Class A girls individual preview: two former champs are back

The 2020 Shazam Championship flight 4 race was one for the ages in the modern era of Class A racing.


In 2019, Lianna Surtz took full advantage of her re-classification. The senior from Aurora Rosary seems poised for another title.

As a freshman in 2018, Surtz was beaten to the line by Brooke Stromsland of Lakes for the 2A individual title, in an eye-popping duel where 16:35 was not enough to take home the title. 

Surtz's team moved to 1A the following year, and by leading wire-to-wire over Staunton's Lydia Roller, she managed to cap a strong sophomore campaign with a state championship. With a return now to Detweiller in 2021, and coming off the heels of a Detweiller at Dark championship, Surtz appears to be set for a 'repeat' title. 

But a catch--she's not the defending champion in the truest sense at this classification. That would be Eureka senior Anna Perry, who pulled away from Surtz and Mabry Bruhn (Jr., Monticello) in the final stages to win the D1 Shazam title. Perry's progress has been more linear, improving from 81st at state her freshman year to 4th sophomore year, and finally 1st her junior year. Between last year's cross country and track seasons, Perry has considerably more momentum than Surtz, who was hampered by injury in spring 2021. Perry's 3200 effort at Metamora, a solo 10:45, represents the most impressive track performance of all 1A returners. The recent data suggest that of these two prior champions, it's Perry who may have the edge in her quest for a first-ever Detweiller individual title.

The next-best two-mile effort comes not from Surtz but Bruhn, who leads Monticello in a charge this year to catch powerful Winnebago. Bruhn, twice all-state last year in track and sporting 11:02/5:09 bests, was the third athlete across the line at Shazam. Even with the strong 1-2 in front of her, she does have a path towards an individual title with enough improvement. Perhaps it is the fourth returner from last year, junior Hailey Heiar (East Dubuque-Galena) that is the wild card of the bunch. In her first cross country season, Heiar improved from 21:21 on September 12 to 17:49 on October 15, and eventually finishing 4th at Shazam. The progression continued for Heiar through the track season, eventually achieving bests of 11:06/5:11, and logging her first official all-state slot by finishing 6th in the 2A 3200. Counting Heiar on the outside of the top group would be foolish given the enormous improvement she has shown over the previous calendar year. 

These four athletes all shared a 2A track assignment in common, which opened the door for Carly Manchester (Sr., Elmhurst (IC Catholic)) to post the best 3200 time of 2021 in 1A. When Manchester faltered in the 3200, it was Eris Nelson of team champion Belleville (Althoff Catholic) who stole the show, first by running second in the 3200, and then doubling back in the 1600 for second again. Nelson's heroic effort bolstered both Althoff Catholic from trophy contender to champion and herself into the elite realm of individuals for this year. Also in front of Manchester in Charleston was Julia Wolke (Sr., Arlington Heights (Christian Liberty Academy)), who had an off-race at Shazam but was sharpened throughout the season by frequent competition against 3A individuals. Wolke, who has run without teammates for three years, will be especially motivated to put a cap on a unique individual career at the 1A level.  

A host of other athletes lay claim to top-5 consideration. Kate Ahmari (Jr., Urbana (University)) just missed all-state in cross country her freshman year, finished sixth at Shazam, and nearly finished double all-state in track (5th in 3200, 11th in 1600). As they have done in the last couple of years, Winnebago brings several individuals into the fold at the top. Look most closely for Grace Erb (Jr.), Kaylee Woolery (Jr.), and Marissa Roggensack (Jr.) to find scoring opportunities in the single digits for 'Bago.