2023 Cross Country Team Preview: Class A Unranked Girls

The 1A Girls' race at IHSA State last year got the most grass on the day, but it still wasn't exactly 'ideal' conditions. (Photo by Laura Duffy)

The first installment of team summaries are the unranked Girls' Teams in 1A. The teams in this range generally project to have five runners under the 22-minute range, as well as a front-runner or two in the 19-minute range, with a few exceptions. There are a few teams here that have notable individuals or storylines listed too. With 25 teams being ranked weekly, but 30 spots in the 1A State Final, there will be at least five teams on this list that will be at Detweiller in November, possibly more-and possibly teams that aren't mentioned here. There are a few trends that unite many of the teams in 1A, including the challenge of fielding full varsity rosters. Let us now get more in-depth to the first 20 programs we feature this August.

Head Coach: Colton Strotheide
Last year's finish: State Championship-16th place
Key Returners: Isabella Hacker (Jr.), Emma Diekemper (So.), Reid Emig (So.), Ashtyn Wheeler (So.), Ryann Becker (Sr.), Elisa Faus (Jr.)
Summary: Mater Dei hopes to continue a state qualification streak, including two straight years of top 20 finishes at the 1A level. Last year it was Isabella Hacker who led the team with a 55th-place finish. She enters the fall having run 12:39 and 5:52 in track. Reid EMig, Emma Diekemper, and Ashtyn Wheeler are the other returners from that state performance. Only Emig (6:18) returns from the track season. The Knights have a drop-off in returners after the first four but quickly move into ranked contention with support from a fifth.

Head Coach: Tim Koch
Last year's finish: N/A
Key Returners: Sarah McKowen (Sr.), Rylee Brammeier (Jr.)
Summary: This is a young program that has already seen major gains in its two years under coach Tim Koch. The Lady Silver Stallions compiled a strong showing in 2021 when it mattered most and snuck into the state meet out of the Wesclin Sectional.

There was a great deal of turnover which left the team farther from the state meet, but have continuity as they return school record holder Sarah McKowen, and Rylee Brammeier who returns after a sickness at the end of the 2023 season. Both runners can be in the mix to qualify for the state meet, and they know it. "I want to go back to the state [meet] for the third year in a row," says McKowen. "I feel like I'm stronger this year and I've gained experience these past two seasons I know it's my last season so I want to end my cross country career with my best race at state so far. I'd also like to set all my PR's this fall as well!" "I really enjoyed making it to State my freshman year as a team and I want to go back as an individual this fall," says Brammeier. "I plan to work hard, stay healthy, and run my best race when it's time for the big meets to qualify myself as an individual for the State meet at Peoria this 2023 season!"

Coach Koch looking ahead on the season: "Both of these ladies have matured as a runner throughout their time with me in our program and I feel with a dedication to the strong work ethic they both possess we will see them at Peoria when the dust settles this fall of 2023. We do not recruit but we are always happy when we have some fresh blood come into our [harrier] program. I feel like we have done a lot to improve our program and build to get stronger each season! Before I took over there was no summer training and we have changed that, as we have been having open runs daily since the beginning of July. This is no foreign language to our kids as we have been training in the summer the last two summers since I took the program over. We try to build the base and be ready to get after it as soon as the first official day of practice begins."

Head Coach: Sara Danielewicz
Last year's finish: State Championship- 23rd 
Key Returners: Jane Potter (Jr.), Emilia Kryczka (So.), Lola Keller (Jr.), Helena Costanza (Jr.), Helena Vining (Jr.), Devin Burger (So.)
Summary: Willows Academy, which has one of the larger squads in the classification, made it to state finishing 23rd in 2022 but loses their top three last year including Francoise Lechner, so this is a new-look Eagles team. Jane Potter, Emilia Kryczka, Lola Keller, and Helena Costanza return state experience, which is crucial for what is a young team. Willows is also the defending ISL conference champion but will have its hands full defending that title against Latin.

Head Coach: Art Geen
Last year's finish: St. Joseph-Ogden Sectional- 15th place
Key Returners: Stacie Vonderheide (Sr.), Emma Helmink (Sr.), Ava Faber (Jr.), Taylor Miller (Jr.), Maddy Hodge (So.)
Key Newcomers: Isabella Keller, Nora Trupiano
Summary: The most significant newcomer for St. Anthony, and perhaps the whole 1A classification, bears a familiar name: Isabella Keller, younger sister of four-time state champion Anna Sophia Keller. In her young career, Isabella has already accumulated two state xc runner-up finishes and was the state champion in the 1A 1600 for 7-8 Girls this past spring. She and fellow frosh Nora Trupiano help lengthen a Bulldog squad that hopes to return to the state meet as a team.

Head Coach: Steven Bland
Last year's finish: State Championship- 27th place
Key Returners: Caitlyn Terrien (Sr.), Emma Leslie (Sr.), Cynthia Ortega (So.), Lizzy McLoughlin (So.), Leslie Uriostegui (So.)
Summary: The Lions 'defended' their home turf by making it to the state meet out of their host sectional, despite not having a bonafide front runner. Coach Steven Bland identifies Caitlyn Terrien and Emma Leslie, both seniors who qualified for individual events during the track season, as ready to step into that role. "Our girls like the idea of getting to the state meet, is that their goal? That is my goal for them," says Bland. "They have the talent and potential to get there."

Head Coach: Kyle Anderson
Last year's finish: State Championship- 13th place
Key Returners: Addie Symonds (Sr.), Olivia Stage (Jr.), Natalie Babcock (So.), Addy Turner (So.), Abby Dawson (So.)
Key Newcomers: Taylor Forney, Anja Nelson, Brooke McGinn, Brooke Allen, Gianna Ramirez
Summary: Elmwood returns four of the top seven from a team that was in the top half of the state meet, headed by Addie Symonds who ran 18:35 in cross country, as well as 12:08 in track.

Olivia Stage is a solid #2 and ran the team's best 1600m with a 5:44 showing in the spring. The story for Elmwood, however, could be the depth that is on its way from the middle school ranks. Both Elmwood and Brimfield MS had significant presences at the IESA state meet, particularly Brimfield who ran away with the 1A team title (56 points to Old St. Mary's 133). State champion Mya Hill stays in junior high for now, but Anja Nelson, Taylor Forney, and Brooke McGinn were all scorers entering high school. Brooke Allen and Gianna Ramirez hail from Elmwood JH and will also make an impact for the high school.

Head Coach: Eric Updegraff
Key Returners: Danielle Strunk (Jr.), Kate Pickett (Jr.), Ava Brookshier (Jr.), Izzy Day (Jr.), Abby Bloemer (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Reese Hill (So.)
Summary: Heyworth's 2022 had adversity during the track season. "As a team, we hope that improved health and a solid summer of training will help us with our team goal of qualifying for the sectional meet for the first time since 2016," says coach Eric Updegraff. "On the individual side, now that she has her ferritin levels under control, we expect junior Danielle Strunk to pick up where she left off in her freshman year, pushing for around 19:30." Strunk had a good track season, particularly in the long sprints and mid-distance for the Hornets. Kate Pickett, Ava Brookshier, and particularly Izzy Day who returns after missing last year, will make Heyworth formidable come the postseason.

Head Coach: Jeremy Palmer
Last year's finish: St. Joseph Ogden Sectional- 11th place
Key Returners: Darby Braasch (So.), Noelle Hughes (Jr.), Emma Diveley (Sr.), Caitlyn Travis (Jr.), Alex Gasperson (Jr.)
Summary: The Panthers finished 11th in the loaded St. Joseph Ogden Sectional, but return five of their seven runners from last year to a team that could be on the periphery of state contention. Darby Braasch was the lone freshman last year but turned in the best time of the team's season, 20:10. Noelle Hughes and Caitlyn Travis also return from the track season for this small squad.

Head Coach: Kyle Daubs
Last year's finish: Elmwood Sectional- 12th place
Key Returners: Elly Heineke (So.), Brooklyn Getz (Sr.), Abi Hodel (Jr.), Lyla Unzicker (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Kyndre Delagrange
Summary: Now here is a team to watch--do not be surprised if the LWRB Wildcats make a run into the top 25 sooner rather than later this year. The goals are high for the girls' team, says coach Kyle Daubs. "Our girls had a great season last year," he says. "The girls qualified for the sectional and we sent a girl to state. We placed second in the Tri-County Conference. We also brought home team trophies at the Princeton Invite, LWRB Invite, Conference, and Heyworth Invite. We want to bring back a trophy at every invite we go to this season."

The picture begins for the Wildcats with rising sophomore and school record holder Elly Heineke, whose 19:11 at the Eureka regional is fastest in LWRB history. She was 84th at state in 2022 and also appeared at the 2023 1A track state meet in the 3200 (11:55 season best).

Each of the other scorers for the Wildcats also returns Brooklyn Getz, who has also qualified for the 3200 at state, Abi Hodel, who qualified for cross country state individually in 2021, and Lyla Unzicker, who joined Heineke and Getz to run 10:09 and narrowly miss the 1A 4x800 finals. It is a wealth of postseason experience for a team who has an outside shot to challenge Seneca for a Tri-County Conference title. It will be difficult for LWRB to make it to state with the sectional draw but there is a path to Detweiller for this talented group. Also watch for Kyndre Delagrange, who joins as a freshman this year after two top 10 finishes at 2A Track for Roanoke-Benson MS (2:33, 5:49).

Head Coach: Ryan Arthur
Last year's finish: State Championship- 11th place
Key Returners: Molly Farrell (So.), Bethany Jones (Sr.), Marlee Heighton (Sr.), Sophie Smith (Sr.), Libby McFarland (Sr.)
Summary: The front-pack power of Marshall made major waves throughout the fall of 2022, particularly with the team's performance at Nike XC Town Twilight. Molly Farrell was the main star, but she also had Brooklyn Bender and Isabel Arthur supporting her.

Farrell now takes the solo reins and enters the season as defending 1A 3200 champion, and is perhaps the favorite to win the individual crown in cross country. Her times of 10:34 and 5:00 show that she is ready to take the next step this season. Farrell will be a contender to win any race she races this season.

Farrell is a great start for Marshall's state-qualifying hopes but she will need some help. Only Bethany Jones, Marlee Heighton, Sophie Smith, and Libby McFarland return, with Jones and Heighton as the team's best bet to break 21 minutes.

Head Coach: Benton Singleton
Last year's finish: State Championship- 15th place
Key Returners: Sylvia Miller (Jr.), Joe Walker (Sr.), Olivia Gerdes (So.), Mylin Bruhn (So.)
Summary: The Sages are under new head coach Benton Singleton to begin the season. This program is strong enough always to be in the mix, like Winnebago, but will be entering a re-building phase, particularly after the graduation of Estella Miller and 2022 1A state champion Mabry Bruhn (University of Illinois' only distance recruit this year). Sylvia Miller, Joe Walker, Olivia Gerdes and Mylin Bruhn are the only returners from last year. If Monticello can find a couple of other formidable runners, they will be back at the state meet.

Head Coach: Tim Bower
Last year's finish: St. Joseph-Ogden Sectional- 8th place
Key Returners: Layna Marshall (So.), Shay Bennett (So.), Natalie Kistner (Jr.), Ella Radke (Jr.), Lily Yager (So.)
Key Newcomers: Katie Bierman
Summary: Despite just missing out on the state meet, Coach Bower saw plenty of success for the Eagles last season. "Last Cross country season went well for the girl's team," he says. "They were able to earn the Regional Championship and did advance an individual to state (Layna Marshall, 46th). The track season went well with members of the XC team qualifying for the 4x800 relay for state."

Marshall is the frontrunner for Newton and could be in all-state contention. The pack behind her is currently Shay Bennet, Natalie Kistner, and Ella Radke. Katier Bierman and Lily Yager will support the group as the next pack. This is a small team but can still find themselves at state in 2023.

Head Coach: Val Tepe
Last year's finish: Benton Sectional- 11th place
Key Returners: Caroline Tepe (So.), Lydia Luechtefeld (Sr.), Lauren Haacke (Sr.), Sidney Charles (Jr.), Sarah Cook (Jr.), Nora Wood (Sr.)
Summary: Although the Lady Rockets were on the outside looking in at the Benton sectional last year, they return all five scorers from that meet including Caroline Tepe who broke out in her freshman year to finish 20th and grab an all-state medal. Her track season was less consistent but does have a 5:40 1600m to show for her season. The Cahokia Conference (Illinois Division) champs are rounded out by Lydia Luechtefeld, Lauren Haacke, Sidney Charles Sarah Cook. Look for Nora Wood as a candidate to break into that pack too for Okawville.

Head Coach: Jacob Wooldridge
Last year's finish: Elmwood Sectional- 10th place
Key Returners: Maggie Zimmerman (So.), Maggie Wankel (So.), Lauren Harrison (Sr.), Anna Bloomquist (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Alanna Sparks, Brealyn Sonnemaker, Haven Anderson, Molly Zimmerman
Summary: Coach Wooldridge gave high marks for the Jays' 2022 season. "Building on the success we had in 2021, 2022 was without a doubt the best season for the PORTA/A-C Girls since my coaching staff and I took over in the fall of 2016," he says. "We won three meets, took 4th at Regionals, and were a top 10 team at the Elmwood Sectional. Additionally, all 11 girls on the roster were, for the most part, able to stay healthy and run a majority of the meets; with most of the girls getting season or all-time PRs in the last three weeks. By almost every mark, we found success and had a great season."

There is a fair bit of turnover for PORTA, with four athletes leaving for non-graduation reasons. They still will hope to make their mark on the postseason, especially Maggie Zimmerman, who ended her freshman season with a 12:25 3200 and state title qualification. "Assuming she stays healthy, Maggie should be breaking the 20-minute barrier by mid-season," projects coach Wooldridge. She can take that and run it into anything for a state qualifying spot as an individual. In our Elmwood Sectional that is going to mean running low 19s, if not breaking 19 minutes. It will be a huge hill to climb for Maggie, but so far she has shown she is willing to put the work in to get there."

Zimmerman: "I enjoy being with the other girls on my team. Cross Country at PORTA is such a family sport. Everyone cares about each other and wants everyone to do well. I also really like the feeling of self-accomplishment it gives me when I have a good practice or a PR time in a race." Harrison, who is senior captain, adds: "Our team is going be smaller than normal this year, and we only have four girls that have run a high school race before. That setup will be challenging by itself. However, I don't think we'll let that bother us too much. We will just all have to try our best and focus on cutting our times. If we do, hopefully, good things will happen for our team at the end of the year."

Head Coach: Taylor Conroy
Last year's finish: State Championship- 26th place
Key Returners: Alexia Spatz (Jr.), Savannah Wells (So.), Emerson Wold (So.), Olivia Popp (So.), Lahey O'Connor (Sr.)
Summary: The Rockets made an appearance at Detweiller and finished 26th out of 30, where they were led by Alexia Spatz in 91st, and a group of scoring frosh in Savannah Wells, Emerson Wold, and Olivia Popp. R-B just narrowly stayed under the new 1A/2A cut-off (four students away) so they will have a shot to keep the streak alive. Spatz continued on her strong year with 11:37 and 5:41 times to lead the team in both events and is definitely the front-runner for the group.

Head Coach: Ben Scamihorn
Last Year's Finish: Benton Sectional- 7th place
Key Returners: Raelee Kimbro (Sr.), Taylor Partridge (Jr.), Ridley Allen (Jr.), Kaitlyn Garland (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Gianna Stassi, Bailey Schallenberg-Decker
Summary: Roxana's high last year was winning the Cahokia Conference for the first time in program history, but fell just short of the state meet finishing in the first spot out at Benton. Coach Ben Scamihorn says that year was a great one, but this one will be a different type of year. "Our 2022 Cross Country season was a great one that ended with a heartbreaker. We won the first Cahokia Conference Championship since Roxana moved to our new conference. This was a very exciting moment for us, narrowly edging out a talented and well-coached Freeburg team. This season is definitely a rebuilding year for us as we lost three very important seniors. Our goals are not set in stone yet, and probably won't be until we see how the team is looking in the first few weeks of official practice. We would obviously love to defend our conference championship and maybe even qualify for state, but we will have to wait and see what some of our freshmen are capable of."

Raelee Kimbro is the harrier for the Shells this season, having run 19:37 last year but had a 200/400 focus in the track season. Taylor Partridge and Ridley Allen are the other returners from a team that graduated half of the roster in 2023. But there is help coming--Gianna Stassi and Bailey Schallenberg-Decker join the team after a strong track season. Stassi in particular may slot right in with Kimbro after a spring that included a 5:52 performance at IESA state.

Head Coach: Jennifer Thomas
Last year's finish: State Championship- 30th place
Key Returners: Tori Browning (So.), Beth Churchill (Jr.), Nadia Anderson (Jr.), Kylie Foster (Jr.), Grace Tucker (So.), Alli Nielsen (Jr.)
Summary: First-year coach Jennifer Thomas leads a Sherrard Tigers group that made state last year out of the upstate Oregon sectional. That qualifying group was extremely young, with just one upperclassman and six of those seven runners returning in 2023 (Sherrard was without top runner Hailie Shemek for the state meet). Tori Browning is a sophomore and was the top state finisher for the Tigers, and was consistently the #2 all year behind Shemek. Browning put in a decent spring that included 12:46 and 5:53 runs. Beth Churchill is the second returner and led Sherrard with a 5:51 in the spring. Improvements from two athletes or more will put Sherrard in a solid-state qualifying conversation.

Head Coach: Jason Retz
Last year's finish: St. Joseph Ogden Sectional- 10th place
Key Returners: Savanna Franzen (Jr.), Chloe Burkhalter (Sr.), Hannah Mock (So.), Sydney Steinbach (So.), Sophia Kasper (So.)
Key Newcomers: Faith Jackson
Summary: SJO was in the mix in their deep home sectional, but ended up 10th with sophomore Savanna Franzen as the lone Spartan representative to the state meet. Franzen has now finished 6th and 14th at the state cross country meet and is lined up to give three in a row a good run. Her small supporting cast is led by Chloe Burkhalter, who can break 19 minutes. Hannah Mock and Sydney Steinbach are the clearest candidates to help SJO fill out their scoring.

Head Coach: Mike Lynn
Last year's finish: Elmwood Sectional- 11th place
Key Returners: Ava Proehl (So.), Lydia Snider (Sr.), Anna Wagenbach (Sr.), Claire Koch (Jr.), Allie Hellrigel (Jr.)
Summary: Tremont returns five of their six athletes from an 11th place finish at the Elmwood sectional, which is one of the two deepest sectionals in 1A. Ava Proehl was the team leader in the 3 mile, 800, 1600 and 3200 for the season and is ready to make some steps forward to lead Tremont. Lydia Snider, Anna Wagenbach and Claire Koch all have already scored in a varsity meet for the Turks and will do so again this year. Allie Hellrigel rounds out the returning group for Tremont.

Head Coach: Bob Rennick Jr.
Last year's finish: Oregon Sectional- 12th place
Key Returners: Cheyenh Smith (So.), Sarah Kraklow (Jr.), Keagan Hamilton (Jr.), Paytin Terwilliger (So.), Alexis Martinez (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Dusti Smith
Summary: Stark County had a great 2022-2023 to write home about, qualifying for sectionals for the seventh consecutive year and grabbing an all-state medal in the 4x800 with a 9:59 showing. The 2A IESA State champion in cross country was Dusti Smith from Stark County middle school. Despite being a brand new runner according to coach Bob Rennick Jr., Smith showed that was no fluke by winning the 2A 400m and finishing runner-up in the 800 and 1600 in the same weekend.

"Dusti is an incredibly gifted runner and should do very well this season not just for our team, but as a runner statewide," projects coach Rennick. Smith will be an all-state contender as soon as she dons a SCHS jersey. She joins an improving Rebels squad that is headlined by her older sister, Cheyenh. Cheyenh Smith led the Rebels in the 800 and 1600 in the spring (2:28, 5:47). Smith split time between volleyball and cross country in 2022 but will be focusing only on cross country this fall. Sarah Kraklow and Keagan Hamilton return as scorers, and Alexis Martinez improved during the track season and will also be in the varsity mix.

"Considering our youth we had a strong season to build off," says Rennick. "For 2023 the girl's team's focus will be a strong performance at LTC conference championships, qualification for Sectionals, with an eye at State Finals."