It was quite a scene in the middle of last year's state championship pack
Between #20-#11, two private and eight public schools are featured. The top returner in the classification, Kate Ahmari, runs for Urbana University and is featured in this list. Is there a chance one of these teams breaks into the trophy consideration throughout this season?
Last year's finish: 7th- State Championship
Summary: Immaculate Conception Catholic Prep is in a state of transition this season, with Carly Manchester graduating and coach Dawn Calcagno moving on. The coaching situation for ICCP is in flux, but a talented core group returns from cross country.
Garziella Narcisi had an outstanding freshman season by slotting in as the Knights' #2 behind Manchester and finishing all-state in 15th place as the third-best frosh in the classification. She did not run track but she has to be included in the all-state conversation. Kelsey McDonough and Megan Van Koughnet return as 20-minute athletes, and Hayden James rounds out the group of four returners. As is typical for teams in 1A, ICCP needs to find a few other athletes to round a scoring team to reach their potential. But the core pieces in place puts ICCP right into the thick of the state conversation.
Last year's finish: 21st place- State Championship
Key additions: Katalina Scott (Fr.)
Summary: The Rockets qualified for state and finished just outside the top 20. Returning five of their top seven from last year, including top runners Hana Ford and Tayli Hultin, puts the Rockets in a good position to repeat. In particular, Ford made strides in her freshman track season by throwing down a 5:35 1600m in the prelims of the 2A state meet. Hultin, Gracie Rippy, Brooke Howard, and Emma Hultin join Ford as varsity returners. One Rock Falls Middle School graduate that could add some varsity depth is Katalina Scott. In 2022, the Rockets finished third in the Big Northern Conference, 32 points behind runner-up Dixon and 53 points behind winner Winnebago. That margin should close slightly this year.
Head Coach: Rachael Brewer
Last year's finish: 9th place- State Championship
Key Additions: Ella Ylagan (Fr.)
Summary: Few teams in the classification have to deal with as much turnover as Urbana University for this season. Every scorer except for one graduate from last season. There is a bit of good news for Illineks. That returning runner is Kate Ahmari, 2021's runner-up finisher and the top returner in the state. Ahmari is a two-time regional and sectional champion who ran 17:29 at state as her strongest cross country performance to date. Ahmari also sports bests of 11:01 and 5:06 from last track season and was top four in both events in addition to anchoring the Illinek 4x400 state squad. Ahmari has a host of all-state showings, but the individual title has eluded her. She will have to contend with some hot, young competition but last year was evidence she will run best when it matters the most.
Rachael Brewer's squad does have some work to do after Ahmari. "We have some large holes that will need to be filled this year after losing five of our top seven, so this will not be an easy task for us," the head coach says. "We have a lot of young runners that will have to step up if we have a chance to qualify as a team." Brewer identifies Kara Mathias and Edie Hoganson as the primary go-to runners to slot in behind Ahmari. Both Mathias and Hoganson ran around 13:30 for 3200, which represents an improvement for Hoganson in particular. The rest of the pack is less certain, but Ella Ylagan could be an important piece of the puzzle as an incoming freshman from the Urbana University middle school. The Illineks roster a large team for 1A so options will arise.
Head Coach: Ryan Arthur
Last year's finish: 15th place- State Championship
Summary: Marshall was just barely outlasted by Robinson at the Little Illini Conference Meet in 2021, losing by a single point despite three runners in the top five, and having the two best finishers. These two, Brooklyn Bender and Isabel Arthur, both return to lead the Lions in their pursuit of another top 15 finish at state. Bender especially has been a perennial all-state athlete in 1A, producing back-to-back all-state 3200 showings and finishing 17th in 18:23 for an all-state cross country showing. Bender returns as a top-10 athlete in the classification and can challenge for a top 5 spot too. Arthur showed range in track by running 11:42 and 2:23 (she focused on the 800 at state). The other returning state runners are Bethany Jones and Sophie Smith. Marshall had three runners in the top-70 at state last year, on track for a top-10 finish, but the spread was too great to stay in that range. Where will other scoring help for the Lions come from this year?
: Kim Foster
Last Year's Finish: 23rd place- State Championship
Key additions: Lila Coleman (Fr.), Lily Mueller (Fr.), Ruthie Steffes (Fr.)
Summary: Last season had good vibes and race wins for the Seneca Fighting Irish, but still room to improve. "I was very happy with our 2021 season," says coach Kim Foster. "We had a lot of success and the girls had fun. We hope to have a better race at the state meet. It was the first state meet for 6 of my 7, so they were very overwhelmed and not as confident. I think we will perform better at state this year because of the past experience."Tri-County Conference champ Evelyn O'Connor leads the way for Seneca after finishing 44th in her first state meet. O'Connor also led off the all-state Seneca 4x800 and was joined by fellow returners Ashley Alsvig and Gracie Steffes (2:27, 5:21 bests for O'Connor). Conference runner-up Alsvig made steps forward in track with 11:49 and 5:44 performances in track.
Seneca could have two all-state athletes this year. Steffes, Natalie Misener, Keeli Pumphrey, and Lauren Cronkrite all return and represent the incumbent pack, but will now be joined by a strong freshman class for Seneca. The class of 2026 is headlined by Lila Coleman, the 1A IESA 400-meter champion out of Marseilles (Milton Pope), with a time of 60.78 in the state final. Watch for Lily Mueller and Ruthie Steffers also to contribute to a deepening Seneca team. "I think we are going to have another great season," says Foster. "Our numbers are small, but the runners are strong." Alsvig agrees with her coach: "I believe a challenge this year is going to be the number of athletes we have on the team. Our numbers seem to be lower this year, and we are going to need to work hard to reach our goals of making it to state. However, I believe it is going to be a great year of cross country with the people that we do have!"Evelyn O'Connor on the culture of the team: "I enjoy the people and coaches on the team and also how we always encourage each other." Gracie Steffes: "I really enjoy how close our entire team is. We are always supporting each other and we are all just super good friends."
Last year's finish: 20th place- State Championship
Key additions: Addison Monson (Fr.)
Summary: 2021 represented a year of great success for the Lincoln Trail Conference champion Golden Eagles of Mercer County. "Last year was our 1st year on the big stage and seeing all the great programs," says head coach Peter Nelson. "We clinched our team's first berth to state and placed 20th." The focus for the team this year is to replicate that success from last year. "I think that the main goal this year is going to be making it to state as a team," says top returner Eden Mueller. "It's going to be a challenge to get back to where we were last year since we lost some seniors. But everyone has been putting in a lot of work this summer, so I think it's definitely possible."
Mueller leads the team's effort to defend their conference title and return to Detweiller. Mueller finished top-50, breaking 19 minutes in 2021. She is in the all-state conversation for this season. The other returning state athletes are Sophia Santiago (sub-20), Ingrid Hays, Mia Ward, and Macy Gray. The Golden Eagles will also look to Isabel Colon, Olivia Abbaducky, Caidel Monson, and newcomer Addison Monson to round out the Lincoln Trail defense against Princeville and Ridgewood. Can Mercer County produce only the second-ever state berth this year?
Last year's finish: 12th place- Elmwood Sectional
Key additions: Caroline Willenborg (Fr.), Alaina Hawker (Fr.)
Summary: A strong 2021 regular season for Rob Havens' Cardinals was halted early, partially thanks to a costly injury. "Losing our number one (Abigail Wolters) at regional and sectional had its effect on the team, but others stepped up," he says. "The girls had a strong spring track and field showing and that should carry over to cross country. Summer workouts have been well attended."
With a team of full strength, Pleasant Plains aims to defend their conference championship, compete for a regional title and qualify for the state meet out of the difficult Elmwood sectional. Wolters showed that she is ready to go in a track season where she specialized in the 800m, running 2:20.33 and earning all-state honors (7th). In addition, she teamed up in the 4x800 including Teagan Galloway, Megan Derrick, and Jaidynn Albers. Albers and Derrick look to be the best candidates to form a front pack behind Wolters but may bring along frosh newcomers Alaina Hawker and Caroline Willenborg, with Willenborg being a particularly strong option.
The best version of Pleasant Plains could have as many as four athletes under 19 minutes. This is a different look for Pleasant Plains than the group that finished six spots away from qualifying for state, but it will still take a very strong day to get down to Detweiller. Havens: "The girls enjoy the team aspect and comradery as much as anything. While several crave the competition of the meets and strive for a PR each and every meet. While they know that's not always possible, that's their goal."
Head Coach: Kyle Anderson
Last year's finish: 24th place- State Championship
Key additions: Natalie Babcock (Fr.), Addy Turner (Fr.)
Summary: With just six athletes on the roster, the Elmwood-Brimfield Girls qualified for the state meet for the first time since 2014. Coach Kyle Anderson believes that there is space to improve. "Five of the six girls from last year's state qualifying team are back this year," he says. "We are hoping that adding 2-3 freshmen will help us reach a higher finish this season."Addie Symonds led the way last year with a season-best under 19 minutes and a 55th place finish at state. The returners that will make the biggest impact are Chloe Kelly, Ashley Wolcott, and Olivia Stage, who all are on the brink of breaking 20 minutes. Natalie Babcock and Addy Turner join the club as well as freshmen who coach Anderson believes can crack the top 5 as well. The Trojans will be players in the postseason and almost certainly are contenders for the top 10.
Head Coach: Brendan Hoskins
Last year's finish: 22nd place- State Championship
Key additions: Amelia Kistner (So.)
Summary: Olympia mixes it up with one of the deepest 1A conferences, the Illini Prairie Conference, and finished 4th on their way to a state qualification and 22nd in the classification. Abby Litwiller led the team throughout all of cross country, and a pack of Chrystal Cornwell, Anna Beiber, and Rachel Andris remained close together throughout cross country and track.
Cornwell and Bieber joined Kaylie Dare and Mallory Miller on the state qualifying 4x800 team. Sophomore Amelia Kistner did not run in the cross country season but led the Spartans in the 3200 in track with a 12:51 performance at Morton Distance Night. Olympia is in the mix to finish top-2 in the Illini Prairie Conference, which is good enough to make them a contender for top-5 in 1A in 2022.
Last year's finish: 13th place- State Championship
Key additions: Mallory Mosbey (Fr.)
The Maroons, Little Illini conference champions, and state qualifiers, return almost the entire team roster and put themselves on the map as a major team to watch. Katelyn Jones and Ella Tingley will be crucial cogs for Robinson, with Jones being the Maroons' best 1600 runner (5:39) and Tingley leading the team in 800 (2:24). Quinn Wesley and Rylee Young follow behind, but a large group of returners including Sophie Stark, Brynn Forman, Leighanna Welsh, joined by a freshman class including Mallory Mosbey, will mix it up to be in the top seven. Coach Tony Cork projects a strong year for Robinson, who does need some time to get fully healthy entering the fall. Robinson's ceiling looks like that of a possible trophy contender.