elmwood's lone sub-20 returner outside of Symonds is junior Melody Glenn. The remainder of their scoring team will be comprised of juniors Bre Turner, Ashley Wolcott, Caroline Callagher, and Chloe Kelly, sophomore Aleah Zehr, and frosh Olivia Stage, who may be a top-3 runner on the team by the end of the season. Coach Kyle Anderson sees this as a competitive postseason squad: "We have a smaller team this year, but if we are healthy then I expect to be competitive in our sectional. We want our runners improving and to run their best at the end of the season."

2020 Season Finish: 6th at 1A Elmwood Sectional
Head Coach: Tyler Casson
Key Returners: Katherine Walker (Sr.), Riley Mendenhall (So.), Marisa Jeffers (Jr.), Emma Good (Jr.), Allie Henrikson (Jr.), Emily Pounder (Jr.) 
Outlook: Despite only placing one runner in the top 30 at the Elmwood sectional, Williamsville packed it up at the back end to secure a state-qualifying spot. After Katherine Walker's 19:38, a season-best, the Bullets brought in their 2-6 runners within a minute of each other. Sophomore Riley Mendenhall ran 19:41 in September, and juniors Marisa Jeffers, Emma Good, and Allie Henrikson all bested under 21:00 in different races. Emily Pounder can be a decent scorer if anyone in this front group falters, but there is not much depth beyond this group. Even then, a complete Bullets team could make a run at top-15 at the state meet with some strong performances.

2020 Season Finish: 1st at 1A Belleville (Althoff Catholic) Sectional
Head Coach: Eric Kirkpatrick
Key Returners: Olivia Phillips (Sr.), Lauren Heape (Sr.), Kallie Oestreicher (So.), Alexis George (Sr.), Lainey Miller (So.), Grace Alongi (Sr.), Maddie Decker (Sr.)
Newcomers: Issy Phillips (Fr.), Maggie Kellerman (Fr.)

Outlook: "We had a pretty good 2020 season," says coach Eric Kirkpatrick. "Although it was different with all the protocols we tried to make the best of it and improve every day." This process yielded good results for the Belleville (Althoff Catholic) Sectional champion DuQuion Indians, who elected not to run at the Shazam meet (outside of Olivia Phillips, who finished in 15th for an all-Shazam placement). Their 2021 campaign will begin with defending their River-to-River Conference title, which they claimed in 2020 convincingly with 21 points and four runners in the top five of the race. Of these four, the Indians return the trio of Phillips, Lauren Heape, and Alexis George. Phillips and Heape were joined by senior Grace Alongi to produce a surprise runner-up 4x800 squad to Winnebago at the track state championship (9:48) and the state champion 4x400 team, denying the state champion Winnebago a team title.

Some of this timely running will serve DuQuoin well, as they appear to be set for a strong appearance at state. Along with the aforementioned seniors, look for senior Maddie Decker and sophomore Lainey Miller to contribute on the varsity level. DuQuoin also welcomes freshmen Issy Phillips and Maggie Kellerman who may assert themselves into the scoring conversation by the time the River-to-River conference meet rolls around. Kirkpatrick: "Our goals this year are to compete for a conference championship and try to be one of the teams competing on the last day of the season at Detweiller Park."

2020 Season Finish: 11th at Shazam D1 Championships
Head Coach: Chris Mosley
Key Returners: Brook Schutt (Sr.), Ellie Nohren (Jr.), Emma Congenie (Sr.), Anna Tynan (So.), Jordynn Mayhall (So.), Ella Tynan (Sr.)
Newcomers: Katie Nohren (Fr.), Lilly Woolery (Fr.)
Outlook: Shelbyville, just outside of a top-10 finish at Shazam, will need to weather a massive loss as all-state runner Gabrielle Spain moved to South Dakota for her senior year. 2020 was greatly successful with her at the helm, as coach Chris Mosley reflects: "2020 was extremely successful for our girls as they staked a claim as the best team in school history. Conference and regional champs for the second straight year, multiple top-20 team times in school history… the adversity really pushed out girls to new heights."

Despite this transfer loss, there is still enough pack strength to get the Rams to Detweiller in November but will take a more complete team performance than has occurred over the course of the previous year. Shelbyville brings four runners under 20:17 to the fold: Brook Schutt and Emma Congenie, Ellie Nohren (team leader 3200/1600/800 with 13:12, 5:46, and 2:26), and Anna Tynan. Jordynn Mayhall and Ella Tynan become linchpin runners for the team, who dominated the Central Illinois Conference but just missed a typical state qualifying spot in 2020. Mosley: "One of our team goals is to defend our conference (and regional) championship from the last two years. Our competitors are always tough so we will have to remain focused."

2020 Season Finish: 6th at Shazam D1 Championships
Head Coach: Brendan Hoskins
Key Returners: Abby Litwiller (Jr.), Anna Bieber (Jr.), Rachel Andris (So.), Chrystal Cornwell (Jr.), Cam Lawson (Jr.), Emily Mayberry (Sr.), Taylor Nowaskie (Sr.)
Outlook: A strong Olympia Spartans girls' team had a good 2020 season, finishing third in the powerful Illinois Prairie Conference, and bouncing back from a third-place regional finish to grab the runner-up spot in the Elmwood sectional. The season ended at Three Sisters' Park, just 24 points from a top 4 finish. This position was buoyed by Savanah Beavers and her 5th place finish--but Beavers' graduation means a different look for the 2021 Spartans.

The junior duo of Abby Litwiller and Anna Bieber begin the pack conversation. Litwiller turned in a 11:54/5:42 resume in track, while Bieber's 2:25 led Olympia and narrowly missed individual qualification in the 800. Sophomore Rachel Andris' best 2020 season was a near sub-20:00 run at the IPC meet. Chrystal Cornwell and Cam Lawson, within a minute of Andris, are the likely 4-5 on paper preseason. There are question marks after these five. It will be difficult for Olympia to replace the low stick that Beavers consistently provided so it will have to become stronger throughout the whole pack instead. Can they close the IPC gap behind Monticello and Unity? And will they extend a state-qualifying streak that extends back to 2015?

2020 Season Finish: 9th at Shazam D1 Championships
Head Coach: Sam Wilson
Key Returners: Maddie Karcher (Sr.), Hannah Moore (So.), Caroline Lueke (Sr.), Ashlee Wellen (Sr.), Kaylie Brake (So.), Kaelee Karcher (Jr.), Jessica Hargrove (Sr.) 
Outlook: If you are a fan of low-floor, experienced pack running teams, then you would enjoy Hamilton County's 2020 make-up. The Foxes return all seven from their sectional runner-up team, and top-10 Shazam squad, who ran a 1:24 split on 5 at sectionals and an outstanding 1:03 on 5 at a bumpy 5k race at Three Sisters Park. Maddie Karcher is the teams' consistent 1, with fellow Senior Caroline Lueke and sophomore Hannah Moore as the close followers in the pack. Ashlee Wellen and Kaylie Brake are the other scorers from these meets. Hamilton County has the common 1A problem of a depth drop-off from the 5, but these 5 healthy should get Hamilton County back to Detweiller and another Black Diamond conference win. Wellen and Karcher posted Detweiller at Dark results that show they are ready to race. There is some room for error for the Foxes sporting green tops this season, but also need a little more help to get into the top-10 state conversation.

2020 Season Finish: 1st at 1A Elmwood Sectional
Head Coach: John Neisler
Key Returners: Adriana Crabtree (Sr.), Delaney Fitzgerald (Sr.), Ryann Bossard (So.), Lynnae Wollenweber (Jr.), Talia Luallen (So.), Elise Luallen (So.), Grace Hany (So.) 
Outlook: The Pioneers had a great postseason in 2020, following up a regional runner-up with a strong sectional win at Elmwood. There was strength all throughout the pack and if the team had elected to run at Shazam, would likely have competed for a top-5 spot. Instead, Lizzy Zacharias was the lone entrant.

Normal U. graduates a massive load of talent-two runners under 18:40, two more under 20:00, and another just over 20:00. But the Pioneers are one of the biggest teams in the classification and are more likely to reload rather than just rebuild for the season. There is a sub-19:00 runner that returns in the form of Adriana Crabtree., and another sub-20:00 runner, Delaney Fitzgerald. After these two, any of a number of the pack can step in and contribute. If there are candidates for a breakout, look to their massive incoming sophomore class, a group that made up half of the team in 2020.

2020 Season Finish: 3rd at 1A Elmwood Sectional
Head Coach: Josh Bluhm
Key Returners: Vivian Rahmel (Jr.), Kaitlyn Lee (Jr.), Grayson Hady (So.), Maggie Fleishli (So.), Paige Mattiuz (Jr.), Abigail Hemmer (Sr.), Ashlyn Nicoud (Sr.) 
Outlook: In 2020, the Cyclones girls took a step forward by improving from a non-state qualifier to finishing in 3rd comfortably at the Elmwood Sectional. Vivian Rahmel, now a junior, was a primary agent of this successful outing with a 7th place, 19:03 finish for the Central State Eight contenders. Rahmel is just the headliner of SHG's returning team, which includes all then of their top ten from 2020.

Kaitlyn Lee returns with a 19:18 season-best, and Grayson Hady, Maggie Fleischli, and Paige Mattiuz make a group of 5 under 21:00. Fleischli and Mattiuz saved their best for last, PR'ing when it meant the most at sectionals. Hady is a potential breakout candidate, having posted a 12:35 3200 PR at their conference meet during the track season. Going back to 2019, four other athletes have run within a half-minute of this first pack--Sterling Scarlette, Sophie Billingsley, Abigail Hemmer, and Ashlyn Nicoud. Such depth should come in handy for the Cyclones. If many things go well for the Cyclones, they will be competitive for a top-2 finish in their conference--but they will have their hands full with Glenwood and Normal University. We expect to see SHG at Detweiller in November.