The 2022 XC Season Begins With Class A Girls Unclassified

While only 25 teams will be ranked pre-season and again each week, 30 teams will qualify for state in 1A on both sides, and far more teams than 30 are worth following throughout the course of the season. Of the 248 squads that will toe the line in the Girls' division, here we present, in alphabetical order, some of the teams that do not start the season ranked but may appear in the rankings or otherwise have notable stories. This is only possible with the help of the many coaches who submitted information to the MileSplitIL team throughout the summer. 

The unique challenge of covering 1A is the size of teams, which leaves some talented programs pining for enough athletes simply to field a scoring team for the postseason. Watch out for unexpected newcomers to change the landscape of the state in unanticipated ways throughout this season. 

Head Coach: Tim Koch
Last Year's Finish: 30th- State Championship
Key Returners: Sarah McKowen (Jr.), Rylee Brammeier (So.), Abigail Meyer (Sr.), Kylie Nalewajka (So.)
Summary: A fun story to follow in 2021 was the Silver Stallions, qualifying for the state meet for the first time in school history. A young program with Coach Koch in his first year needed some athletes to split time between cross country and other sports to scrap together a state qualifying roster. "A lot of time and hard work has gone into shaping up this girls program and getting them to believe they could make it," said Koch. "Imagine our excitement at the Wesclin sectional [in October 2021] when we saw the posting and realized that we had made it, grabbing the 6th and final spot by just 1 point!"

Making another state qualification is no shoe-in for CORL, but do have a shot with Sarah McKowen leading the team once again, and Rylee Brammeier returning after a freshman campaign of much improvement that included qualifying for the state meet in the 3200. Abigail Meyer and Kylie Malewajka also return as scorers but the Silver Stallions will need at least one more solid pack runner to make a return to Peoria.

Head Coach: Sara Danielewicz
Last Year's Finish: 7th- Lisle Sectional
Key Returners: Francoise Lechner (Sr.), Lucy James (Sr.), Isabella Avila (Sr.), Emily Elder (Jr.), Helena Vining (So.), Jane Potter (So.), Lola Keller (So.)
Key Additions: None yet
Summary: Willows Academy boasts one of the largest rosters on 1A (with 24 athletes in 2021), and represents a growing program, with the 2022 track season being the first season. Despite just missing state last year, there is a great deal of momentum for the Eagles. "We had a successful season, more than 20% of our high school class [on the team]", says coach Sana Danielewicz. "This year our top 3 runners are Seniors. I want them to have their best season yet. That being said, we really need to develop some of our younger runners so we can have success down the road. We have 9 new Freshman runners this year. This is going to be an important year to get these young runners all onboard." 

Francoise Lechner leads the team into the season with a sub-20 PR and has qualified for state, the first for Willows Academy in many years, according to Danielewicz. Fellow senior Lucy James joined Lechner as the only athlete to break up the Latin pack at the ISL conference last year. If Willows qualifies for state, it will be due to jumps forward from a young pack that includes Emily Elder and Jane Potter, who qualified for the 1A State track meet in the 3200. "Our goal this year is to be the best team we can," says James, who will be co-captain for the team this year. "We really want to get to State as a team. We have a lot of new girls and we are excited to see what they can bring." 

Head Coach: Carl Florczyk
Last year's finish: State- 29th
Key Returners: Ellie Cox (Sr.), Izzy Hoerchler (Sr.), Rosie Trautman (Jr.), Elaina Reinhart (Jr.)
Summary: The Midgets' season ended well with a state qualification, and hope to ride that momentum to be one of the thirty teams back at Detweiller this year, says head coach Carl Florczyk. "We ran our strongest in October and November," says Florczyk. "This carried into track season. Many of our XC runners also ran track. With that being said, our team wants to compete strongly in the Cahokia Conference and throughout the postseason, with the biggest goal being advancing to the state meet. We know that there are many strong, competitive programs, so we will have to be dedicated in our training and we will need to do all the little things right."

The defending Mississippi Division champs return three sub-22 three milers in Ellie Cox, Rosie Trautman, and Izzy Hoerchler. They will look to a group of incoming juniors that include Elania Reinhart, Malaina Hickey, Grace Vahlkamp, and Jenna Spanley to round out their scoring.

Head Coach: Sam Ingram
Last Year's Finish: 9th- Elmwood Sectional
Key Returners: Kaitlyn Burge (Jr.), Libby Medlin (So.), Lena Schwarting (So.), McKenna Carithers (Sr.), Abby Sauder (Jr.), Sarah Christopher (Jr.)
Summary: The Chiefs finished ninth in the deep Elmwood sectional, but returned nearly all of their scoring roster to make a push for a state qualification in 2022. They are led by XC all-state junior Kaitlyn Burge, third-place finisher at the Heart of Illinois conference, as well as a state qualifier in the 1600 (5:31). Burge and Nellie Melick (El Paso-Gridley), appear to be the top candidates to replace Anna Perry as Heart of Illinois conference champions. 

Behind Burge is a tight pack consisting of Libby Medlin, Abby Sauder, Lena Scharwting, and McKenna Carithers. Sarah Christopher also returns from the postseason roster. The low-stick and deep returning class make the Chiefs group one of the best-returning teams in 1A that did not qualify for state last year.

Head Coach: Brock Tarr
Last Year's Finish: 8th- Decatur (St. Teresa) Sectional
Key Returners: Natalie Kistner (So.), Alexis Hetzer (Sr.), Heidi Lindemann (Sr.), Lucy Yager (So.), Ella Radke (So.), Taylor Slough (Sr.)
Key Additions: None yet
Summary: The first team on the outside looking in at the St. Teresa sectional was the Newton Eagles, who will need to weather the loss of all-stater Rylea Borgic. Natalie Kistner can make a step forward as the harrier of the team, after finishing tenth at a top-heavy Little Illini Conference Meet as a freshman. The pack of Alexis Hetzer, Heidi Lindemann, Lucy Yager, and Ella Rake follow behind, but the St. Teresa sectional looks no more forgiving for 2022 so the Eagles will need some jumps ahead from that group to close the state qualification gap.

Head Coach: Jake Christiansen
Twitter: @CCHS_Speed
Last Year's Finish: 26th at 1A State, 5th at Metro Suburban Conference Blue
Key Returners: Anna Enderle (Sr.), Katie Steinhagen (Sr.), Kaylee O'Sullivan (Jr.), Molly Bugos (Sr.)
Key Additions: Grace Mullin (Jr.), Mia Caporale (Fr.), Haley Van Til (Fr.), Kihra Moes (Fr.)
Summary: Chicago Christian qualified for the state meet after being battle-tested in the deep Metro Suburban Conference. Coach Jake Christiansen summarizes: "The 2021 season ended well for the team, where a core group of girls who had worked hard for years to qualify for State snagged the last team qualifying spot for State in the Lisle Sectional. There were some great steps forward taken by our team, both in culture and physical fitness, and we hope to continue that."

Before 2021, Chicago Christian was projected to be a state qualifier if they fielded enough athletes to score at the sectional meet. They are in a similar position this year but do return a little more than they did a year ago. Anna Enderle, who has qualified for state in cross country twice and now once in the 3200 after spring 2022, leds the way. Enderle returns a 19:15 3-mile best and is joined by Katie Stienhagen, Kaylee O'Sullivan, and Molly Bugos. Grace Mullin is added to the roster as a transfer from Homewood-Flossmoor, and brings 5:50 1600 and 19:30 3-mile bests that can make a big difference. 

Head Coach: Dustin Franckey
Last Year's Finish: 11th at Decatur (St. Teresa) Sectional, 7th at Illini Prairie Conference
Key Returners: Trixie Johnson (Jr.), Lorena Arnett (Sr.), Mackenzie Swan (Jr.), Sydney Pickens (So.), Grace McCoy (So.), Kate Wilson (Sr.)
Key Additions: None yet
Summary: The Panthers of Paxton-Buckley-Loda are led into battle by junior Trixie Johnson, who has run 18:55 at both state and the Illini Prairie Conference where she finished fifth. Only one of the top 7 from last year graduates so PBL will look for a pack of Loren Arneet, Mackenzie Swan, Sydney Pickens, Grace McCoy, and Kate Wilson to bring them back to the state meet.

Head Coach: Ryan Bruns
Last Year's Finish: 18th- State
Key Returners: Vanessa Teel (So.), Zoey Conway (So.), Emily Baggett (Jr.), Sofia Castellano (Jr.)
Key Additions: None yet
Summary: The Pinckneyville Panthers, a top-20 team in the state in 2021, will contend with a large amount of turnover. Top runner Vanessa Teel returns with a 19:03 PR from a 53rd-place state finish in her freshman season. During the track season, Teel is a 400-meter specialist and qualified in that event for the 1A State meet, but also qualified with the 4x800 team. She will look to Zoey Conway, Emily Baggett, and Sofia Castellano (all members of the 4x800 qualifying team with Teel) to comprise the pack but the Panthers need more help at the back end of the pack especially as Metro East-area teams get stronger

Head Coach: Jeremy Melick
Twitter: @PrincevilleHSXC
Last Year's Finish: 11th- Elmwood Sectional
Key Returners: Alyvia Cowser (So.), Montana Hoerr (So.), Kyra Hilsabeck (Sr.), Emma Stutzman (Jr.), Brinae Rice (Jr.), Kyra Rinkel (So.)
Key Additions: Makenna Sears (Jr.)
Summary: Princeville is a small, young team which made strides in 2021. "I thought our 2021 season went well," says coach Jeremy Melick. "We had several girls run faster than I would have guessed going into last season, which is always a fun surprise!  The girls won some hardware at some early meets, which is a good way to build excitement among them." 

Melick on goals for the team this season: "For the team, I'd like to see them build on their success from last year.  I'm hoping we can develop this team concept, where they, as a group, want to achieve certain goals and then recognize that the only way to achieve those team goals is for all of them to be on the same page in regards to training, commitment, and competitiveness."

Princeville can close the gap on Mercer County in the Lincoln Trail Conference. The best Lady Prince last year was state qualifier Alyvia Cowser (she finished 64th), but during track season fellow rising soph, Montana Hoerr ran by her side. Kyra Hilsabeck is the best candidate to join the other two, but Princeville needs more help at the front of the pack to make a run at the state meet. Can this come in the form of Makenna Sears? Sears was a qualifier for the 2020 sectional round, and did not run cross country in 2021 but returned to run track in 2022. 

There is an outside shot that Princeville can close the gap between themselves and the state meet, but Melick says that the team will get there when they get there. "I want them to be better in October than they are now.  I want them to be better this year than they were last.  I think, if each of them can develop that mindset, then some of the other things (team trophies, conference, qualifying for the next round of the postseason) will take care of itself."

Head Coach: Brandy Forward
Twitter: @RCSTFgirls
Last Year's Finish: 25th- State
Key Returners: Emma Joiner (Sr.), Mandy Nelson (Sr.), Marin Carlini (Jr.), Liz Hulsebus (Jr.), Paige Giardina (So.), Jor'ae Beaver (Jr.)
Key Additions: None yet
Summary: Rockford Christian loses Kelly Giardina to graduation, a huge loss for a team that is a perennial attendee of the state meet. The Royal Lions do return the rest of the varsity squad, led by Emma Joiner who was the team's #2 runner at each of the postseason meets. Mandy Nelson also spent time as the #2 runner behind Giardina during the 2021 season. The most likely scorers behind these two will be Marin Carlini, Liz Hulsebus, Paige Giardina, and Jor'ae Beaver. Rockford Christian will need to be on guard against a deep Oregon sectional to make it back to Detweiller, but this team is known for its strong culture and tradition and should produce some strong performances this season.

Head Coach: Joe Lopez
Last Year's Finish: 28th- State
Key Returners: Madison Mathis (Jr.), Beth Churchill (So.), Hailie Shemek (Sr.), Sarah Gibson (Sr.), Alli Nielsen (So.), Kayla Ann Cresap (So.)
Key Additions: None yet
Summary: The Sherrard Tigers won the Three Rivers Athletic Conference title on the girls' side in 2021, and did so without top runner Madison Mathis, who ran 20:08 at state. This is a team that qualified for state in 2021 and returns six of their top seven but did not roster any athletes beyond these seven. Still, they look to be in good shape to make a return trip to Detweiller. Mathis returns, along with Beth Churchill, Hailie Shemek, Sarah Gibson, Alli Nielsen, and Kayla Ann Cresap. Keep an eye on sophomores Jocelyn and Madisyn Skelley, who were key pieces of a deep Sherrard track team. In particular, Madisyn ran 5:58 which almost matched Mathis' 5:57 to lead the team. Adding these two can make a big difference for Sherrard in fall 2022.

Head Coach: Mike Lynn
Last Year's Finish: 8th- Elmwood Sectional
Key Returners: Lydia Snider (Jr.), Alida Proehl (Sr.), Lisa Kirschner (Jr.), Claire Koch (So.), Anna Wagenbach (Jr.), Allie Hellrigel (So.)
Key Additions: Ava Proehl (Fr.)
Summary: Tremont is a strong candidate to jump some teams into the state meet, but have their work cut out for them in the Elmwood sectional. The Turks qualified Lydia Snider to the state meet in 2021, return all their scorers except one for this year, and replace that loss with frosh Ava Proehl, a 13-minute two-miler. The rest of the varsity pack is Alida Proehl, Lisa Kirschner, Claire Koch, Anna Wagebach and Allie Hellrigel. The back end of the pack moving into the 21-minute range out of 22-minutes should be the improvement needed to get the Turks over the hump. Don't be surprised to see Tremont pushing the top-25 list after some good midseason performances this year.