Grayslake Central Girls Is The Team To Beat in 2A This Fall

The 2022 IHSA 2A Girls State Championship highlight reel 


Time to reveal and realize that this year's crop of teams will have to give it their all in order to defeat defending champion Grayslake Central


Head Coach: Bill Owens
Last Year's Finish: State Championship- 7th place
Key Returners: Ashley Zeibert (So.), Natalie Nichols (So.), Brooke Zeibert (Jr.), Myra Gibson (So.), Ella Kieffer (So.), Maria Olson (Jr.), Lacy Steck (Jr.)

Summary: The Rochester Rockets were perhaps the breakout team of the 2022 season in 2A, starting almost off the rankings radar completely before blitzing their way to victories at the Central State Eight Conference meet, and the Taylorville Regional, and a 7th-place finish at state. These finishes were largely assisted by the frontrunning of Colleen Zeibert, whose heroic 2:11 leg brought Rochester a state title in the 4x800m. That relay also included the top three returners for Rochester, a young team returning each of their 2-6 runners and eight non-seniors returning to fill out the scoring positions. Those three are Natalie Nichols, and Zeibert's younger sisters Brooke and Ashley. All three were top 75 finishers at the state meet, sub 5:40 milers (Ashley ran 5:22), and are fit to make their own bids to be considered among all-state contenders in 2A. In their young careers, each of the three has already accumulated significant championship experience. 

The returning 4-5 runners are Myra Gibson and Ella Kieffer, who also ran at last year's state meet as freshmen. Now returning as sophomores, Rochester will need good seasons from both of them to build on last year's seventh place finish. More depth will come from the direction of Maria Olson and Lacy Steck, who ran strong track seasons, with Olson nearly breaking 6:00. Rochester will not fly under the radar again this season, and enter as a top-10 team in the classification with a dangerous combination of youth and experience. 

Head Coach: Ken Greenfield
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 4th place
Key Returners: Abby Machesky (Sr.), Colette Bacidore (Sr.), Olivia Pinta (Jr.), Victoria Pinta (Jr.), Brieannah James (Sr.), Carly Gorman (Sr.), Lexi Brooks (Sr.), Natalia Banasik (Sr.), Kelsey Kos (So.)
Key Newcomers: Laynie Ripley (So.), Lily Brooks, Cece Piemontese

Summary: One year removed from winning the runner-up trophy in 2021, Crystal Lake South had a more tumultuous season that ended with a difficult experience at the state meet, finishing in fourth place after some confusion regarding the results. "This was a challenging season coming off a 2021 campaign where everything went smoothly," says coach Ken Greenfield "There were more bumps in the road for us. However, I'm incredibly proud of how the girls fought through some adversity and ultimately pulled out some competitive finishes (2nd in FVC, regional and sectional champs, and 4th in state). I was especially proud of how our pack attacked the muddy state course, putting five in the top 50."

With one of those five graduating (4-time all-stater Bella Gonzalez), that means the Gators still return three top 50 runners, which is surpassed only by returning champ Grayslake Central. The 2-5 split for South was just six seconds, starting with Olivia Pinta in 37th and ending with Abbey Machesky, Victoria Pinta, and Gianna Pinta. Olivia, Victoria, and Maschesky return. Machesky, who was all-state her sophomore year in 2021, is a good bet to rise to the top for South fully healthy and has been training with both Pintas, who can push her to the top.

Add Colette Bacidore to that mix too-Bacidore was typically South's #2 during the season but did not finish the season at full health. Bacidore and Machesky are each poised to make big marks in their senior year. Brie James has made jumps in training to join the top group and is a leading contender for the #5 spot, alongside a number of other returners. Keep an eye also on Lily Brooks, who ran for Crystal Lake Bernotas MS and can contribute to South's depth. 

With the right circumstances, South has the potential to be a title contender, especially as key pieces return from injury. However, Coach Greenfield reports that the day-to-day is the primary focus for the team. "I've gotten some feedback from the girls and the highest priority for them is to be known for being a hard-working group that pushes each other. Near the top of the list is a desire to be welcoming and encouraging to all the girls in the program. There certainly is a desire to be a highly competitive team at the state level, but I love that their focus is on the day-to-day. Maybe near the top of my list is to see them grow in self-confidence: to have an accurate picture of how good they are (I think very good) and their potential."

Head Coach: Travis Shepherd and Christine Zucker
Last Year's Finish: State Runner Up
Key Returners: Paige Caruth (Sr.), Madison Twarling (Sr.), Hannah Rojas (Jr.), Grianna Gara (Jr.), Rachel Colwell (Sr.), Lauren Rymer (Jr.), Aine Boyd (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Hannah Salbilla, Leah Rojas

Summary: The Eagles' postseason was defined by repeated showdowns with NLCC rival Grayslake Central, with Central coming out on top by narrow margins each time. This was true at the state meet, where Lakes ran one of their most complete team races of the season and took home the second-place trophy, finishing with two all-staters, four top 50 finishers, and six girls in the top 80. "This is only the second trophy in any sport in the history of Lakes (2004 opening)," notes Travis Shepherd, who is a co-head coach with Christine Zucker. "We came in as one of the top teams, continued to grow all season, and showed up to compete in the postseason. It was exciting to see the athletes realize their potential and reach such lofty expectations. We are really proud of how the athletes grew as competitors. They never backed down, despite facing off four weeks in a row against the defending champs. In addition, we showed up and battled amidst difficult course conditions. Last year was another special year where we raised the bar."

Lakes loses two scorers due to graduation, and has some depth to replenish as well, but has front-end power that is competitive with anyone else in the classification. The Eagles first return Paige Caruth, who finished 8th with a gutsy performance at state, and is the fifth returner, looking for a top-five placing this year. Behind her is fellow senior Madison Twarling, who finished 34th and is in all-state contention this year. Twarling's best track mark was 5:24, with Caruth running 11:17 for a spot at state despite not having full health during the track season.

Hannah Rojas and Bri Gara both took big steps forward during their sophomore seasons and were a big reason Lakes finished as strong as they did. Those four comprise the clear key varsity pack for Lakes-but after these four, the Eagles look to a number of returners to complete the picture, including Rachel Colwell and Lauren Rymer (who both have top-7 experience in the last two years), and Aine Boyd. Also in the picture for these top-7 spots, and possibly a top-five scoring spot, are experienced frosh runners Hannah Salbilla and Leah Rojas. 

Hannah Rojas takes aim at the focus for the Eagles this year: "This year the team is trying to make it down to state again as well as supporting each other and embracing any challenge that we come across. I love the loyalty and spirit of the team. I know that if I'm having a bad day or struggling during a workout someone is always going to be there to pick me up or offer an encouraging word." Coach Shepherd agrees: "So we haven't met yet to set goals, but I would imagine the team will look to challenge for the NLCC crown as well as make it back to the state championship. The biggest goal we have though is to just focus internally and on our process, everything else will take care of itself."

Head Coach: Jill Burroughs
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 21st place
Key Returners: Natalie Bierbaum (So.), Zoe Carter (Jr.), Lana Alcorn (So.), Reagan Bull (Jr.), Eve Whitlow (Jr.), Talia Luallen (Sr.), Klara Blouman (Jr.)

Summary: The Pioneers are one of the most front-heavy teams in the classification, and returning Zoe Carter along with a healthy Natalie Bierbaum means that they will be ready to go with one of the highest ceilings of all schools in 2A. Both Carter and Bierbaum won major invitationals during the cross country season, and both ran under 11:00 in the 3200 in the spring to further validate their standings as elite runners in search of top five spots at state. Their success is well documented-what helped get Normal U into the trophy conversation was the improvement from Lana Alcorn, who dove deep into the 18:00s, and has improved even more in track running 2:23 and 5:24.

Although circumstances prevented Normal University from hitting their potential at last year's state cross meet (they finished 21st), they return everyone ready to give another shot at answering the question: who will fill out the varsity team? Along with Alcorn, Reagan Bull is in a position to solidify one of those spots for herself. Bull continued her strong 22-23 campaign also running 2:23 in the 800m. Behind them, look to Eve Whitlow, Talia Luallen, and Klara Bouman as possibilities to step up. Each athlete made strides from their 2021 season, so continued improvement means the state needs to watch out for the Pioneer attack that will frequently race at Peoria, as well as the elite Central State Eight competition that keeps their group sharp.

Head Coach: Larry Huffman
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 13th place
Key Returners: Cameron Crump (Jr.), Angelynn Kanyuck (Sr.), Ava Rau (Jr.), Danielle Mudd (Sr.), Chloe Aubuschon (Sr.), Calla Espenschied (So.), Kamryn Rader (Jr.), Emily Lepp (Jr.), Macy Jones (So.)

Summary: Being a far southwest Illinois school and running much of its regular season schedule means that Waterloo doesn't get the shine that many of the upstate teams get. Comparing the Bulldogs with the rest of the state can also be tricky, but with a strong 13th-place performance that includes all seven girls returning, it will be impossible to ignore Waterloo this year.

The runaway Mississippi Valley Conference champion Bulldogs didn't get any all-staters (Cameron Crump narrowly missed in 27th) but did have four runners in the top 100. Along with Crump, Angelynn Kanyuck took turns at the #1 spot, and both traded off strong track performances (sub-11:40 for both), as well as an elite 5:20 1600m for Kanyuck. Waterloo's powerful top-4 is completed by Ava Rau and Danielle Mudd, also 5:30's 1600m runners and candidates to break deep into the 18:00 range with Kanyuck and Crump.

A deep track season brought forth many contenders for the five spot, not the least of which being state qualifiers Kamryn Rader, Chloe Aubuschon, and Calla Espenschied. Emily Lepp and Macy Jones are in that conversation as well. How can Waterloo climb up the rankings without much upstate competition this year? The top four maintaining their stronghold on varsity packs throughout September will show that Waterloo has the pieces in place to make a surprise trophy run. 

Head Coach: Matt Haffner
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 5th place
Key Returners: Annika Swan (So.), Ella Hwang (Sr.), Courtney Beatty (So.), Emma Valencia (Sr.), Olivia Stern (Sr.), Lizeth Montes (Jr.), Meghan Semmer (Sr.), Jordan Abdo (Sr.), Maeve Griffin (Jr.), Maeve Gawne (Jr.), Sarah Fitzgerald (Jr.), Gabriella Duque (So.), Julieta Mayorga (Jr.), Megan McClain (Jr.)

Summary: The Wolfpack squad who finished fifth a year ago returns four of the six finishers from that race, headed by Ella Hwang and Courtney Beatty, who finished in strong top 50 positions for the Wolfpack. However, clear front runner Annika Swan, who was undefeated from September until November, did not factor into the scoring in Peoria, but starts the season immediately as a contender for a top-five placing in November and perhaps an individual title, based on a strong track season that included 4:53 and 10:45 personal bests, as well as two 3A all-state medals in the 1600m and the 800m (where she finished second only to state record holder Ali Ince). With Swan securing the low stick for Saint Ignatius at each meet, complemented by the depth the team brings, the Wolfpack have high hopes for their team's place in the trophy hunt in 2023. 

The question the group must answer is, can the pack produce other all-state contenders behind Swan? The aforementioned Hwang and Beatty are primary candidates, as well as Lizeth Montes who ran 5:20 in her first-ever track season after playing water polo. Olivia Stern returns with state meet experience, and she and Emma Valencia both produced sub-19:00 performances at last fall's Deerfield Sectional.

Another runner to watch is Meghan Semmer, who was the Wolfpack's #1 runner in 2021 but took a step back in 2022 due to injury. Semmer contested the 4x800 with a group that included Valencia and Maeve Griffin to run 9:36. Other athletes who will push this group and compete for varsity spots all year are Gabby Duque, Julieta Mayorga, Sarah Fitzgerald, Jordan Abdo, Megan McClain, and Maeve Gawne. Saint Ignatius will also look to reclaim the GCAC title from Loyola after three straight wins for the Ramblers, but now have DePaul, Aurora Central Catholic, and Rosary to battle as well. 

Head Coach: Chris Friedman
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 6th place
Key Returners: Abby Tudeen (Jr), Kate Robertson (Jr), Abbie Gleason (Sr), Margot McNutt (Jr), Maggie DIefenthaler (Sr), Mia Williams (So), Dakota Rousseau (Jr), Claire Sack (So)
Key Newcomers: Josie Kroll, Ellie Spanhook, Hannah Parker, Katie Sell

Summary: Although the 2022 season brought several strong team performances for Dunlap, the season's end still left something to be desired, according to coach Chris Friedman. "I thought the girls had a solid season last year," says Friedman. "We never seemed to get everyone on the same page though, most obvious at the end of the season. Washington surpassed us near the end of the season, and I do think it shook them. The state meet was not our best race. The mud and muck did not play to our strengths, but I'll credit them for racing with heart until the end of the season.

"Our goal every year is to win the conference meet and make the state meet. Truth be told, this team has aspirations beyond just qualifying for the state meet. But I always tell them to take the step in front of you, don't look two in front of you."

Dunlap's high hopes begin with the harrier role that Abby Tudeen has embraced, first by being the team's top runner at state (43rd), and then earning her first all-state medal in the 3200 in 2A running 11:03. Tudeen is a clear candidate to continuing competing for all-state honors this year. Her classmate Kate Robertson, who stayed close with Tudeen throughout last fall, will hope to replicate that and become a second-all state caliber runner for Dunlap. Can Abbie Gleason do the same? Gleason was 60th last year and plays soccer with Robertson-Williams hope the competitive toughness of these two will make for a strong top three for Dunlap.

The group after these three includes Margot McNutt, Maggie Diefenthaler, Mia Williams, Dakota Rousseau, and Claire Sack. Williams and Sack made the group's top seven in their freshman year in 2022, with Sack running 12:33 and 5:56 for a good track season. With a strong feeder program as well, Dunlap hopes to add a couple of impact freshmen that will lengthen the varsity lineup for the Eagles. 

Head Coach: Mike Garber
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 9th place
Key Returners: Rachael Behrens (Jr.), Ashlyn Chopra (So.), Ava Gorris (Sr.), Lydia Gurnsey (Sr.), Ally Knudson (So.), Kamryn Robbins (Jr.), Delaney Kyes (Jr.), Madi Iwanicki (Sr)
Key Newcomers: Ali Londrigan, Brenna Sloman, Sophie Rentmeister, Aubrey Kinkelaar, Preslie Daley, Addie Hamrick

Summary: The Glenwood Titans are a young, deep squad with an enormous amount of talent, just learning to harness that-last year they were on the precipice of reaching their potential. "The 2022-23 running seasons went really well for Glenwood High School," says coach Mike Garber. "It was a growth year for our girls and we learned a lot of lessons in both the Fall and Spring. We were excited to host the Cross Country Sectional at our home course and look forward to hopefully hosting for years to come. Track saw some major PRs, changes in mindset, and the achievement of many goals set early in the season. The girls are on an upswing currently. They plan on building on last year's performances this year."

With six of the seven varsity runners returning from last year and a host of athletes with strong track seasons, there are many candidates to fill out Glenwood's varsity roster. A good bet to start is Rachael Behrens, who took the mantle for the Titans in most races and produced the team's best 3200 in 11:22 in the spring. Alongside her are Ashlyn Chopra and Ava Gorrie, both nearly 18:00 runners and deep in the all-state mix. Ally Kundson, whose 5:20 was second best on the team to Behrens' 5:17, found consistency in the late part of the season and will be anywhere from the top returner to the #4 returner along with the other names. Madi Iwanicki and Delaney Kyes return state meet experience to the team this fall, and Lydia Gurnsey ran well in the spring and put herself in the mix as well. 

But the state must be on alert for the flux of freshman girls coming in for Glenwood, from the historically strong Glenwood MS team that ran away with the team title in the 3A IESA state meet. Six of those seven runners were 8th graders and join the high school team, so any one of these runners may make a major impact at the varsity level for Glenwood. Two in particular who had good track seasons were Brenna Sloman and Ali Londrigan. 

There is a huge amount of potential for the Titans this year, but coach Garber says they will continue to take it just one step at a time. "We are looking at setting short-term goals this season and hitting things week by week. There is a lot they want to achieve (and those coming in from our middle school team are ready to push to bigger things) but I want each week to be seen as a new challenge. Small goals first, big ones second."

Head Coach: Troy Walcott
Last Year's Finish: State Final- 3rd place
Key Returners: Sophia Ramirez (So.), Olivia Nordhielm (Jr.), Jayne Hermann (So.), Maddie James (So.), Allison Woolever (Jr.), Caylie Ahten (So.), Olivia Miklik (So.)

Summary: What Glenwood hopes to be this year, Washington was in 2022. An already strong cross country team was completely invigorated by an influx of freshmen from the dominant Washington Central JH team that ran away with the 3A IESA state title in 2021. This success passed over into the 2022 season at Washington HS: "Both boys and girls teams made it to state, with our girls taking home the third place trophy," says coach Troy Wolcott. "We want to continue on with last year's success. [It helps] that we are returning most of the top seven from both teams."

A very young top-7 with only one upperclassman in 2022 emphatically proved to the state that they belong at the top by placing all seven runners in the top 100 of the state meet, led by Sophia Ramirez who produced an all-state performance finishing 11th. Ramirez further developed into Washington's brightest star running 4:54 to finish 5th in the 3A 1600m. Ramirez is a clear title contender now entering her sophomore year.

That talented sophomore class includes Jaynee Hermann, Maddie James, Caylie Ahten, and Olivia Miklik. James and Hermann look like potential all-state runners, and that lack is enforced by juniors with state meet experience Allie Woolever and Olivia Nordheilm. Washington demonstrated the best depth at the state meet in 2022 and with so much returning, the Panthers will be locked into the state championship hunt all year long. This group will become only more dangerous as they gain experience and become more battle-tested against their strong Mid-Illini competition during the year. A showdown with Unity also awaits at the Metamora Runnin' Red invitational.