That's Right, Co-#1's: Documenting the York/Prospect Saga

Bria Bennis trails Hailey Erickson and Veronica Znajda at the Richard Spring Invitational. 

No, that is not a typo. If you have checked out our latest Week 7 Rankings, particularly for the 3A Girls' division, you will have noticed that York and Prospect now both have a #1 ranking. 

Prior to this week, York was preseason #1 and held onto that spot until Prospect took down the Dukes at the Richard Spring Invitational on September 17th. But then York struck back with authority at Palatine, crushed the whole field which included Prospect, and returned to their perch atop the rankings. 

Now, in Week 7, we sit looking at a dominating York win at the Wheaton North Falcon Classic, where only Anna Harden stood between the Dukes and a perfect '7' score with wins in six flights. Only Prospect, who ran a historically good race at the Nike Twilight Invitational exceeded York's performance. The eye test says that Prospect's race was probably stronger, but in this specific year, with these two specific teams who will see each other multiple more times, it will take a head-to-head victory to jump up to #1. York and Prospect have taken turns looking like the premier program in the state, so naturally, at this halfway point between the summer and the winter postseason, we rank them in a dead heat. 

Now is a good chance to look back on the progression of the rivalry, and analyze: if anyone, might have the edge moving forward. 

Brooke Berger and Katherine Klimek were a significant reason York won at Lake Park. 

Round 1: Lake Park

The Dukes were the preseason favorite, despite the storyline of Maggie Owens entering injured. The returning pack of Bria Bennis, Katherine Klimek, Michaela Quinn, and Brooke Berger was the best returning crew in the state, and they confirmed this by winning the Harvey Braus invitational convincingly 38 to Prospect's 62. Bennis and Berger were neck-and-neck with Hailey Erickson and Lily Ginsberg in the top six, but York's pack was too much for Prospect to contend with, placing eight runners inside Prospect's four.

But the worst-kept secret of that weekend was the performances of Prospect sophomore Veronica Znajda and freshman Meg Peterson in the JV 3-mile race. Znajda ran 17:40, and Peterson ran 18:55 to finish 1-2, but that result alone does not tell the whole story. Running clear of the pack, this duo passed through two miles in under 12:00 minutes, matching in both stride and neon spike color. At about 2.1 miles, however, Peterson stopped and talked to her coach, mulling whether to continue the race. Putting on a brave face, Peterson covered the final 0.9 miles with a combination of starts, stops, jogs, and sprints. This was the most eventful 18:55 of the early season. 

York had taken round one, but the obvious question remained: how will these teams look both at full strength?

Round 1 Winner: YORK

Richard Spring was a breakout for Znajda, running her current 3-mile best 17:24.

Round 2: Richard Spring

The state got a better answer to the aforementioned question seven days later in Peoria for the Richard Spring Invite. Prospect elected to join Znajda and Peterson with their varsity lineup, and this paid dividends with a single-point victory over the Dukes, who themselves even improved over the past week. Ginsberg was off her usual game, and Cameron Kalaway was back near Ginsberg, but this imperfection in Prospect's race was offset with big races from Peterson and particularly Znajda, who were closer to Erickson for the Knights. Prospect had punched back with a statement in a win despite an imperfect performance and stole the #1 ranking from the Dukes. 

Round 2 Winner: Prospect

The biggest takeaway from Palatine was this photo, which both previews what the front pack at state may look like, and also irks all those particular enough to notice that the pattern is broken. 

Round 3: Palatine

The Lady Dukes reconvened after their first loss to an Illinois team in almost two years, and returned to Deer Grove East for the Palatine Meet of Champions with a vengeance. Led by Bria Bennis' near race win, York ran possessed in dominating a stacked field, scoring only 54 points over Assumption and Prospect's 116 point totals. This was reinforced with a big improvement from Michaela Quinn, who ran a PR for the first time since 2020, and a step-up from freshman Maggie Quinn breaking 18:00 and finishing ahead of Kalaway, who herself had a strong race as Prospect's #3. This time, the frosh-soph duo for the Knights ran down in the 2.5-mile race, and despite their dominating showing, did not seem to be enough to boost Prospect up even with York in a meet merge. Since the season had begun, this represented the farthest the needle had swung in favor of York. 

Round 3 Winner: York

Round 4: October 1st

For the first time in a month, York and Prospect did not line up in the same set of starting boxes. The scheduling philosophy diverged for the two groups, as the Knights traveled to Terre Haute for the largest invitational in the Midwest thus far this season, the Nike XC Town Twilight Invite, while the Dukes opted for the Wheaton North flighted invite. York delivered the first blow; no team has ever swept the flights at this meet, but York came as close as possible with six flight wins followed by a flight runner-up by Bennis to Anna Harden. In an utterly dominating show, York appeared to be on their way to another #1 ranking. 

But then Prospect showed their full hand, and steamrolled the Nike Twilight field, scoring even fewer points than York did at Palatine. Prospect's first four (Erickson, Znajda, Ginsberg, and Peterson) finished all within 30 seconds of Tatum David (!). Kalaway ran by far the best race of her season. Prospect's average speed rating of 133 registered as easily the second-best team performance in the country in 2022. On a day when Ciara O'Shea and Kole Mathison nearly broke the LaVern Gibson course records, the Prospect girls were the story of the day. 

Round 4 Winner: Prospect

A look at the back and forth so far this year. Source: Science

An Increasingly Wild See-Saw

Obviously, York and Prospect seem even through four rounds by virtue of the see-sawing trends. But what makes this particular comparison so wild to follow is that there have been moments where each team has seemed completely dominant over the other. Think about the potential of either team. Palatine showed a York team that could run away with the state title... but Nike showed a Prospect team that could run away with the state title as well. How do we evaluate these two teams in a ranking? Indeed Prospect is coming off the best performance either team has given, but in this rivalry where these teams will face at least six times before the year ends, passing the other in the rankings requires a direct, head-to-head victory. If there ever was a moment to have co-#1's, this is it. 

The next match will be at state, followed by the postseason. With a brief hiatus of competition until that point, let's dive as deep as possible into each dimension of the team and ask the obvious question: Who has the edge?

Comparing Two Giants

Frontrunners: Bria Bennis v. Hailey Erickson

Senior Bria Bennis has firmly taken the mantle as York's top runner. Her four #1 finishes is already more than any single runner had for York last year (Katherine Klimek had 3, late in the season). Her surefire harrier placing is a major improvement for the Dukes over last year, and she is a legitimate candidate to finish 2nd at 3A state. Her best showing has been 17:04 at Palatine. 

Erickson has been as synonymous with Prospect's excellence as anyone else over the last three years. With her track record, it means a ton that this has been her best season to date. Erickson, like Bennis, has been Prospect's #1 at every meet, with her best race being Richard Spring in 17:10 (although she did run a second faster at Palatine). 

Bennis has taken the head-to-head matchup over Erickson twice, and Erickson has won once. Interestingly this has been perfectly predictive of which team wins. Erickson's 17:41 at Nike Twilight is probably the best performance either athlete has given, but since Bennis has won twice, this factor is essentially a push. 

Meg Peterson with a slight edge over Michaela Quinn and Klimek at Richard Spring.


Znajda is a new face to the Premium 25 ranking and the front of the Prospect pack but has a little bit of experience on state rosters as a primary alternative for the Prospect 4x800 state title team in 2022. 

Peterson represents the best new team member for the Knights. She has given a stable set of performances since the Lake Park adventure, and finishing 5k in 17:50 at Nike Twilight represents the biggest step forward in her maturation. She is a completely essential part of the Prospect pack and the team is already not the same without her presence. 

In Maggie Owen's absence, York needed someone to step into #5, and more often than not that has been freshman Maggie Quinn. Quinn broke through for a sub-18 performance at Palatine. Since Znajda and Peterson ran the F/S race that day, it is difficult to compare Quinn's performance to the Prospect girls. What is notable is York has another freshman, Lily Bianchi, lying in wait as significant depth. Bianchi ran 18:10 at  the Lake Park Invite, and replicated this performance at Richard Spring and Falcon. 

Two strong newcomers make a big difference for York, but with already deep teams, quality scorers are necessary, and Peterson is the best newcomer between either team. 

Schedule Philosophy

The three matchups on September 10, 17, and 24 give the illusion that Prospect and York took the same ramp-up approach to the season, but have actually divergent philosophies in this regard. 

York has run essentially the same varsity group, with the same tactics, save for a more aggressive early race placing at Palatine. Wheaton North provided a respite for the girls from the all-out Blitz.

Prospect opted for a full varsity lineup only once, at Richard Spring. With the F/S girls in less competitive atmospheres at the other races, the team seemed to give a slower crescendo. But to attend Nike Twilight after the previous three large meets is quite the commitment for a team looking to challenge for a national trophy in the winter. How will Prospect respond in the coming large meets after such a taxing schedule? 

Take your choice of whose schedule will prepare them better for the offseason. Undeniably, both schedules have a coherent logic. 

Path to State

Since York's path to the state meet goes through the gauntlet of Waubonsie Valley sectional, and Prospect's path does not, York will need to be a little more on top of its game to ensure safe advancement. Depending on how you look at this, York will be a little more battle-tested, but Prospect may be more rested come November 5th. Tested or rested? In the slog of this 7-round fight, 'rested' may be a slight edge approaching the state.championship. 

York's 4th place finish at RunningLane in 2021 signified the end of a great season, and many more things to come in the year following.


York's pack is older year-wise, but also made the national meet trip to Alabama last year for the Garmin-sponsored RunningLane meet. As two-time 3A cross country state champions, York clearly has the 'been there, done that' edge. Prospect is laden with more youth and novelty as they navigate this year of elite competition.

Give Prospect their due, however: the Knights have followed each of York's XC team titles with a 4x800 title, and regularly make trips to out-of-state meets, including a trip to Oregon itself during the track season. Erickson, Kalaway, and Ginsberg have been essential members of three all-state relays and give the veteran/youth mix that many sports teams yearn for. 

This York group itself has not made the specific Oregon national meet trip yet, so that will be a novel experience for them as well. But if things go wrong at the state meet, the Dukes have more experience to turn to in response. 


Both coaching teams are excellent so let's consider this a push as well!

Floor v. Ceiling

York has a higher floor than Prospect--meaning their worst race will be better than Prospect's worst race-- because of the experience and the consistency of veteran members of the pack. Brooke Berger, Katherine Klimek, and Michaela Quinn have supremely extensive track records of running best when most needed, so nothing else should be expected from that group. Add the strengthening Maggie Owens to the fray, and York's floor is certainly somewhere higher than their state meet performance last year. 

But where is Prospect's ceiling? The Nike Twilight race showed a flash of the Knights that is sky high: they can win the national title! Getting the whole group to run confidently and powerfully on the same day will be the challenge, and a young group may have growing pains on their way to replicating the Nike performance. Prospect also has a group of high-foot speed types, and if it comes to a pack v. pack kick at the end of the race, the Knights are athletic enough to put almost anyone away. 

So would you rather a high floor, or a high ceiling? The high floor ensures that what has to go right to make it to the end, will go right. A high ceiling is needed to make it to the highest heights. This is a sport where we dream of what is possible, and so the high-ceiling group is certainly the attractive pick for that reason. 

York and Prospect were both on the podium last year, and both should be on it this year too. But who will have the honor of hopping on-stage last? 

So, The Edge Goes To......

.....whoever brings it on the given day. As already mentioned, which team will be more resilient in the face of unanticipated adversity? Something always goes wrong the day of, so the group that rises to the top of these two evenly matched York and Prospect teams will be the one that minimizes the effect of blows sustained through the postseason. The eyes of a nation are watching Illinois for what's next in this saga, so hop on with us on this journey, chronicling a duel for the ages.