3A Girls Preseason Team Preview: #25 to #11 Explodes

2022 was a great time to be in a cross country meet as this shown at the Palatine Meet of Champions


2023 will have its own story to tell when it's time. Among the lot here are teams that either competed in last year's state championship or were on the fringe of one of the four sectionals dotted around the Land of Lincoln. Take a moment to see what each capsule had to say.


Head Coach/coaches: Anthony DeStephano/Kevin Conway
Last year's finish: State Championship- 16th place
Key returners: Abigail Jordan (Jr), Monika Urbaniak (Jr), Fatima Siddiqui (Sr), Jocelyn Cortes (So), Roxy Soto (Sr)
Newcomers: Ava Dugar, Jasmine Ayala
Outlook: It is going to be a monumental task for the Pirates coaching staff after six of the top runners from a year have graduated. Coach DeStephano will lean heavily on Abigail Jordan who earned all-state honors for the first time last year. "Abigail Jordan is coming into the season stronger than ever and excited to see her continue to improve her times this year", said DeStephano. Monika Urbaniak is another top returner that is expected to step up and produce low numbers each time out. In addition, there are others who produced a solid summer of training, and that will hold weight as the season progresses. 

Head Coach/coaches: Ryan Stapinski, Becky Cherry, Hanna Bansley
Last year's finish: Normal Sectional- 9th place
Key returners: Nadia Bowden (Sr), Claire Carter (Sr), Ava Dughetti (Sr) Nancy Flais (Sr), Ruby Hillegass
Newcomers: Brea Counihan, Mia Forystek
Outlook: "We have high expectations for this coming season. Nadia Bowden had an outstanding track season last year qualifying for State in the 800m," said Coach Stapinski. "She has been getting better and better each season. Nadia works extremely hard and has been a great leader for our girls. Claire Carter is a returning state qualifier for cross country and loves the sport and team. She brings a great attitude that keeps the team fun while working hard. I know Claire is looking for redemption during her senior year after being sick during the post-season last year."

Another key figure to watch for is Ava Dughetti who was the team's top runner at sectionals last season. According to Stapinski Dughetti's summer training went well and she is poised to have a breakout season. Also, keep an eye out for Nancy Flais and Ruby Hillegass as key returners. "They have a solid off-season of training and have done a great job organizing team bonding activities outside of the team," said Stapinski. "We're also excited to add freshmen Brea Counihan and Mia Forystek to our team. They will no doubt make an impact on our varsity team from the beginning of the season." Counihan is the Brea is the reigning 8th grade cross country state champion and Forystek won 8th grade state in the 800m and took second in the 1600m.

Head Coach/coaches: Matt Kaplan/Jason Monson, Brandy Swanson, Jimmy Jestus
Last year's finish: State Championship- 13th place
Key returners: Ava Allison (Sr), Cori Kilvinger (So), Aspen Maldonado (So), Gabrielle Sweeney (So), Maddie Stein (Jr), Ava Berardi (Jr), Mackenzie Billard (Jr), Izzy Ciesla (So)
Newcomers: Haley Rahman (Fr), Morgan Sauber (Fr)
Outlook: Patience will be a virtue for the Red Raiders who lose some major power in the former of its top three runners which included two Brittany and Bethany Burak. "This year's team will look different being that our top three runners have graduated," said Coach Kaplan. "But our team returns six girls from our top ten from last season," he added. 

According to Coach Kaplan, Ava Allison has done a great job of leading the troops in the off-season workouts. Expect Allison to have a great season as a result of her fruits of labor.

Emerging runners Aspen Maldonado and Gabby Sweeney gained post-season experience a year ago. The coaching staff believes they will be the key elements of success for the team.

"Cori Kilvinger had a great freshmen cross country season including her individual win at the FVC conference meet at the FS level and she had a great spring track season too," said Kaplan. "I expect her to make an immediate impact in our top five this season. There are many girls capable of being part of the top seven come post-season time so it'll be fun to watch everyone compete and see how good this group can be." 

Haley Rahman and Morgan Sauber will help strengthen the top seven even though they have yet to compete in a high school race. Both were talented middle-school distance runners who earned high IESA honors. 

Head Coach: Mark McCabe
Last year's finish: State Championship- 8th place
Key returners: Pola Dygon (Sr), Camden Griffin (Sr), Kennedy Boyd (Sr), Gabby Thanos (Jr), Katie Gilmartin (Sr)
Key newcomers: Lily Hodneland (So), Sam Guereca (So), Evelyn Skay (Fr), Ella Satre (Fr), Ally Furey (Fr)
Outlook: 2023 will be very a different year according to Coach McCabe. "We graduated some incredibly strong runners," said McCabe. "It will also be the first year we enter a season without one 'sure thing' performer." 

It is plausible that the Red Devilettes will have an all-state candidate by the season's end, but the main item on the menu will be teamwork and working from a pack formation. Gabby Thanos is back and healthy, she will work with Pola Dygon to form a tough 1-2 combo. McCabe believes his young guns will make some noise on the varsity side during the crunch time of the season.

Head Coach: John Burnside
Last year's finish: Hoffman Estates Sectional- 8th place
Key returners: Josie Cahill (Jr), Hannah Falk (Sr), Lauren Moutvic (Sr), Addison Melsher (Jr), Sadie Abbott (Jr), Eva Scarborough (Sr)
Newcomers: Nina Holroyd, Kayla Ritchie
Outlook: Getting to the state meet has been a mainstay for the Trevians program, but that came to a halt after a disappointing performance at sectionals. Part of the downfall was injuries and the Trevians suffered them at the worst time of the season. Coach Burnside's team put more emphasis on strength training during the spring track season and summer session. One residual was the 4x800 advancing to the state finals and almost medaling.

Josie Cahill was a top 75 finisher last fall in Peoria and followed things up on the track with a solid 5:08 1600m as well as competing in the 4x800.  Eva Scarborough was just as instrumental on the track. Moreover, several new runners will add depth and hopefully, that will put the Trevians back into the state final mix.

Head Coach/coaches: Tony Pena, Scott Plasier, Janine Wilkins, Bridgett Driscoll
Last year's finish: Waubonsie Valley Sectional- 10th place
Key returners: Lindsey Gerhardstein (So), Ava Giblin (Sr), Katie Roche (Sr), Lily Molloy (Sr), Faith Miller (Sr), Klaudia Sieczka (Sr)
Outlook: The ceiling is high for this program that emerged last year and performed well in the state's toughest sectional. Coach Pena believes that his experienced charges are highly motivated. "They had a great summer of training," he said. "I asked a lot of them this summer and they responded very well." Part of that response factor is Lindsey Gerhardstein who was a major bright spot in leading the team throughout last season. 

It would be notable to add that Faith Miller has improved in her second year in the sport and could be the #2 runner. Add in the trio of Ava Giblin, Lily Molloy, and Katie Roche, this group is going to give everything they got in earning a trip to the state meet in November.

Head Coach/coaches: Andy Derks/ Sam Barranco, Roxanne Hall, Emilie Hatzl
Last year's finish: State Championship- 28th place
Key returners: Elsie Czarniewski (Jr), Tessa Russo (So), Emaan Hussain (So), Kaitlyn Ward (Sr), Nora Rudakas (Sr), Sara Kramer (Sr), Keely Williams (Sr)
Newcomers: Marlie Czarniewski, Ayla Czarniewski, Korretta King, Ireland Hockman
Outlook: This is one team that we can automatically say will improve off of a last-place performance at the state meet. Why? The boys' coach Andy Derks takes over a group that has experience and depth. Coach Derks is one of the best coaches in the state and high-level success will translate to the girls.

"I've been very impressed with the ladies in our first summer together as we have been learning how to mesh the guys and girls' teams together," Derks said with glee. "They are eager to improve and have bought into everything we've been doing. I think we will be one of the most improved teams in the state, led by Elsie Czarniewski who is establishing herself as a strong frontrunner."

The quality of a good team is a solid mix of experience and depth and the Tigers have it. Emaan Hussain is expected to be in the top seven mix along with Kaitlyn Ward, Nora Rudakas, Keely Williams, and Sara Kramer.

Derks adds: "We also have a few incoming freshmen who will make an immediate impact. We know this is a journey, and we are working hard to establish a strong foundation of culture, training, and health for the whole person/team."

Head Coach/coaches: Mikayla Olsen, Aileen White 
Last year's finish: State Championship- 14th place
Key returners: Margaretha Grabske (Jr), Madeline Bialko (Jr), Helena Vincent (So), Catherine Hany (Sr), Emily Lifka (Sr), Elizabeth Waltz (So)
Newcomers: Alexa Izenstark, Sofia Donner, Catherine Smithson
Outlook: A huge graduation loss in the name of Anna Harden would devastate a lot of teams and trust this, the Huskies are going to feel it. However, there is some quality youth waiting in the wings to challenge tough holdovers Margaretha Grabske and Madeline Bialko. "They will elevate each other on and off the course," said Coach Olsen. 

Head Coach/coaches: Jorge Pichardo/Tim Wiltshire
Last year's finish: State Championship- 15th place
Key returners: Kylie Simpson (So), Allyson Niedfeldt (Sr), Isabelle Molitor (Sr), Isabella Trout (Jr), Kayla Tubbs (Sr), Lauren Frake (Sr)
Newcomers: Jordan Dimke, Layla Buckley, Brianna Whalen, Sophia Frommer
Outlook: It appears as though Coach Pichardo wasn't satisfied with a solid top-15 finish at last year's state finals. "We bring back a talented and experienced group this season," he said. "We were able to recruit a couple of girls from the track season, and we're excited to see what they can contribute to the program." There are three sub-18:30 performers led by the outstanding Kylie Simpson who ran 17:25 last year. She will be flanked by Allyson Niedfeldt and Isabelle Molitor.

Head Coach: Lisa Cook
Last year's finish: State Championship- 18th Place
Newcomers: Macy Dick (Fr) Maya Langel (Fr)
Coach Cook's take: Our team is going to feature some new faces this year in the top seven. In the past two years, we graduated several athletes who were in our top seven for their entire high school careers, so we have a lot of opportunities for new athletes to step in and contribute to the team in so many ways.

Morgan Dick returns as a multiple-time state qualifier in both cross country and track. Josslyn Gaona has had a tremendous summer and has been leading by example since last November. Our junior class has worked really well as a group throughout the past few years and is ready to step into the top 7 and some leadership roles as well.

Emma Berglund and Olivia Van Denend have the most varsity experience of the juniors, and they will be joined by several of their classmates this season.

Annie Schiltz and Mae Robinson have had great summers, and sophomores Julia Burney and Ashley Gumm have put in a lot of solid training as well.

Macy Dick will make an impact in her first season and looks forward to racing with her sister. All summer, our team has worked really well as a group, and we look forward to seeing how that translates to racing. We have big goals as a team, and we can't wait to get the season going in August!

Head Coach: ChrisJon Simon
Last year's finish: State Championship- 10th place
Key returners: Morgan Mackie (Sr)., Jane Lynch (Jr), Ana Kimball (Jr)
Newcomers: Erin Gibbons and Katie Mueller
Outlook: The Ramblers met expectations last year by finishing in the top 10. This year may be a little more difficult because of personnel losses. "The graduation of some critical athletes will challenge the team in a search for a solid top seven.," said Coach Simon. "The early season focus is to stay healthy and strong. The goal is to qualify for the state meet, which will require a renewed dedication to a team approach, and everyone contributes."

Jane Lynch enjoyed a strong track season and that should translate well this fall. Her teammate Morgan Mackie appears to be on the mend and could return back to her freshman form chart. If that happens, then a top-15 spotlight will be the Ramblers' destiny.

Head Coach|Coaches: Rob Harvey, Sarah Bikulcius-Smith
Last year's finish: Lake Park Sectional- 8th place
Key Returners: Taylor Artman (So), Jenna Bachara (Sr), Abby Barrett (So), Emily Fahrman (So), Ellie Flores (So), Eva Martin (So), Frida Martinez (Jr), Olivia Martinez (Sr), Sam Osegard (Jr), Haley Phillips (Sr), Nicole Poglitsch (Jr), Claire Siebert (Sr)
Coach Harvey's thoughts: We had a very successful 2023 track & field season and we used that positive momentum as a springboard into a very very good summer. Much of our summer was spent focusing on getting stronger and building our aerobic strength. We had an overwhelming turnout for our summer camps with almost 70 middle school and high school girls participating.

We will have a long-term season approach using every workout and race to build momentum. We will need every competitive opportunity and workout to reach our full potential. We have a great senior class...positive leadership should not be an issue for us. They have all stepped up to welcome our underclass athletes into the program. 

Head Coach/coach: Paul Hass / assistant coaches, Mark Staron, Annie Klusak, Kelly Hass
Last year's finish: Waubonsie Valley Sectional- 9th place
Key returners: Maggie Hibbard (Sr), Moira Ahern (Sr), Sophie Mitra (Sr), Maddie Morgan (Sr), Elayna Boeh (Sr), senior Mia Yob (Sr), Maia Kaslewicz (Jr), Alexa Novak (So), Ella Demchinski (So), Mackenzie Gilbert (So), Madeline Murin (So).
Coach Hass comments: Last year Maggie Hibbard emerged as a clear #1runner for our team, placing 12th at the highly competitive West Suburban Silver Conference meet and 52nd at the 3A State meet.

This year's team success largely depends upon pack running and bringing that pack close to Maggie. It will, no doubt, be a season-long challenge to do just that. Overall, the girls had a very good attendance record at our summer camp and, consequently, attained a healthy amount of mileage in the past few months.

With the annual challenge of competing in the extremely talented West Suburban Silver Conference and a competitive invitational schedule, the girls will be tested early and often. The exciting part of our season will be seeing who steps up to seize the six spots on the varsity level behind Maggie.

We have a solid and talented mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen who are ready to accept that challenge. It is entirely possible that the top seven lineup at the beginning of the season looks different than our lineup in the state series. We are eager to see who emerges to fill the varsity slots, and this may remain fluid from week to week. If we continue to focus on improving every day in practice and working together as a team, this squad is talented enough to enjoy a successful state series and be among the teams that qualify for state, regardless of the sectional we are assigned.

Head Coach/coaches: Chad Hillman, Samantha Miller
Last year's finish: Waubonsie Valley Sectional- 8th place
Key returners: Madeline Cassidy (So), Alli Olson (Sr), Madison Wnek (Jr), Olivia Gebhardt (Jr), Chloe Kammes (So), Sasha Semanision (Jr), Taylor Schaffer (Jr)
Newcomers: Avery Hacker, Gwendolyn Krodel, Claire Deppe
Coach Hillman's thoughts:  The girls are anxious to get back on the race course to be the best they can be. The returning girls remember how last season ended for them, and are doing the work necessary to be the best they can be. We have a nice balance of returning varsity racers and newcomers that will provide for an exciting season of putting it all together to become a TEAM.

Head Coach/coaches: Chris Muth, Lauren Vriezen, Tori Gatlin, Kerry Stillmunkes, Brian Long
Last year's finish: State Championship- 9th place 
Key returners: Sophia Keeler (Jr), Ashley Schraeder (So), Allegra Triner (Sr), Christy Green (Jr), Anita Werderich (Jr) 
Newcomers: Annabelle Reeder, Lilli Camargo, Mia Evans, Nikki Krause, Bella Edwards
Outlook: It was another top-10 finish for the Foxes last year. They could be just as good or even better despite Ava Galloway for the season. Galloway had hip surgery in June. 
Coach Muth's thoughts:  We are a work in progress, with a lot of hard-working girls. We have one senior, currently in our top 10 so this is a big year of teaching and learning with what we hope is a lot of progress.

They have had a very solid consistent summer of training. We aren't at the same level as teams of the past, but I believe this group will outperform expectations at the end of the season. I can see a very solid talent level with this group, but we have to develop the confidence, big meet experience, and willingness to risk failure to experience the success we want. I'm excited to see how this year plays out and our goal is to always match or exceed last year's results, even with some big graduations from the team.