THE 2A DELUXE CHAMPIONSHIP REEL breaks down the 2021 state championship action from start to finish
The defending champion Grayslake Central Rams finally check in at #2 this year, behind conference rival Lakes. This is a close battle! All ten teams checking in here will be able to make a run at the title this year. Many of these questions posed will be answered at 11:00am on November 5th.
Head Coach: Jill Burroughs
Last Years Finish: 6th place- State Championship
Key Newcomers: Lana Alcorn (Fr.), Natalie Bierbaum (Fr.)
Summary: After receiving a move into 2A for the 2021 season, Normal University enjoyed a strong season which ended with a 6th place showing at the state meet. This was assisted by a strong 1-2 punch of Delaney Fitzgerald and Zoe Carter. Carter was just seconds from finishing all-state (finishing 26th) and was also one place out of all-state in the 1600m in track (5:10), but thankfully did grab her first state medal finishing ninth with a 10:51 best in the 3200m.
Despite the losses of Fitzgerald and Adriana Crabtree, the Pioneers immediately reload with freshman Natalie Bierbaum from Heyworth Middle School. Bierbaum made her entrance statement at Detweiller at Dark with a 17:24 runner-up placing, which already puts her #3 on the all-time school list since 2010 (ahead of Fitzgerald as well).
The Pioneers return two other sub-20 athletes, Eve Whitlow (18:50) and Talia Luallen (19:53). Maya Lanier is the best candidate at the moment to slide into a scoring spot, but that could also be Klara Bouman, Grace Hany, Kaitlyn Ringler, Talia Luallen of Reagan Bull. With the gap behind Whitlow (who projects to be the #3 for Normal University), there is some work to be done but this young team figures to fill in the gap with a number of athletes as they did last year.
Coach Burroughs on looking ahead to this season with her talented group: "I am looking forward to the season. We have a wonderful and hardworking group of runners. Their dedication to running is going to make for a great season. This group of runners has both personal and team goals that they want to achieve including running at the 2022 State Meet in Peoria at Detweiller."
Head Coach: Steve Clegg
Last Years Finish: 8th place- Woodstock (North) Sectional
Summary: The most notable absence from the state meet in 2021, in any classification, was Lake Forest. The Woodstock North logjam proved difficult for Lake Forest, but that occurrence was not without silver living. "We had a solid season, but fell short of our goal to make it back to the State Meet," says coach Steve Clegg. "We ran in the Woodstock Sectional that ended up pretty loaded. Despite the team finish, we did have Izzy Marsico and Sophia Lane advance and perform well at State." This involved a 6th place finish for Marsico and 52nd place for Lane.
Lake Forest is a dangerous team entering 2022, especially on the strength of its absurdly deep junior class. While being led by Lane and Marsico, this class also includes Olivia and Alexandra Palmberg, Paige Gibbons, Lucy Schalachtenhaufen, and Olivia Marsico. This is a rapidly maturing group and brings a lot of coherence to the course for the Scouts. The Palmbergs, Gibbons, and Olivia Marisco all return three-mile times under 20 minutes, and are joined by seniors Alexandra and Amelia Fontana are the best bets to slide behind Lane and Izzy Marsico. Those two will be shooting for all-state medals to help Lake Forest make it back to the state meet. Do not forget about Lake Forest come October--but the strength of this team may prevent you from forgetting about them anyways.
Head Coach: Mike Garber
Last year's finish: 7th place- State Championship
Key newcomers: Ally Knudson (Fr.), Ashlyn Chopra (Fr.), Layne Matthew (Fr.), Grace Hopper (Sr.)
Summary: The 2021 MileSplit Illinois previews featured CG as the top team in the state preseason, prior to a year of a title defense. The Titans had a strong season that finished with a top-10 finish at state, which came as a disappointment but also a learning opportunity. "Our 2021 season was a mixed bag, of sorts," says head coach Mike Garberg. "We did really well through most of the regular season with a few minor injuries that turned out to be more limiting later in the season than I expected. Our girl's squad learned a lot, grew together, and are working hard to make this coming season the best one yet."
Glenwood loses the top two state scorers from fall to graduation and collegiate running (Emma Leahy and Nia Gibson) but returns a formidable four. Ava Gorrie, Kamryn Robbins, and Lydia Gurnsey all bring key experience and pack running to Glenwood. However, it was Rachael Behrens that made the most strides in track, putting together a season that included 11:32 and 5:21 bests. Of the returners, watch Behrens make a statement including a possible run at all-state.
Discussing Glenwood's prospects for this year is impossible without mentioning the incoming freshman class, highlighted by Ashlyn Chopra and Ally Knudson. These two finished 1-2 in the IESA 3A state race last year, and will certainly make an immediate impact on the complexion of the whole state this year. "They have both had wonderful summers and will look to make an immediate impact on varsity," says Garber. Do not forget about middle school teammate Layne Matthew, says Garber, who joined the other two in running this summer and can all make varsity spots. A final athlete to watch is Grace Hopper, who runs her first Glenwood cross country season as a senior after transferring from Shiloh High in Hume, IL (interestingly, this is not Hopper's first Titan season, as Shiloh is also the Titans).
Garber has observed some team identity work among the team that has allowed them to process the results of last year. "They know there needs to be a different thought process and are working through that together," he says. "They are more mentally prepared for the season than last and the influx of talent has really pushed them forward too. I'm excited to see us go after things they haven't before this season. It should be really exciting."
Head Coach: Joe Wejman
Last year's finish: 14th place- State Championship
Summary: One of the real surprises in the state last year was the Roadrunners of 'Naz', Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park. "Last season went very well," says head coach Joe Wejman. "Coming off of 2020, we had some high expectations and seemed to deliver, winning our first Conference title in 29 years, winning regionals, and then making it to the state meet."
The conference title required Nazareth to knock off incumbent power Benet, and did so on their way to a top-15 place at state despite a small host of injuries and lost training.
One athlete who overcame barriers during the season was top returner Colette Kinsella, whose 11th place finish in 17:44 represented her third straight all-state medal. Kinsella has been one of the most consistently strong runners in the class and returns this season eyeing a top-five finish. Her finish was complemented last year by a breakout from Sarah Owen, finishing top 50 in her freshman season.
The rest of the state team returns, namely Jane McNamara, Hannah McCarthy, Taylor Lester, Natalie Ereio, and Molly McNamara. Although Wejman does not identify any technical newcomers, do not forget about Evvy Sifferman, Neeve Olson, or Samantha Rozmus. Sifferman and Olson both have the potential to push into the top seven. However, it is Rozmus who can make a real difference for the Roadrunners with a healthy season. Before injury limited the end of her season, Rozmus put 19:41 on the board in September and has run 19:24 dating back to 2020.
Nazareth is a deep team with many options, and no level of success from Nazareth in 2022 should come as a surprise to other teams. Wejman says the team knows this, and even with high goals, is focusing on being their best: "We have a lot of the similar goals, winning conference will be on our radar for sure this year and we figure to not catch anyone by surprise. Not knowing the pairings for the postseason, I would still like to think that we are aiming for a regional and sectional title and a trip to the state championship. I do think that we have the ability to be on the hunt for a trophy, but we just want to make it to Peoria and have our best day."
Head Coach: Suzanne Curry
Last Years Finish: 3rd place- State Championship
Key Newcomers: Jillian Leuck (Fr.)
Summary: One of the most consistently strong programs in 2A came away with another trophy to show for their efforts. "It was nice to get back to a more normal cross country schedule in 2021 to revisit some of our favorite invites and to have the state series," says coach Suzanne Curry. "We had a successful season across the board, ending with another third place state trophy. And for only the second time in our history, we had two All-State athletes, Reina Hill and Anna Todd."
The duo of Todd and Hill combined bring years and many meets of experience. In the strictest sense, these two are the best returning 1-2 on paper in the division (Todd is the best returning #2 athlete at 14th last year). The track & field season showed continued success from these two, who have traditionally run best at the end of cross country seasons. With both returning PRs under 17:50, top-10 finishes are in the cards for the two Cougars. The importance of these two cannot be undersold as Vernon Hills returns only Jori Ellen from the rest of the scoring group from the 2021 state meet. Ellen, along with Clara Sheridan, returns for a key sophomore season where each runner looks to improve under the 19-minute mark.
Hannah Thomas, Ashlee Shoemaker, and Emma Anderson are the best bets to slot in along with these girls. Despite the unexpected varsity losses, Vernon Hills as a team can never be dismissed, as many rival coaches identify, regardless of what they return. The track record of the team speaks for itself, and the team can run to defend their podium spot.
Maintaining the goals and culture of the team is paramount, says Curry. "The team goals remain constant - for each girl to strive to be the best teammate, improve as a runner, have fun, compete for the CSL title, and advance to state and compete for a trophy. We'll continue to focus on pack-running and the two returning All-State runners will look to lead the team and improve on their tremendous 2021 seasons."
Head Coach: Chris Friedman
Last Years Finish: 9th place- State Championship
Key Newcomers: Mia Williams (Fr.), Claire Sack (Fr.)
Summary: Last year was up and down for Dunlap, who held a #1 state ranking in October, and won some meets throughout the season, but struggled to finish out strong. "We were a young team last season (1 junior, 2 sophomores, 2 freshmen were are top 5), and with COVID costing us the season before, we lacked experience with the pressure at the end of the season," says coach Chris Friedman. "We handled the conference meet well, but as we approached both the sectional and especially state meets our inexperience became apparent. The nerves got the better of us at the state meet, but after the meet, they understood what happened."
A slightly more seasoned team will move into 2022 confidently, having earned an all-state medal in the 4x800m relay on the way. The team is led by captain Saniya Mathew, who earned all-state in cross country in 2019, and can return to that form this year, says Friedman. Mathew ran 2:26 in the spring and was the anchor for the podium 4x800. A strong top four also include Abby Tudeen, Kate Robertson, and Abbie Gleason.
In 2021, the spots of these runners shuffled consistently, and Dunlap will see more of the same this year. Maggie Diefenthaler, Weather Yegappan, and Taya Zimmerman are all experienced runners who will fill in throughout the season. Morgan Phillips can also make an impact by the postseason as she progresses back to the form that she had last year.
The lessons learned from 2021 will make Dunlap a stronger group this year. "Our goals are always the same: improve throughout the season, win the conference meet, compete at the state meet," says Friedman. "Some seasons that the last goal morphs as the season progresses. With last year's experience, I believe we are a stronger team. The experience won't overwhelm them this year, and we have the same basic core back from last year."
Head Coach: Brett Willhoit
Last year's finish: 8th place- State Championship
Summary: A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Crystal Lake Central team grew throughout last season. "The 2021 season went really well for us," says coach Brett Wilhoit. "We had a young, inexperienced group and they ran really well, much better than their experience level. We bring everyone back from last year, so we are looking to continue to build on last year's success. We are going to try to build the team culture, and hopefully, the girls can make lifetime memories this season."
Eyes were turned by one of the newest Tiger runners, incoming sophomore Hadley Ferrero. "Hadley seemed to race better each week, setting a course record at Antioch," says Willhoit. "She then set a new school record at Detweiler by running 16:54, beating Sami Staples' old record (who won a state title) by over 12 seconds." Ferrero's fourth-place state finish involved beating a host of more experienced athletes, and as the second returner behind Mia Kotler, will no longer fly under the radar as one of the premier athletes in the state this year. Ferrero plays soccer in the spring and therefore does not possess the track data points to track her progress. But fans should still watch for the sophomore speedster to challenge for a top two spot at Detweiller this November.
The rest of the eighth-place state team returns. All runners, Brynn Matthaei, Annie Ferrero, Gwenyth Brickey, Addison Bechler, Emma Macke, and Hope Ferrero ran season bests at state, with all but the Ferreros running PRs. Steps forward from Central, which has a good mix of seniors and underclassmen, should be expected with the whole group back. Watch especially Matthaei, who was a freshman last year. Her track season included 12:00 and 5:50 bests in the spring. Another all-time great Crystal Lake Central team could be in the works in 2022.
Head Coach: Ken Greenfield
Last year's finish: State Runner-Up
Key newcomers: Katie Lorenz (Jr.), Kelsey Kos (Fr.), Natalie Olague (Fr.)
Summary: Crystal Lake South showed strength throughout the season that it had never shown before on its way to a runner-up trophy. "This was a season of unprecedented success for the CLS Girls XC program," says coach Ken Greenfield. "[We won] conference, regional, and sectional championships and a state runner-up trophy. It was all made possible by the incredibly mature, steady approach of all of our girls."
Some early season injuries did not get in the way of the Gators, who combined getting healthy at right time with strong improvement from key runners to produce a special season. "They never lost focus on doing their best every day and letting the results come to them," says Greenfield.
South loses all-state runner Addie Frisch but returns fellow all-staters Bella Gonzalez and Abby Machesky. South was the only team with three all-state runners in 2A in 2021. Gonzalez, a senior, looks to put a cap on a prolific cross country career that already includes three straight top-10 state finishes. Her 17:31 at state last year is an all-time best for her, and she can take a shot at Kristina Aubert's 17:25 school record (2008). Machesky posted an individual state qualification in the 800m in the spring, a season in which she ran every distance from 100 to 1600 meters. Gonzalez and Machesky rival all other trophy contenders' 1-2 duos at the front of the pack.
South then also returns Colette Bacidore, Gianna Pinta, and Anna McDermott from the 2021 runner-up squad. Those three represent a pack entering at about the 19-minute mark, and all demonstrated a steep curve of improvement in 2021 which indicates this pack may even have more improvement laying in wait for this year. Greenfield also identifies Brie James, Olivia Pinta, and Victoria Pinta as athletes who have stepped up this summer in preparation for varsity spots. Kelsey Kos and Natalie Olague join the team as freshmen that can also make an impact.
One athlete to keep an eye on is Katie Lorenz. Lorenz ran for Crystal Lake South in 2020 as a freshman and transferred out of the state at the conclusion of the fall. She returns to Illinois and can make an impact with the team this year once again.
Greenfield says the team's focus is on all the right things. "I've got some goals to feedback from the girls and the highest priority for them is to be known for being a hard-working group that pushes each other. Near the top of the list is a desire to be welcoming and encouraging to all the girls in the program. There certainly is a desire to be a highly competitive team at the state level, but I love that their focus in on the day-to-day."
Head Coach: Jimmy Centella
Last Years Finish: 2A State Champions
Key newcomers: Ava Henne (Fr.), Jordan Sutter (Fr.)
Summary: Grayslake Central's 2021 season is hard evidence that a championship season need not be perfect en route, and in fact, may almost never be perfect. "We were on fire to start the season winning First to the Finish and looking very strong," says head coach Jimmy Centella, who has won team titles on both boys' and girls' sides now. "However we got hit by the injury and illness bug mid-season and were not sure if we were going to be at full strength by the state meet. Luckily we got healthy just in time and were able to just sneak past very competitive teams in Crystal Lake South and Vernon Hills."
With a well-managed plan to respond to injuries, the Rams made it to the starting line of state in one piece and brought home the girls' program first ever cross country trophy in the form of the state title trophy.
Grayslake looks to be back and better than ever with a healthy squad and having lost only one scorer to graduation last year.
The front 1-2 punch remains the same with all-state returners Bella Domier and Sara Armstrong. In her underclass years, Domier established herself as a perennial middle-distance stud, especially at 800m. Armstrong burst out in 2021 and moved her three-mile best down by almost 45 seconds to join Domier on the stage.
The Rams also return state runners Sofia Witt and Katie Armstrong, both sub-19 athletes. New to Grayslake is Ava Henne and Jordan Sutter in their freshman years. Henne in particular was the #2 runner for a strong Grayslake Middle School team and is a competitor who will strengthen the scoring pack as experience comes. With Victoria Piela and Emma Wentz running personal bests in track, Grayslake Central returns a formidable title defense squad.
As great as the strong results at the onset of the 2021 season were, that's not the end goal for the Rams this season. "Our goal is to always run our best when it matters most, which is the first Sunday in November at Detweiller," says Centella. "We arrange our training around this goal and are not as concerned about early season results as we are with those in October and November.
The girls want to put themselves in a position to be fighting for another podium finish and fight to defend their title. With everyone bringing a lot back and being another year removed from the weird covid season, the competition will be stronger this year. It will take a better team than we were last year to win state this year, that is for sure."
If there was a 1b ranking, Grayslake would sit there for now. Don't take your eyes off the defending champions this season!