2A Girls Previews: #25-#11 Revealed!

A stream of runners are about to enter the "Bermuda Triangle" at last year's First To The Finish Invitational


-We drop the first set of preseason-ranked teams who are poised to be very dangerous this fall. Take a close caption on notable changes from 3A and 1A- some move up or down in classification. As always, there will be those teams looking to make a jump as the season progresses.

Head Coach:
Last Year's Finish: 1A State Final- 9th place
Key Returners: Hana Ford (Sr.), Ariel Hernandez (Jr.), Kat Scott (So.), Ava Shank (Sr.)
Summary: The Rock Falls Rockets are the first entry on the 2A top 25. This team would be pushing the top 10 in 1A, but with a new classification cut-off, Rock Falls is one of the smallest schools in the division. Rock Falls, who returns the top four finishers from the 9th place group at 1A State in 2022, is a potential play at #25. The top four are good enough for the Rockets to compete with almost anyone in the class, but the challenge will be completing the team after those four. The top two are Hana Ford and Ariel Hernandez, who are both sub19:00 athletes in 2022, as well as 5:35 milers in the spring. Along with Kat Scott, all were top-80 finishers at state last year. Ava Shank, along with Ford, is a senior who returns to state meet experience.

But then it gets a little dicey for Rock Falls, who had nine girls on the roster last year but graduated four leaving just the four mentioned along with Emma Peterson, who did her first year last year. With the possibility of a few new returners, Rock Falls can be highly competitive and make a run at the state meet. Rock Falls runs at First to the Finish, which will be a good indicator of where they are and if they added anyone to their group.

Head Coach:
Last Year's Finish: 1A State Finals- 21st place
Key Returners: Sundara Weber (So.), Emily Urbanski (So.), Joanna Rivera (Jr.), Hannah Treptow (Jr.), Erin Lissman (Jr.), Emma White (Sr.)
Summary: Sandwich is another newcomer to 2A, and along with the team, comes Sundara (Sunny) Weber, perhaps the favorite for the individual title in 2A. Weber won nine races in her first season of high school cross country on her way to a runner-up at State behind only Mabry Bruhn. Her emergence continued smoothly throughout the track season-Tatum David's dominance in 2A overshadowed Weber, whose 10:31 is one of the best 3200 among returners in the state this year. What is Weber's ceiling? Only time will tell this year. 

Her team can potentially join her at state this season, as well. A small pack formed behind her last year, composed of Emily Urbanski, Joanna Rivera, and Hannah Treptow. Rivera and Urbanski ran under 6:00 in the spring as well. The rest of the group from last year's state team returns: Erin Lissman, Karlee Henkins, Emma White, and Ashlyn Strenz. With continuity from last year's team, the Indians group looks to improve-but the task of making it to Detweiller this year will be tougher than last year.

Head Coach:
Last Year's Finish: Glenwood Sectional- 8th place
Key Returners: Jessica Larsen (Jr.), Audrey Wagoner (Sr.), Haddie Hill (Jr.), Baylee Summers (So.), Morgan Springer (Jr.), Kyra Hazelton, Laney Myers (So.)
Summary: A team that probably surprised some people last year were the Effingham Flaming Hearts. With a tight-knit pack that almost always kept their 1-5 split under 90 seconds, the Hearts came just one spot outside of qualifying for the state meet out of the Glenwood sectional, roughly 40 points behind Normal University.

Jessica Larsen did represent Effingham at state, where she finished 67th in 19:37. Larsen did not get the chance to produce a representative 3200 in track, but focused on the 800/1600 where she topped out at 5:28 and 2:21, showing that she is ready to go. The second returner and 2023 team leader in the 3200 is senior Audrey Wagoner. Wagoner commonly finished nearby Haddie Hill and new runner Baylee Summers, with Morgan Springer as the best bet to round out the Hearts' scoring. Springer made improvements in track, running 5:47, showing she is well suited to ensure Effingham has five girls under 20:00. That will be necessary for Effingham to reach its goals, especially without a clear candidate to compete for the podium outside of Larsen.

Rival coaches have taken note of Effingham's improvement. "Effingham's program has been getting stronger the last couple of years and I'm curious to see what they'll do this season as well," says Mt. Zion coach Kelly Fox. "Effingham has gained some momentum the last couple of years and is a strong team," says Mahomet-Seymour coach Jama Groteleuschen. 

Head Coach:
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 20th place
Key Returners: Margaret Andrzejewski (So.), Cate Earl (Jr.), Diya Khatau (Jr.), Ashley Spahn (So.), Nella Ksaig (Jr.), Anna Nauman (Sr.)
Summary: The St. Francis Spartans were a top-20 team in the class last year, and were represented on the podium by freshman Margaret Andrzejewski. Her best from last year was 18:31, which was good enough to give her the first varsity win of her career at the Sterling regional, and continued that momentum with 5:31 and 12:01 performances in track. St. Francis returns three other finishers from the state meet- Cate Earl (81st), Diya Khatau (190th), Ashley Spahn (191st), and Nella Ksiag (217th). A newcomer in track was now-soph Siena Schwan, who broke 6:00 in the 1600m at sectionals behind Andrzejewski, so watch for her to contribute to a Spartan team that is in good shape to return to the state meet in the Chicago-based sectional.

Head Coach: Katie Paski
Last Year's Finish: 3A State Final- 25th place
Key Returners: Keira Jenke (So.), Delilah Helenhouse (Jr.), Grace Andringa (Sr.), Aniela Gaudio (Jr.),
Key Newcomers: Faye Farrell, Payton Mathelier, Ashley Donovan (Sr.)
Summary: Once upon a time, Benet Academy was the 2019 2A State Champion. By virtue of that dominant team who was also the state's best in 2020, the Redwings received the multiplier into 3A in 2021 and 2022.

To increase the challenge for Benet, in 2022 they saw themselves placed into one of the deepest 3A sectionals ever at Waubonsie Valley. That didn't stop the group, who finished seventh at that meet and made a triumphant appearance at 3A State Championship. "Of our 14 athletes on last year's postseason roster, 13 of those athletes had never been to the state meet before as either a competitor in the race or an alternate," says coach Katie Paski. "The girls never saw that as a disadvantage; rather they made the most out of every opportunity that came their way. After not advancing out of Regionals in 2021, our team had their sights on the 2022 season and the goal of qualifying the entire team back to the state meet. We could not have been more proud of the girls for their collective team and individual accomplishments last year and for never losing sight of the goal they set out to achieve as a team at the end of the 2021 season."

Four of the runners that brought Benet to that state meet return, and that group is clearly led by Keira Jenke and Delilah Helenhouse. In her freshman year, Jenke was oft a scorer behind last year's top runner Louisa Diamond. Jenke ran solid marks in track, but has had incoming junior Helenhouse now join her at the team's front, running under 12:00 and 5:20. The other two state returners are Aniela Gaudio and Grace Andringa, both potential sub 20:00 athletes. Benet has plenty of options behind this first group, including Sophia Olivares, Kailey Frangella, and Terese Tully, all returners from the IHSA postseason roster. A few notable newcomers are frosh Faye Farrell and Payton Mathelier, as well as senior Ashley Donovan who is on Benet's varsity soccer team. 

Coach Paski reports that there is a lot of excitement for the season. "One of the key messages we always have for our team is the idea that together everyone achieves more.  We have a talented group of individuals (both returning and new) who push one another daily in practice, constantly putting forth their best efforts in order to achieve both their individual and team goals.  We are eager to get the season started and hope to be amongst the teams who qualify for the 2A state meet in November."

20. Morris
Head Coach: Joe Blumberg
Last Year's Finish: 2A State- 14th place
Key Returners: Makensi Martin (Jr.), Danica Martin (Jr.), Leah Ortiz (Jr.), Paityn Valentine (Jr.), Hope Emmerich (So.), Aubrey Bormet (So.)
Key Newcomers: Aubrey Lines, Megan Bzdill (Jr.), Caitlyn Gile (So.), Zara Lugo (So.)

Summary: Morris' 2022 season was just a continuation of the program's quick rise to prominence. Having the experience of the program's first-ever qualification to state in 2021 set the stage well for the team's return in 2022. "In 2021, we were so happy to be a part of the state finals that I feel we were sidetracked and didn't run particularly well at Detweiller," says coach Blumberg. "I will take the blame for that. Last year, our girls treated the state meet as a business trip and competed extremely well in tough conditions, running better than every projection." "I enjoy the perseverance our team has the best," says junior Leah Ortiz about the qualities the team needed in those previous years of success. "Even in moments when we aren't actually talking, everyone displays their ability to run hard for each other. We help each other out in numerous ways, whether it's pushing each other during a workout, encouraging each other, or even congratulating each other after runs."

With notable seniors Joy Dudley and Moriah Mayberry having graduated, it is a new challenge for Morris this season. "We will either have success or learn - we don't have a single senior on our roster, and will only get better next year. Our season goal is to be healthy and run our best at the Sectional on October 28th. Obviously, we'd love the opportunity to improve upon last year's top fifteen finish, but we will have to be patient, selfless, and smart to avoid injuries to have that opportunity." "The goal for this season is the same as always, improve individually along with improving as a team," says junior Makensi Martin. "A goal in our program is to set out to achieve more than the previous year, even through any adversity that we may face. By facing hardship, our team has only gotten stronger which allows us to have big dreams. By improving individually we allow our team to achieve what we believe is in our grasp."

The chance for that opportunity will begin with the Martin twins, who are soccer players in the spring. Makensi was only the second all-stater in school history (Dudley was the first, just seconds in front of her), and Danica returns the second-best cross country PR, having broken 20:00 in the last year. With good health and consistency, both Martins can be in the all-state conversation. The next returners likely to score are Leah Ortiz and Paityn Valentine. Coach Blumberg on Ortiz: "Nobody has worked harder this offseason, and Leah is primed for a breakout year. She has also stepped up as our team leader attempting to fill the shoes of Joy and Moriah."

Despite having no seniors on the roster, there are a number of other runners that will have to step up in the case of an injury. Returners Hope Emmerich and Aubrey Bormet are big candidates to do so in their second full year of running. One newcomer to watch for is freshman Aubrey Lines, who was an IESA state qualifier in the 800 in 2:33. "We lost our top runner this year, but we have more incoming talent to build on top of the existing talent on our team," says Danica Martin. "Another challenge presented within our team is the lack of senior leadership. It's no secret that we don't have any seniors on the team this year, but in saying that we have a good group of juniors to lead our team. It will also make our team even stronger next year because we'll only gain runners and not have to face the loss of any."

Head Coach: Christopher Bailey
Last Year's Finish: State- 27th place
Key Returners: Piper Ipsen (Jr.), Rosie Gonzalez (Jr.), Angela Ortiz (Jr.), Abby Sooley (Jr.), Addison Lane (Sr.), Annalise Lowrance (Jr.), Nora Lubkeman (Sr.)

Summary: The 2022 campaign was a success for the Antioch Sequoits. "Our girls' program had one of its most successful seasons in decades qualifying for the IHSA state championships," says coach Christopher Bailey. "We placed 3rd in the NLCC, fifth at Regionals, and seventh at sectionals, and many of our top returners had a strong track season, breaking the school 4x800 record running 10:00. [Looking ahead to 2023], we need improvement and consistency.  We need to be more consistent throughout the season.  Staying healthy will be a big focus for us this season as well."

All seven returners from the state qualifying team return for Antioch. Four of those top five comprised the school record 4x800 team: Piper Ipsen, Angela Ortiz, Addison Lane, and Annalise Lowrance. Rosie Gonzalez, another top returner, led the team in the 3200 breaking 12 and Ipsen was the best miler at 5:25. Each of those five and Abby Sooley, with Lane as the only senior, can run under 20:00, with Ipsen and Gonzalez as the team's best shots of running around 18:30. Antioch will continue to be challenged in the difficult NLCC and north part of the state in 2A, so improvement will be necessary to continue the short streak of qualifying for state.

Head Coach: Kelly MacDonald
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 8th place
Key Returners: Olivia McPherson (Sr.), Brenna Benjamin (So.), Nella Robinson (Jr.), Lydia Jensen (Jr.), Ali Storz (Sr.), Katie Jewell (Jr.), Faith Wilder (Sr.), Ellie Schmidt (Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Lila Stewart (So.)

Summary: Prairie Ridge is a perennial contender that always runs best at the right times. Entering 2022, the Wolves held onto a preseason ranking despite much of the returner picture being unclear. They justified that ranking by finishing top 10 in the state by the end of that year, as well as finding a few pieces that solidified the scoring back behind state runner-up Rachel Soukup. A big part of that was Brenna Benjamin, who was the #2 for the Wolves at state as a freshman. She and Olivia McPherson lead the charge for Prairie Ridge this fall. Both ran track, but McPherson had the more consistent season aligned with her cross country showing by running under 12:00 and running 5:28. McPherson projects to approach the 18-minute mark and be Prairie Ridge's best chance to run all-state.

Also returning from the state team are Ali Storz, Nella Robinson, and Lydia Jensen, who topped out around the 20:30-21:00 pack time in the 2022 season, although Robinson should be the third runner under 20 for Prairie Ridge. However, never underestimate this group's ability to have multiple new runners join the varsity end of the pack and make statements at significant meets in the northern part of the state. Keep an eye on early season results to see if Lila Stewart competes-Stewart joined track for her freshman season and ran 5:35, the second-best mark on the team among returners.

17. Dixon

Head Coach:
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 15th place
Key Returners: Emma Smith (Sr.), Kate Boss (So.), Kamryn Rogers (So.), Olivia Arduini (So.), Keeley Mick (Sr.), Daniela Lovett (So.), Emily Smith (Sr.), Teyla Wendy (Sr.)

Summary: The Duchesses, despite hailing from a school in the lower half of enrollment in 2A schools, annually form one of the deepest varsity and JV squads in the 2A classification. In 2022, nine athletes broke 20:00, and 12 out of 13 runners on the roster broke 21:00. Only four of those athletes graduate, so plenty of strength returns to keep Dixon in the mix for state qualification. 

Emma Smith enters her senior season leading the team and seeking her second all-state medal, the first coming in 2021 at 16th. She has run under 18:00 twice now and hopes to finish her career strong. She is boosted by a deep sophomore class, led by Kate Boss, who ran 5:30 this season, tied with Daniela Lovett for team lead among returners. This matched what Boss did in the fall, a few sub-19:00 equivalent performances, but Lovett improved greatly from her fall performances and is set up to make a bigger impact this year. Kamryn Rogers and Olivia Arduini are both a part of that deep class and are in the sub-19:00 conversation. Some other returners to watch are Keeley Mick, Emily Smith, and Teyla Wendt. Dixon could have their entire top seven under 20:00 once again with five pushing the 19:00 barrier, which is very strong depth for the class.

16. Crystal Lake Central

Head Coach: Brett Willhoit
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 24th place
Key Returners: Hadley Ferrero (Jr.), Brynn Matthaei (Jr.), Emma Macke (Sr.), Lelia Czysczon (Jr), Hope Ferrero (Sr.), Jacqueline Orvis (So.), Lauren Peyer (So.)
Key Newcomers: Skyler Ferrero

Summary: A challenging season in 2022 for the Tigers left them with a 24th-place finish at state, not representative of the talent and achievement that the team is capable of seeing. Sickness and injury were the main culprits during Central's season. We struggled with injuries all season, including a few of the top seven and a DNF at the state meet," says coach Willhoit. "But we still kept our streak alive of qualifying for the state meet and finished tied for first (lost the tiebreaker) at Sectionals. Our goal for this season is the same as every season, to qualify for the state meet and try to win the extremely competitive Fox Valley Conference. Realistically, we could be a top 10 team but we have to stay healthy and add some depth."

The Tigers get year three of Hadley Ferrero, who has torn up the cross country course since 2021 for Crystal Lake while playing soccer in the spring. Ferrero's 2022 season included ending the year with injury, including preventing her from scoring for Central at state, but her track season speaks for itself. Ferrero was fourth in her freshman year at state and continues to bring that upside to every single invite she runs.

Brynn Matthaei did not race for a large portion of 2022 due to injury but also has all-state talent and the experience of two years under her belt to be ready to approach training this year. Emma Macke and Hope Ferrero are the key senior leaders for the team and figure into the scoring, as well as Jacqueline Orvis, Lauren Peyer, and Lelia Czysczon. Central is also in their third year of having three Ferrero sisters on the team, with Skyler joining this season. Coach Wilhoitt says he expects her racing to prioritize her development without rushing to be a major contributor, especially early on. Central's talent means that a healthy season could result in trophy contention. 

15. Chicago (DePaul College Prep)

Head Coach: Stephanie Stecz
Last Year's Finish: 1A State Runner up
Key Returners: Abigail Arseneau (Jr.), Lorelei Travers (Jr.), Gabi Walker (Sr.), Grace Moller (Sr.), Piper Houghton (Jr.), Kate Radich (So.), Claire Duman (So.), Isabella Shifrin (Jr.), Ellie Kapp (Jr.), Simrin Anderson (So.)
Key Newcomers: Emily Stecky

Summary: In coach Stephanie Stecz first season, the rapidly growing DePaul Rams program made a major statement in its final year at the 1A level before jumping classes due to enrollment. "We knew that we'd be a contender, but it took patience and time to put all the pieces together," says Stecz. "I was a new coach last year at a quickly growing school, so it was a balancing act of honoring existing traditions, building on previous successes, getting to know individual athletes, and establishing a team culture based on commitment, accountability, measurable progress for all athletes, and the collective goal to finish our season on the podium at State."

The Rams were one of the deepest teams in 1A last year, and that remains true in 2A this year. There are nearly a dozen girls capable of running under 20:00 and the entire top five is in the range of 19:00, despite only Abigail Arseneau breaking that barrier in 2022. The varsity group ran clearly their best of the year at the state meet. The scoring five of Arseneau, Lorelei Travers, Gabi Walker, GRace Moller, and Piper Houghton all return, with none as the clear front-runner and every of the five capable of being the team's best on a given day. But just because those five return as scorers, doesn't mean that Kate Radich, Isabella Shrifrin, Ellie Kapp, Claire Duman, or Simrin Anderson (or one of many other runners) can fill the bill if needed. Also watch for Emily Stecky, who was a top five IESA finisher for Northside Catholic Academy in 2022. DePaul will make a run at Loyola, Rosary, and Saint Ignatius in the growing GCAC, and also will appear at Richard Spring for a true state-wide test.

14. Aurora (Rosary)

Head Coach: Vic Mead
Last Year's Finish: 1A State Final- 3rd place
Key Returners: Chiara Surtz (Jr.), Natalie Goettsch (Jr.), Olivia Kunio (Sr.), Vivian Wyller (Sr.), Ellie Gengler (Jr.), Amelia Whitacre (So.)

Summary: Like DePaul, Rosary joins the 2A classification with a trophy in hand from the 1A state meet in 2022. The Royals group returns five of the top six from the third-place team, with four of those runners in the top 70, led by Chiara Surtz, who finished 16th to grab her second all-state medal in two years. Surtz's track season included qualifying for state in the 3200 and 5:19 and 11:28 personal bests, meaning that she will begin the year in top-25 form in 2A.

The top four seem to be well-formed for Rosary, with Natalie Goettsch, Olivia Kunio, and Vivan Wyller all already sub-20 runners and with state meet experience. Filling in the rest of the varsity pack will be a challenge, but Ellie Gengler and Amelia Whitacre are fit for the task and can also break 20, particularly Gengler who nearly broke 6:00 in the 1600 in the spring. Rosary does not have the depth like DePaul, but still has a high ceiling with strong all-state caliber runners and could break into the top 10 of 2A sooner rather than later. Rosary races early and often so there will be no mystery what kind of form the Royals are in this August. 

Head Coach: Steve Clegg
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 12th place
Key Returners: Isabella Marsico (Sr.), Lucy Schlachtenhaufen (Sr.), Sophia Lane (Sr.), Shalini Krishnaswamy (Jr.), Paige Gibbons (Sr.), Olivia Marsico (Sr.), Pilar Rosales (So.)

Summary: After a notable omission from the state meet in 2021, Lake Forest found their way to Detweiller last year and finished a strong 12th out of 28 teams. With six of the top seven and all three of the top 3 returning, there is a formidable scoring bunch returning for the Scouts. At full strength, the team's front runner is Izzy Marsico, who was 6th at the state meet her sophomore year but finished 30th to end an up-and-down 2022. Marsico also did not have the track season she is accustomed to, but continues to remain firmly in all-state contention this year.

The top-3 for Lake Forest also includes Lucy Schlachtenhaufen and Sophia Lane. Both were top-60 at state last year and ran strong track seasons, which included a 5:22 mile best for Schlachtenhaufen and a 2:21 best for 800 specialist Lane. All three of the top returners are seniors, so this is when the iron is hottest for Lake Forest. Last year, Shalini Krishnaswamy emerged and boosted the team significantly. She and Paige Gibbons make five runners in good form to break 20:00 early in the season. The top 7 is rounded out by Olivia Marsico and Pilar Rosales, who broke 6:00 in track and makes five Lake Forest returners under 6:00 in the 1600. Lake Forest's path to the state meet includes appearances at the Red Devil Invite, First to the Finish, and a good NSC conference meet. Will Lake Forest make it back to Peoria as the strong northern sectional re-aligns this year? 

Head Coach: Kelly Fox
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 18th place
Key Returners: Ellie Fritzsche (Sr.), Renee Ballard (Sr.), Camille Mavis (Sr.), Brooke Doyle (Sr.), Avery Sommer (So.), Hailey Betzer (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Abi Grunden, Maddie Akers (Sr.)

Summary: The Mt. Zion Braves are a dangerous #12 team to watch coming off a top-20 finish at state last year and an experienced, senior-heavy group that just completed their best track season as a group ever. The best aspect of the team, according to coach Kelly Fox, has been the culture beginning with leadership at the top. "Sofia Munoz (heading to Purdue) had an outstanding Senior season for us last year," says Fox. "She was our leader and in doing so continued the culture of what we're trying to do here.  I've had GREAT leaders the last 3 years and will have those leaders again this year."

The projected top five for Mt. Zion is almost entirely made of seniors-three in particular, Ellie Fritzsche, Camille Mavis, and Renee Ballard, all broke 12:00 in the 3200 in the spring (11:27 for Fritzsche) and were top 150 at the state cross country meet last year. Note also a 5:16 1600 best for Mavis, and a 5:25 for Ballard, all massive improvements for these athletes since the cross country season.

Throw in Brooke Doyle, who ran 5:26, and you have four seniors that are a bonafide varsity team that can make noise at state. Avery Sommer, a sophomore, is the best candidate to fill in at the #5 position, but Hailey Betzer, Abi Grunden and new runner (as a senior) Maddie Akers have been training with top-7 spots in mind as well. It's a good start and a great summer for a group that could be in the trophy conversation very soon. "As a team, our goal will be to make the trip back to the State meet and make a push to be in the top 10," says Fox. "Individually, we're looking for each of our athletes to continue to improve (especially with the running we put in this summer as a strong base). I'm looking for this group of Seniors to be strong both physically and mentally.  Their times have improved since last XC season and they've put in more miles this summer."

Head Coach: Joe Zeller
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 19th place
Key Newcomers: Arlie Akers (Sr.), Avery Braker (Jr.), Isabella Grider (Jr.)

Summary: A state qualification for the Morton Potters was good but perhaps not good enough for a deep and talented roster. "I think the girls would tell you that the end of last year's season did not go how they would have liked as a team," says coach Joe Zeller. "However, after a strong track season and a 3rd place state finish in the 4x800, the girls have some lofty goals for this season-competitively, a top-10 finish at state."

This mark is well within reach for a Potter squad that returns all five scorers from last year-Taygen Beyer, Sophie Krueger, AVa Burgess, Brielle Hopkins, and Kerrigan Vandel. Although Vandel was the fifth runner at state, expect her to be at the front in most races with Krueger and Beyer. Kruger and Beyer had successful track seasons as well, especially with Beyer running an all-time best 5:15 1600 to qualify for state, where she just narrowly missed an all-state medal.

Beyer and Krueger joined Eve Armstrong and Avery Braker to run 9:35 and finish 3rd in the 4x800 at state. Armstrong and Braker will run cross this fall, with Braker joining for the first time in favor of volleyball (she is a junior now, with a 2:21 800 best). With Ava Burgess and Brielle Hopkins also returning state meet experience in only their sophomore years, Morton is a strong squad with many options. Lastly, a significant 'addition' to this group is the return of Arlie Akers, who was one of the team's top runners in 2020 as a freshman. Now, in her senior year, after two years of club soccer, she returns to the cross country course and makes Morton a force to be reckoned with in the center of the state in 2023.