2023 Class 1A Girls Preseason Team Preview: #25 To #11

Today, we reveal the fifteen ranked teams that comprise the #25 through #11 slots to begin the 1A Girls' season. They are:

25. Elmhurst IC Catholic
24. Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin
23. Fr. McGivney
22. Aurora Central Catholic
21. Montini
20. St. Thomas More
19. Williamsville
18. Winnebago
17. Pinckneyville
16. Latin
15. Herscher
14. DuQuoin
13. Quincy Notre Dame 
12. Seneca
11. Shelbyville

There are some very familiar names on this list, as well as some very young programs who may be looking for their first ever top-10 finish. Which of these schools do YOU think is best suited to break into the top-10 this year? 

Head Coach: Joe Hughes
Last year's finish: Harvest Christian Academy Sectional- 7th place
Key Returners: Graziella Narcisi (Jr.), Kelsey McDonough (Sr.), Megan Van Koughnet (Sr.), Grace Gildea (So.), Sienna Azzinaro (So.), Mae Bigane (Sr.)
Summary: In coach Hughes' first year leading the Knights, the girls finished just one spot outside of the state meet at the hilly Harvest Christian 5k sectional course. Their performance, though, was strong enough to get both Graziella Narcisi and Kelsey McDonough down to state, where Narcisi finished 47th and McDonough finished 85th. This was Narcisi's best race in her young career and showed that, as the 29th returner this year, she can race for an all-state medal.

IC Catholic also returns each of the runners from that 7th place sectional team, and the supporting pack is led by senior Megan Van Koughnet, whose personal best on the season was 20:20. Grace Gildea, Sienna Azzinaro, and Mae Bigane look to take turns in the 4-5 scoring spots, although Gildea has had the most continuity through the track season (season bests of 13:30 and 6:17).

Head Coach: Josh Bluhm
Last year's finish: 14th- State Championship
Key Returners: Reese Watson (Jr.), Grayson Hady (Sr.), Emma Johnson (So.), Kyis Kinnel (Jr.), Karigan Brooks (So.)
Summary: The Cyclones return four runners from a state qualifying team, but two of those graduated are Vivian Rahmel and Kaitlyn Lee who were the top two finishers. This leaves Reese Watson and Grayson Hady as those tasked with leading the charge. Watson enters cross country with some momentum from a track season that included 12:32 and 5:47 performances. She is also the top returner from the state meet, having finished 94th in under 20:00 despite the conditions. Emma Johnson and Karigan Brooks also return with state meet experience, and Kyis Kennel looks to bolster the varsity outlook after a spring focusing on the 200 and 400. Sacred Heart-Griffin is a strong candidate to welcome impact freshmen or transfers so keep an eye on their results as the year begins.

Head Coach: Jim Helton
Last year's finish: 17th- State Championship
Key Returners: Elena Rybak (Jr.), Kaitlyn Hatley (Sr.), Jane Cummins (Jr.), Isabella Harris (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Ainsley Turkington (Fr.), Belle Redenous (Fr.)
Summary: The Griffins have a small group but have perhaps the best front-end firepower in the state, which means there is a wide range of possibilities for the group, as evidenced by last year.

"We made it to the IHSA State meet for the second year in a row," says coach Jim Helton. "We were disappointed with our overall finish, but proud of the program, as we were shooting for the top 10. We had a small squad last year, but plenty of front-firepower. We had our first All-Stater in school history, Kaitlyn Hatley, who finished seventh."

The sky's the limit for the front group, as the aforementioned Hatley returns for her senior season before she becomes the first major graduate from the program. Hatley is the fifth returner and should start to get some of the name recognition this year that she deserves. Her training partner isn't too shabby either-- Elena Rybak is now a two-time state champion in the 1600. She has found her stride in track where her 4:58 Mile and 2:11 800's PRs put her among the region's elite in those events already.

Incredibly, Rybak still seeks her first cross country all-state appearance, as the stars have not yet aligned for her to reach her potential in the fall. Coach Helton says both she and Hatley aim for top-5 spots at state this year. They are pegged as the leaders alongside Jane Cummins, who ran 5:32 and 12:08 in the spring and has a shot at breaking 19:00 this season. These three need some help, though. "We're a small school, so it's a numbers game like last year," says Helton. "Isabella Harris looks to improve on her 23:37 PR immediately, with a good summer of training. Ainsley Turkington and Belle Redenous have opportunities to be in our top 5. Hoping still to add additional student-athletes once school begins."

Head Coach: Troy Kerber & Leah Bohr
Last year's finish: Harvest Christian Sectional- 10th
Key Returners: Isabella Matty (So.), Sofia Corral (Jr.), Mary Bush (Jr.), Cayla Oldlenburger (Jr.), Carolina Dervis (Jr.), Nicole Smith (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Cecilia Hilby (So.), Sofia Orozco, Allidzie Perez, Maddie Berry
Summary: Much has changed for the Chargers in one short year. Despite finishing 10th at the Harvest Christian sectional last year, they are the seventh returning team with Rosary, DePaul, and Joliet Catholic all ahead of them in moving to 2A.

The Chargers welcome an athlete who will be their clear frontrunner this year: Cece Hilby. Hilby debuted for ACC in the spring, running an identical event load to her senior mentor Isabella Orozco. Especially strong in the 400 and 800, Hilby posted PRs of 1:02 and 2:18 in these events. She did qualify for the 800 and the 1600 at state, and scratched the 1600 in favor of the 800, which was a strong choice opening the door for her first-ever all-state medal (6th in the 2A 800, which was a loaded event). "She ran 5:17 for the 1600. Hilby is a natural distance runner," says coach Troy Kerber. "Converting her to 3 miles will be an easy transition! We expect her to be our legitimate front runner and she will lead a promising group of returnees and other newcomers to our team."

Central Catholic returns each runner 2-7 from last year, with Isabella Matty, Sofia Corral, and Mary Bush as lead members of a pack that will switch its order frequently behind Hilby. Between the different competitive landscape in their part of the state and the new front runner, ACC should be in strong shape to make an appearance at Detweiller.

Head Coach: Alex Zasso
Last year's finish: Harvest Christian Sectional- 12th place
Key Returners: Sydney Gertsen (So.), Ashlynn Lindt (So.), Annalee Defeo (Jr), Marin Ferris (Sr.), Alexi Hernandez (Jr.)
Summary: The outlook for the Broncos last cross country season was immediately transformed as they welcomed Sydney Gertsen and Ashlynn Lindt to the team.

Gertsen's impact was obvious from day 1, and her cross country season ended with a 21st place all-state medal, running a PR 18:25 at the messy state meet. She went on to add to her medal cabinet with an all-state in the 2A 3200, running 11:15 for 8th. She perhaps does have a training partner in classmate Lindt, who also qualified individually for the cross country state meet. Lindt's bigger strides were during the track season, running 11:52 and 5:28, putting herself in all-state contention for cross country. Annalee Defeo is the projected third runner for Montini and makes a run of 20 minutes this year. Montini can make it to state, especially with improvement from the 4-5 spots, which may come from either Marin Ferris or Alexi Hernandez.

Head Coach: Garrett Anderson
Last year's finish: St. Joseph-Ogden Sectional- 8th place
Key Returners: Paige Stark (Jr.), Emily Anand (So.), Francie Williamson (Jr.), Skyler Anderson (Sr.), Ashley Wells (Jr.), Izzy Jimenez (Sr.), Kristina Maloney (Jr.)
Summary: The deep SJO sectional means that strong teams like St. Thomas More are left on the outside looking in despite a group that would be competitive at the state meet. Last year, it was just Paige Stark who qualified for the state meet but made the most of it finishing top 100 and nearly PR'ing in the sloppy conditions. Stark had a good track season, but it was soph Emily Anand who made the biggest jumps during track, running 11:55 and 5:49. Either Anand or Stark can be the frontrunner for the Sabers, who are also supported in the pack by Francie Williams (6:04 mile PR) and Skyler Anderson who was the #3 during most of the year. Ashley Wells enters the season as the #5 for STM and can progress toward the 21-minute range.

Louisa Wilson (469) finished 3rd at the 2022 1A State Final for Williamsville and is the top returner in the classification in 2023. Photo by Mike Woolery.

Head Coach: Tyler Casson
Last year's finish: Elmwood Sectional- 7th place
Key Returners: Louisa Wilson (Jr.), Lyla Bentley (So.), Hannah Nation (Jr.), Riley Mendenhall (Sr.), Caitlin Noonan (Jr.), MacKenzie Twait (So.)
Summary: In 2022, Williamsville, led by Louisa Wilson for the second year, finished only 25 points out of a state meet berth in the loaded Elmwood sectional, but defeated a number of strong programs to reach that spot. There are two graduates from that top five last year, but the Bullets do enough 'reloading the chamber' to stay in the mix this year. It helps that Wilson, now a junior, is the #1 returner based on cross-country state meet performance.

The 3rd place finish marked the best-ever run for Wilson, who has found more success in cross country than track thus far but still posted strong marks of 11:49 and 5:22 in the spring. The top scorers along with ehr are Lyla Bentley and Hannah Nation (both top-5 from the sectional meet), and that group will be filled out by Riley Mendenhall, Caitlin Noonan, and MacKenzie Twait. Williamsville is a growing program, though, with new track facilities and a strong junior high. This group will only continue to become more and more relevant.

Head Coach: Ryan Bruns
Last year's finish: State Championship- 18th place
Key Returners: Vanessa Teel (Jr.), Sofia Castellano (Sr.), Zoey Conway (Jr.), Madison Bruns (So.), Michaela Skorch (Sr.), Emily Bagget (Sr.)
Summary: Pinckneyville has now finished 18th at the state meet for two consecutive years, and with all of the top six finishers from that team returning, the Panthers are in good order to finally improve on that mark. The SIRR Mississippi Division runner-ups from last year are led by all-state performer Vanessa Teel, whose 23rd place in 18:29 was her strongest race ever in high school by a good margin. She is the fourteenth fastest returner in 1A based on that mark and can be a top 10 runner this year.

The scoring returners for the Panthers include Sofia Castellano, who broke 20:00 at that race and joined Teel in the sub-6 1600 club this spring. Castellano finished 92nd at Detweiller in 2022. The scoring was completed by Zoey Conway, Madison Bruns, and Michaela Skorch, with Emily Bagget as the sixth and final runner for the Panthers. Pinckneyville's meet schedule involves mostly 1A and conference competition before the postseason slate in the south part of the state. Like many other 1A schools, the lack of depth behind the six returners is a volatile situation but Pinckneyville is in as good a shape as many other teams to finish top-15.

Head Coach: Dan Daly
Last year's finish: 2A Deerfield Sectional- 10th place
Key Returners: Mia Kotler (Jr.), Ellie Anderson (Jr.), Ruby Larsen (So.), Ava Gowder (Sr.), Ava Horwitz (Sr.)
Summary: After four years of competing 'up' in 2A, the Latin Romans returned to 1A for the first time since 2018. This season represents a good chance to start anew for a team that struggling to get to the starting line in 2022. "[Last season] was not very robust-- we had too many injuries," says coach Dan Daly. "I would like to see the girl's team return to a competitive level both in the Chicago area and at the state level. I believe the girls can win conference this season [as well]."

Mia Kotler and Ellie Anderson, both members of the class of 2025, entered the last cross country season projecting to finish high in all-state contention for Latin. That projection was in jeopardy as neither raced until the postseason when Kotler accrued a regional title, sectional runner-up finish and 4th place finish at 2A state.

Anderson made a return to competition in late April and showed that she is working back to full strength with an 11:40 finish at the 2A track state meet (10:54 PR). Both again look to make major waves in the top-25 for 1A. This group then looks to Ruby Larsen, Ava Gowder, Ava Horwitz, and others to help Latin advance through their season. "Those three have all worked very hard to secure a base this season," says Daly. "And they should round out what should be a very solid top five."

Head Coach: Rob Grosso
Last year's finish: Harvest Christian Sectional- 8th place
Key Returners: Gracie Kent (Sr.), Kelly O'Connor (So.), Sophie Venckauskas (So.), Katelyn Borschnack (Sr.), Fay Houberg (So.), Emma Haugen (Sr.), Kaitlyn Gioia (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Gianna High, Lily Tucek
Summary: Coach Rob Grosso has a good size group returning from an 8th-place finishing team at sectionals, with plenty to build on. "The 2022 season went well for us, winning at the conference meet was big for us and showing how we can race," says Grosso. "These girls really want to be the group that returns the Herscher girl's team back to Detweiler for the first time since 2019. These ladies have the mindset and the opportunity ahead of them to make it happen."

The Tigers first look to senior Gracie Kent, who qualified for state and finished 100th to lead their group. Kent ran 13:12 and 6:06 during the spring. The next group returning will be highlighted by Kelly O'Connor, Sophie Venckauskas, Emma Haugen, and Fay Houberg, which is a young group with all but Haugen as sophomores.

This group is heavy with soccer players, so Herscher will look to gel despite not having many track times entering this season. Watch also for Gianna High and Lily Tucek, freshmen joining the team to fortify the varsity line-up. "They are big-time competitors and love the big-time situations," says Grosso. "They are coming in ready to run up at the front with our veterans."

14. DuQuoin 
Head Coach: Brittnie Kellerman
Last year's finish: Benton Sectional- 9th place
Key Returners: Maggie Kellerman (Jr.), Ava Gregory (So.), Claire Rose (Sr.), Isabella Phillips (Jr.), Kallie Oesteicher (Sr.), Lainey Miller (Sr.), Grace Phipps (Jr.)
Summary: This is the first year for the Lady Indians under Brittnie Kellerman, who replaced Eric Kirkpatrick who begins his tenure as Principal of DuQuoin High School. Although DuQuoin got only Maggie Kellerman to the state meet last year, she does return with the rest of the sectional group that finished ninth at Benton, which may mean promising things for the Indians in 2023.

Kellerman ran 19:21 for 59th at Detweiller, and continued to lead DuQuoin's distance group in track running 12:00 and 5:36. After her is quite the tight pack of Claire Rose, Ava Gregory, and Isabella Phillips, all on the periphery of breaking 20:00. Having four runners under that mark would make DuQuoin a tough out in the postseason--but in addition to those three are Kallie Oestreicher, Lainey Miller and Grace Phipps. DuQuoin has quickly become a veteran group and is one of the few schools this high in the rankings to be returning to the entire varsity group.

Head Coach: Sebastian Fuentes
Last year's finish: Elmwood Sectional- 9th place
Key Returners: Abigail Genenbacher (Sr.), Makayla Patton (Jr.), Meghan Spears (So.), Mia Coval (So.), Addison Koch (So.), Aidyn Koch (So.), Natalie Farah (Jr.)
Summary: Quincy Notre Dame, also known as the Raiders, is an interesting case study in ranking a team with a much different complexion than its competition. Consider that Notre Dame had no runners under 20:00 last year, and qualified no one to the state meet. Yet, with the tightest pack spread at the Elmwood sectional at just 48 seconds, Notre Dame was ninth, with a team that returns all seven of their runners. What does this pack running group have in store for another year that can see them develop together?

The Raiders were quite young last year, with Abigail Genenbacher as the only upperclassman. She was the closest Raider to 20:00 at 20:04 at the Patriot Invite. Meghan Spears and Makayla Patton came in under 20:20 for the year, with even others under 21:30. A major strength as well for Notre Dame is that all thirteen of their athletes from last year return, which is a large team at this classification level. However, without a track program at the school, where will Notre Dame be to start the season? Notre Dame should be seen as a sneaky team with a wide range of potential outcomes.

Head Coach: Kim Foster
Last year's finish: State Championship- 25th place
Key Returners: Evelyn O'Connor (Jr.), Gracie Steffes (Sr.), Lily Mueller (So.), Natalie Misener (Jr.), Ruthie Steffes (So.)
Key Newcomers: Julie Mueller, Aubrie Jackson (So.)
Summary: Making it to the dance at state last year was a major checkpoint for the Seneca Irish, coached by Kim Foster, but the group felt like they had more in the tank with their 25th-place finish. "I feel like our season went well overall, but we fell short at the state meet," says Foster. "My team goals are to win our conference again, win Regional, and advance to state. At the state meet, we want to finish in a higher team place." "The team's goals this year are to run down in Peoria for state like we did last year and hopefully place higher than last year," says sophomore Lily Mueller.

Evelyn O'Connor continues to lead a strong cross country and track program after two stellar years that have included all-state medals in cross country (13th), and track (the 4x800 and 800) as well as helping the Irish win the state title in the 4x400. O'Connor ran 5:13 in the spring, and projects to crack 18:00 for the first time this fall as she figures to compete for a top-10 spot in cross country.

It's a solid start for the Irish, who also return a good chase pack of Gracie Steffes, Lily Mueller, and Natalie Misener. Steffes and Mueller have broken 21:00, with Misener close. They are joined in training by freshman Julie Mueller, an important addition to round out Seneca's pack. Ruthie Steffes and newcomer sophomore Aubrie Jackson, who ran well in the 400m for a very strong 400-meter group, will also figure into the top 7 group for Seneca, who must have their sights set on a top 15 finish at the state meet, or better. A good test from Lowpoint-Washburn in the Tri-County Conference will be a barometer for Seneca this season, as well as their performance at the First to the Finish Invitational and Amboy Columbus Day Invite.

Seneca is a strongly-knit group that looks to grow despite the small numbers for the fall. "I enjoy the relationships I have with everybody on the team," says Gracie Steffes."They are some of my closest friends and I am so glad I get to share my experience in cross country with them and we all get to work hard together." "One of the things that I enjoy most about the team is how well the team's dynamic is," says Misener. "Our team is able to have fun with each other while also encouraging each other to do our best and work our hardest at improving in cross country. It'll be a challenge to make sure everyone on the team is healthy and not injured, so that way we can have enough girls to compete in races. We lost two very good seniors from last year's team, so it'll be hard to make up the spots that they have left behind."

Tessa Bowers (323) finished 26th at the 1A State Final for Shelbyville as a freshman. (Photo by Mike Woolery).

Head Coach: Levi Pruemer
Last year's finish: State Championship- 22nd place
Key Returners: Tessa Bowers (So.), Lily Woolery (Jr.), Anna Tynan (Sr.), Caroline White (Sr.), Sara Tynan (So.), Greta Duke (Jr.), Jordynn Mayhall (Sr.), Katie Nohren (Jr.)
Summary: Shelbyville made some noise at state, finishing 22nd, and the emergence of super freshman Tessa Bowers was a big reason for this. Bowers had a season that included four wins, a Regional runner-up, and two performances under 18:00. Bowers was just outside all-state at 26th, so she enters this cross country season looking to rectify that miss. Bowers ran track and posted 12:13 and 5:54 times, which was part of a solid Rams distance group but lagged a bit behind what teammate Anna Tynan did (5:34).

Tynan, Lily Woolery, and Caroline White are the returning scorers alongside Bowers for Shelbyville, and Sara Tynan as well as Greta Duke return state meet experience. An interesting mid-season barometer meet for Shelbyville will be the Nike XC Town Twilight meet, which Bowers did not run last year. Shelbyville has the strength to finish top 10 this year.