2A Girls Preseason Team Previews: Unranked Squads Open Up

It was quite a flush of stampeding runners from the 2022 First To The Finish Invitational

We begin the previewing of Girls' Class 2A with these teams who are the strongest candidates to burst into the top 25 at some point during the fall. This work, of course, is not possible without the many coaches who have corresponded with us throughout the course of the summer. 

Head Coach: Andrew Pivoras
Last Year's Finish: Kaneland Sectional- 12th place
Key Returners: Alyssa Pryor (Sr.), Haylee Gallas (So.), Amelia Kackley (Jr.), Camryn Diercks (So.), Kayleigh Sippy (Sr.), Lydia Brant (So.)
Summary: The Blue Thunder, state champions in 2018, are still seeking some consistency being back at the state meet. Contending with a deep sectional is an annual story for North, and last year it resulted in a 12th-place finish at Kaneland. But, six out of seven runners return, which is great news. Alyssa Pryor enters as the #1, looking to break 19:00 after running 12:41 and 5:46 in the track season. Haylee Gallas returns as the #2 with Amelia Kackley, Camyn Diercks, Kayleigh Sippy, and Kenzie Kline as the returners from sectionals last year. The girls run at First to the Finish so that is a good place to start to evaluate the season for the Blue Thunder.

Head Coach: Nancy Adams
Last Year's Finish: 1A State Championship- 24th place
Summary: The Carterville Lions were a state-qualifying team in 1A last year, finishing 24th out of 30. They were led by Molly Robertson, who was just 16 seconds from the all-state podium in her sophomore year. Dani Williamson, in her first year of high school cross country, was the second top-100 finisher for Carterville to boost them ahead of six other teams at the state final. This 2023 season brings a new challenge for the Lions, now slotting in just north of the cut-off and returning to the 2A classification.

But with all seven runners returning from the top-3 sectional finishing squad, they are in good shape to remain in the ranking conversation this year. Robertson doubled down on her good cross country season with a track season that included 11:35 and 5:22 personal bests. The key will be the pack behind her, especially Marcela Wood, Megan Fleege, Lexie Watts, and Anna Balmforth. All four slotted in the 21:30-22:15 time range last year, switching scoring spots on varsity. Fleege showed improvement in track, running 6:17. Lillian Carsrud also returns state meet experience.

Head Coach: Jenny Spangler
Last Year's Finish: Lakes Regional- 7th place
Key Returners: Madison Petersen (So.), Yaremi Ramos (Jr.), Lucy Roscoe (So.), Julia Flannery (So.), Breyanna Villaneuva (So.), Maggie Silk (Sr.)
Summary: Grayslake North was perhaps the most talented team to sit out of the sectional round in 2A last year, finishing 7th in the incredibly stacked Lakes regional. North was well-represented at sectionals, however, with Lucy Roscoe, Yaremi Ramos, and Madison Peterson all qualifying, and Peterson and Ramos qualifying for the state championship (Roscoe was the first individual out). With all three returning, the Knights will again hope to navigate through the strongest region of the state in the classification. Those three turned in consistent track seasons, with Petersen the best at 12:03 and 5:23. Julia Flannery returns having run 6:26 and hoping to be the fourth sub-20 runner for the Knights. Beyanna Villaneuva and Maggie Silk return as well. North is also led by Olympic Marathoner Jenny Spangler. 

Head Coach: Mark Clarke
Last Year's Finish: 1A State Championship- 29th place
Key Returners: Ella Heinen (So.), Annie Tibbot (Sr.), Claire Blotnik (Sr.), Jordan Reeves (Sr.), Sophia Mihelich (Sr.), Kathryn Hammel (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Erin Nash
Summary: Another 'bump-up' candidate due to classification cut-off changes is Joliet Catholic. The Hilltoppers made it to the state meet, albeit not at full strength without Claire Blotnik. With Blotnik returning in 2023 as well as seven of the top eight runners from that 2022 team, Joliet Catholic is strong enough to make a push for the state meet, especially out of a Chicago-area sectional. In Blotnik's stead was Ella Heinen who broke 20:00 as a freshman, and led the team at state.

Annie Tibbot and Jordan Reeves comprise the pack, with a group behind them of Sophia Mihelich and Kathryn Hammel. Erin Nash may also help deepen the group as a newcomer this year. Blotnik's season is a big key for Catholic's success this year, but with a 5:23 1600 mark from the spring, and a Detweiller at Dark time in July that already exceeded all her performances in 2022, she appears to be ready to go.

Head Coach: Doug Ecker
Last Year's Finish: Kaneland Sectional- 10th place
Key Returners: Danielle Bower (So.), Graycen Cole (So.), Abigail Lechocki (Jr.), Olivia Pastovich (Sr.), Jade Unzueta (Jr.), Abby Fitts (Sr.), Audrey Walker (Jr.)
Summary: The 2022 season was tough for the Kaneland Knights girls' team, according to coach Doug Ecker. "The season was a challenge due to more than normal illness, but the girls overall ran their best races in the state series (regionals and sectionals)," says Ecker. "But our goal never changes: Stay healthy, show improvement, and run your best in October and November."

This team is going to have to rely on pack-running without a dominant front runner. The pack should manifest early in the season, especially with so many returners from the team last year. Danielle Bower was the top finisher at sectionals running 19:34, the fastest time on the team during the year.

Abigail Lechoki was the other sub-20 athlete, doing so at Sterling. Graycen Cole was a top finisher for Kaneland early in the year and will join Bower and Lechocki when healthy. The team also returns Jade Unzueta, Abby Fitts, and Audrey Walker from the postseason team, all hoping to break 20:00 and add to the strength of the pack. Olivia Pastovich belongs in that mix, as well as some newcomers that coach Ecker suggests can make an impact. "We have a very small team of fourteen runners, and with no dominant runners, we will have to rely on a tight pack to be successful."

Head Coach: Joe Wejman
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 17th place
Key Returners: Jane McNamara (Sr.), Hannah McCarthy (Sr.), Sarah Owen (Jr.), Alayna Plahm (Jr.), Samantha Rozmus (Sr.), Neeve Olson (Sr.), Lucy Jucovics (So.), Evelyn Siffermann (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Allie O'Halloran, Sophia Towne, Julia Parkes
Summary: The Collette Kinsella-led Roadrunners finished 17th at state last year and return all but Kinsella (who will be running for Vanderbilt this season). Naz entered last year's top 10 but did not have a linear progression toward the state meet. "We were slow out of the gates last season," says head coach Joe Wejman. "We really had to overcome some health setbacks, but the team was resilient and we ended the season trending upward."

With so many returners, continuity and state meet experience will be a strength for Nazareth, who will be chasing Benet in the ESCC this year. Jane McNamara was the best performer last year, but Hannah McCarthy, Sarah Owen, and Alayna Plahm were not far behind her. All three girls look to challenge the 19:00 mark. Neeve Olson and Samantha Rozmus also return to state meet experience, and Evvy Sifferman can also make an impact in the varsity seven. There are a few freshmen that will bolster the Roadrunners' attack, too. Allie O'Halloran and Sophia Towne finished 11th and 12th in the 1A and 2A IESA state finals, respectively. They and Julia Parkes have been with the team this summer. "There are a couple of other newcomers that could factor in," says Wejman "but we have a lot of upperclass depth so it'll be competitive."

Head Coach: Jama Grotelueschen
Last Year's Finish: 12th at Glenwood Sectional
Key Returners: Ava Boyd (Sr.), Chloe Bundren (Jr.), Hadley Grotelueschen (So.), Ava Jansen (Jr.), Emma Frazier (Jr.), Jinan Abdo (So.), Morgan Waisath (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Taylor Mills, Jaci Kellenberger Summary: As a pre-season ranked team, the Bulldogs did not end where they were hoping for. "During our 2022 season, we faced many adversities and didn't have the season we were hoping for [by finishing 10th at sectionals and missing state]," says coach Jama Grotelueschen. " Our main goal for this season is to rise above and grow from all that adversity we faced last year. We hope to make it back to the state meet as a team as well."

There is plenty of good momentum from the recent season for Mahomet-Seymour, especially from the club track performance that Ava Boyd assembled this summer. Running for the Champaign-based Vipers Club, Boyd won the national Junior Olympic 1500m title in the 17-18 division, running 4:46. Along with 5:07 and 11:30 bests from the track season, she is fit to build on her top 100 finish from the state meet last year and compete for an all-state podium spot.

The clear #2 for the Bulldogs is Chloe Bundren. Who also ran track and clocked sub-13 and -6 times. Returning to state will require a number of runners from the next pack to step up, including Ava Jansen, Emma Frazier, and Hadley Grotelueschen. With only four returners having broken 21 minutes, the impact of IESA all-stater Taylor Mills will be important. Mahomet-Seymour will be seen at Light it Up, two Peoria invites, and Metamora during the season to have good, fair competition and test where they are relative to the state. 

Head Coach: Darren Latham
Last Year's Finish: Glenwood Sectional- 15th place
Key Returners: Natalie Drain (Sr.), Ava Kimmle (Jr.), Addison Heard (Sr.), Amelia Martin (Sr.), Grace Angell (Jr.), Tatum Maschhoff (Sr.), Brynn Behrman (Jr.)
Summary: Mascoutah has no clear frontrunners, and very few times registered in the distance events during the track season. They also were not close to the state qualifying spot out of Glenwood's sectional late, with just five runners finishing. 

Mascoutah returns each runner of relevance and can push for the state meet even with modest improvements from their group. Incredibly, Natalie Drain, Ava Kimmle, Addison Heard, and Amelia Martin all ran between 20:00 and 20:02 at their best last year, although they did not have this alignment happen on the same day. That front pack is supported by the chase group of Grace Angell, Brynn Bhermann, and Tatum Maschhoff. Behrmann showed the biggest improvements during track with times of 5:51 and 12:57. Where will Mascoutah fall this year? Watch for their performances at Granite City, Springfield, and Peoria High to give the best indication.

Head Coach: Amanda Young
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 26th place
Key Returners: Audrey Heil (Sr.), Callie Sturgell (Jr.), Adi Sparry (Jr.), Audrey Hodgen (Sr.), Kassidy Mullins (Jr.), Megan Wolf (Jr.), Jenna Campbell (So.)
Summary: Metamora returns five of their seven runners from a state qualifying team, and is led by Audrey Heil, who was 125th at state, but improved during the track season running 11:43 and 5:28 to look ready to bust through the 18:30 mark. Callie Sturgell is the clear #2 at around 19:00 from last year.

The rest of the team has questions to answer by filling in the last few scoring spots. Those were accomplished by Audrey Hodgen, Adi Sparry, and Kassidy Mullins in 2022. Megan Wolf and Jenna Campbell will be in the mix this season-and those seven are likely the 'starting 7' to begin the fall. Metamora frequently matched up against conference competitions like Dunlap, Washington, and Morton, and also hosts a few strong meets at Black Patridge Park, so there will be plenty of opportunities for this emerging pack to become more battle tested.

Head Coach: Jim Halford
Last Year's Finish: Lakes Regional- 8th place
Key Returners: Izzy Bing (Jr.), Norah Belmonte (Jr.), Sydney Krcmarik (Jr.), Ashlyn Beattie (So.), Noelle Waldschmidt (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Chloe Bing, Isabella Rengusso, Adelyn Albanse
Summary: The circumstances got the best of Carmel, who started strong with a couple of key runners really putting it together. "In 2022 our season was ruined with sickness, we just were not the same team at the end of the year," says coach Jim Halford. "Ironically, last year due to the new sectional would have been a great opportunity."

Junior Izzy Bing is the team's unquestioned top runner, and one of the hardest workers the program has seen, says Halford. Bing ran 5:17 and 11:22 in the spring to complement her cross country all-state showing. Bing could be in the top 10 this year. A clear #2 is Norah Belmonte who also qualified for cross country state individually prior to her soccer season. Sydney Krcmarik, who ran 5:52 and 2:34, slots into the three spot hoping for 20:00. Ashlyn Beattie and Noelle Waldschmidt are the returners with the best shot to fill in the rest of varsity. It will be competitive with a few freshmen in the mix, including Adelyn Albanse, Isabella Rengusso, and Bing's younger sister Chloe.

Head Coach: Megan Grady
Last Year's Finish: Kaneland Sectional- 15th place
Key Returners: Rhylee Wade (Sr.), Delia Block (So.), Laney Zuithoff (So.), Connie Ibarra (Sr.), Emma Anderson (Sr.), Laney Bock (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Jaz'Mya Castaneda
Summary: Sterling wasn't at full strength going into sectionals, where the Golden Warriors finished fifteenth. There is a promise that this year is going to be better, especially with the say that Rhylee Wade and Delia Block ran during the track season. Both athletes had their hand at being the top runner for Sterling in cross country, and more consistent sub-19 runs seem to be in the cards for the two, especially Block beginning her second full reason of running.

Narrowing the gap toward the state meet will require improvement in the second pack, specifically comprised of Laney Zuithoff, Connie Ibarra, Emma Anderson, and Laney Block. Anderson, Ibarra, and Zuithoff all return to postseason experience. A newcomer that might have an impact is Jaz'Mya Castaneda, who ran 12:43 to lead Challand MS at the IESA final last year.