2022 Class A Girls Pre-Season Preview: #25 to #21

Here are the first ranked schools in 1A, teams 25-21. Wheaton Academy, DuQuoin, El Paso-Gridley, Mater Dei, and Williamsville are all teams fighting for a chance to reach the state meet in 2022. The individual state champion may also come from one of these teams. Read on to find out who that might be!

Head Coach: Chris Felinski
Last year's finish: 8th place- State Championship
Key returners: Rachel Nelson (So.), Suzy Li (So.), Britta Love (Sr.), Annie Stoner (So.), Whitney Gabriel (Jr.)
Summary: Thanks to the benefit of senior experience and a transfer, Wheaton Academy ran a strong 2022 season that included a second-place finish at the Lisle Sectional and an 8th-place finish at state. The Warriors experience a huge amount of turnover, as their top three athletes from last year all graduated, and only two sophomores from the state team return: Rachel Nelson and Suzy Li. Nelson will be the team's best runner and comes off a track season that featured a 12:58 3200m and a 5:51 1600m. Britta Love, Annie Stoner, and Whitney Gabriel will help round out the pack too. Wheaton Academy has work to do this year but has earned a spot in the top 25 with the strength of the program.

Head Coach: Erik Kirkpatrick
Last year's finish: 11th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Maggie Kellerman (So.), Issy Phillips (So.), Kallie Oestricher (Jr.), Lainey Miller (Jr.), Grace Phipps (So.)
Key Additions: Ava Gregory (Fr.), Addison Ichou (Fr.), Clair Rose (Jr.), Olivia Numi (Jr.)
Summary: DuQuoin loaded up on postseason victories in 2021, winning conference, regionals, and sectionals on its way to finishing just outside the top 10 at state last year. The Indians will need to reload after losing four of seven scoring runners to graduation, however. The three that do return are sophs Maggie Kellerman (5:47/12:33) and Issy Phillips, and junior Kallie Oesteicher. Lainey Miller is the next runner-up, but the small Indians squad will need a few of a number of newcomers to step into the varsity squad to help DuQuoin pursue its fifth consecutive conference title and return to the state meet. 
Coach Erik Kirkpatrick on the framing for this year: "I start each season by telling our kids my goal is to compete at Detweiller Park on the last day of the season. That is what we work for beginning every year.

Head Coach: Michael Melick Twitter: @EPG_XC_TF
Last year's finish: 17th place- State Championship
Key returners: Nellie Melick (So.), Lizzie Uphoff (Jr.), Valerie Hamilton (Jr.), Madi Ehrhardt (Sr.), McKayla Harms (So.)
Key additions: Caroline Wettstein (Fr.), Sophie Hinthorne (Fr.), Piper Zimmerman (Fr.)
Summary: Nellie Melick is the headlining runner for the EPG Titans. Melick came onto the scene as a frosh winning EPG's home invite on September 28 and finished all-state running 18:23 for 20th place. Melick progressed nicely during track and eyes a top-10 finish. She is joined by a strong group of returners that include Lizzie Uphoff, Valerie Hamilton, Madie Ehrhardt and McKayla Harms, a pack that will work to narrow the gap to Eureka in the Heart of Illinois Conference. 

Coach Michael Melick speaks about building the team's culture: "My goal for the girl's team is to take huge steps to build a true running culture. In the past, we've had good individuals and talented teammates, but we haven't had a top seven train consistently to reach that next level like some of our boy's teams have seen. I'd like to see a full team of girls laying foundations and building a true team culture." 

Head Coach: Colton Strotheide
Last year's finish: 19th place- State Championship
Key returners: Isabella Hacker (So.), Alexis Kampwerth (Sr.), Coryn Toennies (Jr.), Avery Rahden (Sr.), Julia Korte (Sr.), Kayla Zurliene (Jr.)
Summary: Mater Dei had a solid season ending with a top-20 finish at state, and returns six of the top seven scorers from last year. Alexis Kampwerth showed during the track season that she is the Knight's go-to harrier by qualifying for state in the 3200m and producing a 12:22 time. Isabella Hacker returns from a strong frosh campaign that included the Knights' fastest three-mile time of the year (19:33 at Freeburg) and 12:57 from the spring. The returning state team is rounded out by Coyn Toennies, Avery Rahden, Julia Korte, and Kayle Zurliene. A top 15 finish can be within reach for a Mater Dei team that progresses this year.

Head Coach: Tyler Casson
Last year's finish: 16th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Louisa Wilson (So.), Emma Good (Sr.), Riley Mendenhall (Jr.), Hannah Nation (So.), Caitlin Noonan (So.), Emily Pounder (Sr.), Clair Carter (So.)
Summary: The Bullets are headlined by Louisa Wilson, who came on strong in the postseason to make an impact at the 1A level by surprise. Her third-place finish made her the highest-finishing frosh in the division. Wilson grabbed her second all-state performance by running 11:32 for ninth place in last spring's state track and field championship. She must be included in the group of individual title contenders. Wilson leads a group that returns six of the seven finishers from the 16th-place team. The senior leaders of the team are Emily Pounder and 1:02 400m runner Emma Good. The rest of the varsity team is sophomore-heavy, so this is a young team that can make strides this season.