2022 Class 2A Girls Preseason Preview: #20 to 11

This is another wide-open year in the 2A Girls' classification, so watch out for any one of these teams in the #20-11 range to sneak into the top-10, or even trophy contention, by the time November rolls around. 

Head Coach: Scott Nelson
Last Years Finish: 20th- State Championship
Key Returners: Leann Ringsrud (Sr), Ava Swiatek (Jr.), Cate Earl (So.), Alyssa Falco (Sr.), Gabriella Chiarello (So.), Diya Khatau (So.)
Summary: St. Francis came away with a top-20 finish last year and returns their top-6 runners. The Spartans do not have a clear all-state candidate at the onset of the season but return one of the tightest packs from the state meet last year (top-6 split of just 46 seconds). They are led by Leann Ringsrud and Ava Swiatek. Cate Earl, Alyssa Falco, Grabriella Chiarello, and Diya Khatau also return. Swiatek led the team with a 5:50 1600 in the spring, Falco running 13:14, and Ringsrud running 2:30. St. Francis' pack returns good enough to be a solid bet to finish top-20 at state immediately, and with improvement from the whole group, can knock on the door of top-10 as well.

Head Coach: Joe Shannon
Last Years Finish: 21st place- State Championship
Key Returners: Maddie Dortch (Sr.), Tarryn Keeney (Jr.), Payton Frey (So.), Alyson Pace (So.), Liv Heinzmann (Sr.), Lola Schlarmann (So.)
Key Newcomers: Briea Perkins (Fr.)
Summary: The Highland Bulldogs brought a tight pack to the state meet last year, and finished just two points out of the top-20. This was the best race for Highland of the season by far, with every single scorer running a season best on the day (despite the Bulldogs having run two meets at Detweiller prior to state). The split for the first six runners at the state meet was 52 seconds, and all six of these sub-20 minute athletes return. They are led by Maddie Dortch, 77th-place finisher, and team leader in the 3200, 1600, and 800 in track (13:00, 5:51, 2:30). Tarryn Keeney slots in behind Dortsch and brings a 19:20 PR as well as a sub-6 1600. The rest of the pack is Payton Frey, Alyson Pace, Liv Heinzmann and Lola Schlarmann. With the exception of Heinzmann, this relatively young group is in good order to make some strides forward in 2022. Highland also look take aim at a Mississippi Valley Conference title, which is currently held by Waterloo in a 13 point win over Highland in 2022.

Head Coach: Jeff Bryant
Last Years Finish: 13th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Josephine Dziedzic (Sr.), Veronica Fuller (Sr.), Cyriana Lara (So.), Amber Cheng (Sr.), Fiona O'Toole (Jr.), Kaylen Cheng (Sr.), Emily Cheng (So.)
Key Newcomers: None yet
Summary: The Grizzlies made state in 2021 for the first time in program history, and made strides throughout a season under the first year of coach Jeff Bryant. In order to replicate this, Payton is continuing to work on the process. "Our goals this year have been to focus on habits over goals," says Bryant. "While goals are important we have placed emphasis on the systems and processes that will allow us to be more successful this season." A 13th-place finish at state with four of the seven varsity runners from last year bodes well for improvement from Payton.

The breakout of Payton paralleled a breakout for Josephine Dziedzic who finished all-state and broke 18 minutes twice throughout the season. In 2020, her teammate Veronica Fuller had a similar breakout season and has positioned herself to regain that form in this season. Bryant says that Payton's fortunes begin this with a 1-2 punch. "Both of these girls have had a great summer of training and have progressed nicely," he says. "These two's tempo runs and easy runs have become much faster over the summer."

There are several options for Payton behind these two to fill in the scoring gaps. Fiona O'Toole and Kaylen Cheng return sub-20 marks from 2021 and are candidates to start the year in the varsity lineup. Amber Cheng figured to factor into the scoring for Payton last year but was not able to finish out the season healthy. Emily Cheng also slides in as a top seven candidate (5:59 1600m best). Keep an eye out for Cyriana Lara, who ran 2:30 and 1:04 on relays in track, and has put in a strong summer. With the right pieces falling into place at the right time, Payton can set its sights high this year. "[With our systems and processes goals in mind], I do believe that we have a chance to be a top 10 team in the state this year and also win our conference," says Bryant.

17. Metamora
Head Coach: Amanda Young
Last Years Finish: 18th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Audrey Heil (Jr.), Alayna Ruach (Sr.), Callie Sturgell (So.), Adi Sparry (So.), Ruthie Stamm (So.), Shealyn Terry (Jr.), Audrey Hodgen (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Riley Egan (Fr.), Mia Whitfield (Fr.), Lauren Poole (Fr.), Naomi Roth (Fr.)
Summary: The 2022 season is the first in a long time for Metamora without iconic coach Gene Jones, who retired this year. Jones is succeeded by former Dunlap coach and Metamora graduate Amanda Young (formerly Duvendack), who was a 2-time state champion in the 800 in 2009 and 2010.

The Redbirds grabbed a top-20 finish at state in 2021, and return five of the seven runners from that race, despite graduating last year's top runner Katie Lalumandier. Not far behind Lalumandier were Audrey Heil and Alayna Ruach, who together had an outstanding track season, which included 5:28/11:38 bests for Heil, and 5:31/2:26 bests for Ruach, with each of those marks leading the team. Heil and Ruach both ran 18:53 at different points in the 2021 season but should move much closer to 18-minutes this season based on their progress during the track season.

Callie Sturgell was not far behind in 19:17 at state but did not run track. The second pack looks like a conglomerate including Ruthie Stamm, Adi Sparry, Shealyn Terry, and Audrey Hodgen. In that group, Hodgen has the best 3200m time (13:29), and Sparry has the best three-mile and mile times (20:01 and 6:06). Between this returning group, and a group of experienced runners out of Metamora middle school coming up, Metamora will return another pack team that has a great shot of returning to Detweiller in November.

16. Dixon 
Head Coach: Simon Thorpe
Last Years Finish: 12th place- Woodstock (North) Sectional
Key Returners: Emma Smith (Jr.), Emily Conderman (Sr.), Keeley Mick (Jr.), Kait Knipple (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Hannah Steinmeyer (Sr.), Kate Boss (Fr.), Olivia Arduini (Fr.), Kinzie Love (Fr.)
Summary: Last season proved to be a learning experience for the Duchesses, full of ups and downs. "Coming off 2020, with no state meet and losing three key seniors, the expectations for our team were mixed among the group," says coach Simon Thorpe. "The majority of the top seven had never competed at the varsity level previously, so each race brought something new."

Despite a good start to the postseason, Dixon missed out on state, like many other capable teams at the Woodstock North sectional. "A season highlight was winning our IHSA Regional at Burlington," adds Thorpe. "We had a disappointing finish at sectionals, but we realized what it means to really race in a highly intense environment." The true strength of Dixon may be obscured, as the team runs only a few three-mile races during the season, and just Emma Smith had the privilege of competing at the state meet. Smith took full advantage, crushing her lifetime best and running 17:47 for 16th and an all-state medal. Smith also just missed another individual, an all-state medal by finishing 11th in the 2A 1600m, running 5:11.

Dixon did grab a team all-state medal in the 4x800, where Smith ran second to help the team to a 9:56 8th-place finish. She returns along with the entire rest of the Duchess varsity team in 2021. Emily Conderman, Keeley Mick and Emily Smith comprise a capable varsity pack, with the second one behind them of Kait Knipple, Teyla Wendt, and Jordyn Crawford. Knipple and Mick joined Smith on the 4x800 all-state squad.

At their best, Dixon keeps these packs relatively close together, as evidenced by their regional victory over state qualifier Northside last year. Dixon knows the kind of season that can be in front of them. Thorpe outlines the ways that the team has forecasted goals and their hopes for this season: "We are shifting away from trying to think of the end goal as the most important, and instead focus on the daily atmosphere and what it means to have "good culture". Abstractly, their goals consisted of spending more time together, being happy for one another at all times, and doing our best to suffer together when hurting. "Race wise, we discussed the potential that our team has this year as we only graduated one senior from last season. A brief list includes winning the conference title, regional title, and qualifying for the state meet."

Head Coach: Kelly MacDonald
Last Years Finish: 10th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Rachel Soukup (Sr.), Olivia McPherson (Jr.), Lydia Jensen (So.), Nella Robinson (So.), Addison Taege (Jr.), Grace Turman (Jr.), Grace Nelson (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Brenna Benjamin (Fr.)
Summary: In 2021, Prairie Ridge experienced a heavy amount of turnover after losing both Rylee Lydon and Colette Janik for various reasons, but showed the strength of its program by still qualifying for the state championship out of the Woodstock North sectional and grabbing a top-10 spot. "This is the longest stretch of success we have had," says coach Kelly MacDonald. "If we work hard and have a little luck we have a chance to make it again even though we have had a lot of turnover from last year. Our core group works hard and has the desire to push themselves."

This strong season for the Wolves happened with the help of consistent leader Rachel Soukup, finally entering her senior year. Soukup, a sub-5 miler, finished 7th at 2021 state. Soukup is an individual state contender, and is looking as strong as ever this summer, reports MacDonald. Prairie Ridge returns junior Olivia McPherson behind Soukup, with an 18:57 time from cross country but progress in track (11:46, 5:28). There is a drop-off after these first two, and steps forward will be needed from Lydia Jensen, Alexis Soukup, McKenna Moore, Faith Wilder, and Nella Robinson. Also, look for Ali Storz as a largely improved athlete to contribute.

"Our team this year has a lot of new runners, which brings lots of opportunities," says Soukup, who seeks a third cross country all-state showing. "But also with having a lot of new runners there is a lot to learn and overcome. I think one of the biggest challenges will be for each new girl to learn how to race- how to pace herself and how to overcome negative thoughts."

There is a wide range of personal bests from this group entering the season, but they look to form a strong pack to support McPherson and Soukup at the front. Prairie Ridge is one of the most highly-regarded programs in the classification by other coaches. One rival coach: "It doesn't really matter how much Prairie Ridge returns, you can never count them out." This much remains true, and although Prairie Ridge begins the season outside of the top 10 on paper, fans can be sure that they will come on strong throughout the season and be in the mix when the time is right. "We always have the goal of making it to state," says MacDonald. "This early in the season it is too hard to know much more than that. The core of this team is hungry to make it back and hopefully run better than last year's 10th-place finish. We will need a few of the girls to step it up a notch to replace the talent that we lost last year." 

"I enjoy how our team this year is excited about the season," says Soukup. "It's been cool to see us grow closer as friends since we have a lot of new runners this year."

Head Coach: Matt Haffner
Last Years Finish: 15th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Meghan Semmer (Jr.), Lexi Noonan (Sr.), Haley Fitzgerald (Sr.), Ella Hwang (Jr.), Lizeth Montes (So.), Emma Valencia (Jr.), Jordan Abdo (Jr.), Curry Murphy (Sr.), Maeve Griffin (So.), Olivia Stern (Jr.), McKenna Ellis (Sr.)
Summary: Saint Ignatius typically runs as one of the deepest teams in the classification, and this held serve in 2021 as the Wolfpack got its seven runners in at state before any other team. Without clear frontrunners, however, this did not translate to a similarly high place. "We didn't really have great chemistry with so many new kids in the top group," says head coach Matt Haffner. "That seems to have improved a lot with the track season."

The runner that came closest to solving the front-runner issue was Meghan Semmer, who was Saint Ignatius' top finisher in each race from midseason on. Semmer finished 47th at state to lead the team. Another top-100 returner is Lexi Noonan, returning a 19:03 best along with a 5:37 full mile from Magis Miles.

The rest of the returning state roster includes Haley Fitzgerald (19:24, 11:57), Ella Hwang (19:07 and 5:14 from 2021 track), and Lizeth Montes (18:59, did not run track). Many returners can play a varsity role, including sophomore Maeve Griffin (2:28) who joined Semmer and Noonan on the state qualifying 4x800, Emma Valencia, McKenna Ellis, Curry Murphy, Olivia Stern, and Jordan Abdo. Noonan speaks to the depth of the team: "I am excited about finally being a senior! I am also excited about the strength of some of the incoming freshman and returning runners. I think we have a great chance to perform well at the conference meet and beyond."

The focus for the team is moving as much of the pack from the 19-minute range into the 18-minute range, says Haffner. Can Ignatius convert on its depth and move into the top-10 throughout the season? Senior Haley Fitzgerald says the belief on the team is allowing the entire group to aim high. 

"This team has a lot of both new and returning talent and all we need to do is think like we belong on the podium," she says. "We crush every workout, from the top of varsity to the bottom of JV, so we definitely have what it takes to prove ourselves worthy this season and I hope our team realizes it too."

13. Waterloo 
Head Coach: Larry Huffman
Last Years Finish: 17th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Angelynn Kanyuck (Jr.), Danielle Mudd (Jr.), Cameron Crump (So.), Ava Rau (So.), Kamryn Rader (So.), Chloe Aubuschon (Jr.), Molly Grohmann (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Macy Jones (Fr.), Norah Kettler (Fr.), Ella Brown (Fr.)
Summary: Waterloo finished 17th at the state meet in 2021 and returns all seven from this state team. The Bulldogs are headlined by Angelynn Kanyuck, who is a two-time defending Mississippi Valley Conference champion as a junior. Kanyuck ran 18:27 twice in the 2021 postseason, including a Regional champion run and 39th-place at the state meet. Kanyuck is a sneaky all-state candidate for this year. Behind her are Danielle Mudd, Cameron Crump, Ava Rau, Kamryn Rader, Chloe Aubuschon, and Molly Grohmann. With the exception of Grohmann, the whole pack are juniors or younger. This will be a group that grows in experience and should make it back to state out of the southernmost 2A sectional this year. Waterloo can be a top-10 team this season and is a good bet to defend their conference title over Highland, Mascoutah, and Triad.

Head Coach: Kelly Fox
Last Years Finish: 12th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Sofia Munoz (Sr.), Camille Mavis (Jr.), Renee Ballard (Jr.), Hailey Betzer (Jr.), Ellie Fritzsche (Jr.), Brooke Doyle (Jr.), Alexia Finch (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Paityn Koester (Fr.)
Summary: Mt. Zion returns a solid team of five returners from a 12th place finish at state, but the real highlight for Mt. Zion this past year was the state champion 4x800m relay squad, punctuated by top cross returner Sofia Munoz. "Sofia brought her 800m time down to under 2:20 this track season and ran an incredible anchor leg in our state championship 4x800m relay team this past spring," says coach Kelly Fox. Munoz received the baton more than four seconds behind Lakes and caught Becca Runyan on the backstretch of the final lap to secure that championship for Mt. Zion. Camille Mavis ran the first leg for that team and returns a 19:35 state best for the Braves.

Renee Ballard, Hailey Betzer, and Ellie Fritzsche all broke 20:15 at the state meet and return, and are joined by Brooke Doyle and Alexia Finch as the main candidates to round out varsity for Mt. Zion. Watch for freshman Paityn Koester to make an impact as she is onboarded into the program throughout the course of the year. Fox on team goals: "Our goal is to advance to the state meet and to continue to run solid races throughout the season. We don't worry too much about where we'll place as a team but instead try to focus on continued improvement as individuals."

Head Coach: Dan Gray
Last Years Finish: 16th place- State Championship
Key Returners: Grace Yontz (So.), Maria Stedwill (Sr.), Eileen Zopel (Sr.), Sarah Couri (So.), Meghan Zopel (So.), Julia Mingus (So.)
Key Newcomers: Maya Zopel (Fr.)
Summary: Peoria Notre Dame continued a streak of state qualifications, earning 16th place along with senior Teagan Cover earning all-state, despite challenges during the year. "We fought a number of injuries to some key runners throughout the '21 season, many as carry-over injuries from the late-running track season." Looking ahead to this season, Gray and the Irish are ready to run as a pack. "Having graduated a number of key runners, and looking like we will have a smaller-than-usual team, our key (like everyone) is to keep everyone healthy and fit and to make a return trip to State. Coming into the season, we look more likely to have a race-by-committee mentality, more than reliance on a front-runner. We have a few who may be ready to step up towards that front-runner status, but time will tell!"

Notre Dame is always a high-ceiling team with a group of dedicated, experienced runners that have all had success at various stages. Grace Yontz returns as the top returner from last season, technically, but Maria Stedwill and Eileen Zopel enter their senior year having front run often for the Irish before and retain the capability to mix it up with the front pack at state. Sarah Couri and Meghan Zopel join them for a group of five that can run under 19 minutes. Add in Maya Zopel, and Notre Dame returns another strong team despite its small numbers for the year.