A storyline that remains from years past is the imbalance of strength between sectionals. The Woodstock North sectional, which was hosted by Lakes last year, has been the strongest sectional in 2A for quite some time. Teams like Lakes, Grayslake Central, Vernon Hills, Crystal Lake South, Dixon, Prairie Ridge, Crystal Lake Central, Burlington Central, Belvidere North, and Kaneland typically vie for a shortlist of qualifying spots for the state championship each year, and some ranked teams always end up on the outside looking in
*View 2020 Shazam Cross Country Championship material
2020 Season Finish: 7th at 2A Chicago (Latin) Sectional)
Head Coach: Kimberly Johnson
Summary: The Hornets qualified for state last year but unfortunately they were not able to compete because the IHSA did not sponsor a state championship. Several things will have to go well for Hinsdale South to crack the top-7. Abby Petersen was the top runner turning in an impressive 18:47 but did not complete the track season and her status for the cross country season is unknown. Charlotte Old and Yuliya Drabchuk are the solid 2-3 with a number of other returners, namely Elan Garcia and Victoria Cius, filling in behind. Kate Haffner returns from the 2019 state team and ran her personal best at Detweiller at Dark in July. She may also round out the scoring squad for Kimberly Johnson's Hornets team.
2020 Season Finish: 6th at 2A Chicago (Latin) Sectional, 14th at Shazam D2 Championships*
Head Coach: Scott Nelson
Summary: Slotting ahead of Fenwick and Hinsdale South at the sectional meet was St. Francis, just 4 points ahead of their tie. Just losing their fourth runner from this place, St. Francis is in a great position to repeat a qualification. The complexion of their pack is highlighted by a tight 1-2-3 of Leann Ringsrud, Alyssa Falco, and Ava Swiatek, all three of whom would sometimes finish within 10 seconds during meets in 2020. This split was much wider at Shazam, with Falco fading to the fourth scoring spot, but St. Francis still produced an impressive 14th place, beating jumping almost three teams from their own sectional. Only Leah Gaul returns from the Shazam team, but Charolette Obrochta and Anna Nauman join the sectional team. The best version of the Spartans will see one of these two girls join Gaul in the 20:00 neighborhood to get St. Francis back to Detweiller.
*Note: St. Francis had five runners qualify as individuals to Shazam. They did not register an official team score. Had their placements been scored, St. Francis would have finished 14th in the meet, displacing seven other teams.
2020 Season Finish: 14th at Shazam D2 Championships
Head Coach: Jama Grotelueschen
Key Newcomers: Ava Jansen (Fr.), Chloe Bundren (Fr.)
Summary: The pack-running Bulldogs, led by coach Jama Grotelueschen, got things clicking at the right time producing good performances at Three Sisters Park for Shazam. "Our team last year came together nicely in the postseason," summarizes Grotelueschen. "We won our regional, placed second to Chatham (Shazam winner) at our sectional. Our girls decided to compete at the ShaZam meet and placed 14th. Cross Country proved to be some much-needed normalcy for all of us last year, and our team certainly made the best of our time together."
With all but one varsity runner returning, the pack-power for the Bulldogs will look to carry them to Detweiller out of the southern sectional once again. The unquestioned pack leaders are Elizabeth Sims and Klein Powell, who were the top two runners from the state team that Mahomet-Seymour produced in 2019. While both ran near 19 minutes in 2020, do not forget that Sims clocked a 17:34 8th place performance her freshman year at state, which is her best time to this day. After these two is Ava Boyd, and then a collection of pack runners including Grace Lietz, Emily Bednar, Delaney King, and Callie Jansen. Ella Scott and Chloe Allen had down years in 2020 but also return from the 2019 state team (both have broken 20 minutes).
The Bulldogs also add depth from their Middle School group that placed 9th at Shazam, highlighted by Ava Jansen and Chloe Bundren.
The depth of M-S makes them, despite the 23rd preseason spot, a top-10 in the state candidate. Grotelueschen on looking ahead to the season: "All eight seniors have run all four years, so our team has excellent leadership both in character and in sport. Our team definitely has the power of the pack feel this year. I believe this should make our practices fun and help push the development of our runners. My pre-season guess is that we will have 10-12 runners competing for varsity positions. Like the 2020 season, we would like to have our best performances in the postseason and would ultimately like to gain a state berth."
2020 Season Finish: 10th at Shazam D2 Championships
Head Coach: Troy Walcott
Key Newcomers: Olivia Nordhielm (Fr.)
Summary: The Panthers have another successful campaign in 2020, says coach Troy Wolcott. "We were happy with how last season went. We ended up with 3rd place at Sectionals and then the girls ran well at the 'unofficial state meet' in Chillicothe." Washington also finished 4th in a competitive Mid-Illini Conference meet at Detweiller, once at which Metamora, Pekin, Morton, Dunlap, and Washington finished within just 13 points of each other.
Washington's senior-heavy team but a great cap to the season with a top-10 finish at Shazam. The 2021 graduating class, which is headlined by Jadyn Jacobs, leaves to give Washington a different, younger look in 2021. Maggie Horsthemke has the best returning 3-mile time from 2020, as well as the top returning 3200 and 1600 times from track. Rachel Caruthers is the other sub-20 minute athlete. Emily Baker, Sophia Nordhielm, and Grace Liening each are within shouting distance of the pack as well. The Panthers also add 2:26 runner from the track season, Adelyn Ravidson, and newcomer Olivia Nordhielm into the mix. The Panthers improved steadily throughout the last year, and a similar improvement arc could land them in the Mid-Illini driver's seat.
2020 Season Finish: 13th at Shazam D2 Championships
Head Coach: Joe Wejman
Key Newcomers: Sarah Owens (Fr.)
Summary: Coach Joe Wejman had very little to complain about from the unusual 2020 season. "2020 went about as good as possible," he says. "From mid-July when a season was still in question to waking up every morning in August-October expecting an email from admin that we would get shut down, there was a lot of anxiety, but in terms of day to day coaching, we had a young team and just wanted to develop them and see progress. By season's end, we finished 4th in sectionals (with the #1 and #2 in the state) and then 13th at Shazam, it went about as good as possible."
What helps Nazareth's case is having a runner like Collette Kinsella leading the team. Kinsella has not garnered the attention of some of the other stud individuals in 2A but has already run all-state twice with a 17:48 best in her short cross country career. With plenty of competition from within her conference from Benet's Louisa Diamond
and St. Viator's Mary Grace Hegberg
, this year will be a great test of Kinsella's staying power as an individual in the state scene. Expect her to rise to the occasion. "She has really matured a lot in the last year and is much more aware of the landscape and what it takes to elevate her racing," said Wejman. "So we are excited to see her improve on what has been an already impressive career.
A young pack of sophomores leads the charge for Nazareth behind Kinsella. The other scorers at Shazam were Hannah McCarthy, Sam Rozmus, Jane MacNamara are Evvy Sifferman. Molly McNamara and Maddie Bent round out their full returning varsity team that finished 4th at sectionals and could surprise many by improving on that in 2021.