Isabella Keller celebrates her first title as she nears the finish line (Mike Woolery photo)
The first race of the day of a long journey of cross country races was met with excitement amid the frosty cold tundra at Detweiller Park.
Among the features was a highly anticipated battle between Isabella Keller (Fr., Effingham St. Anthony) and Mia Kotler (Jr., Chicago Latin) for the individual title. As for the race for the team trophy, #1 Tolono Unity would be fighting for their third straight title.
Right away from the gun, it was all business as Kotler, Keller, Kate Foltz (So., Tuscola), and Molly Farrell (So., Marshall) separated themselves from the rest of the field. This quartet not only dominated the Class A ranks this season but has been among the elite corps overall.
The freshman sensation Keller debuted on the legendary course in which her older sister Anna Sophia Keller won four straight titles from 2013-16. Could Isabella make it five titles in a row for the family?
Foltz, who ran the fastest true time on a cross country course, led the first mile in 5:22. This was a vast improvement from a weekend again where she struggled at the Decatur St. Teresa Sectional.
Keller's racing tactic was the opposite of her sister's, who was more of an attack-first-minded runner. The undefeated Kotler stayed up front and in a situation where she could deploy her strategy.
Coming out of the "Bermuda Triangle" was Kotler and Keller, almost ten seconds ahead of the friendly pack- 10:57s were their times through the second mile.
This was a great race of epic proportions, but there had to be a winner and a loser. Keller put on one final surge with less than a half mile to go, which broke Kotler's will. The winning time for Keller was 16:26, one of the fastest times for a runner in her debut. She was immediately greeted by her big sister's smile and subsequent hug.
Kotler took runner-up honors in a personal best 16:32. Foltz followed her and Farrell's amazing 16:45 and 16:57 performances.
Getting to the team title was a piece of cake for Unity, who had been almost flawless during the season, only losing to 2A #1 Chatham-Glenwood at an early season invite. The Rockets were led by Erica Woodard (Sr) and Mackenzie Pound (So) in 10th and 14th places. Moreover, the Rockets put all five scorers in the top 40 to score 109 points. Anna-Jonesboro took second with 157 points, and Peoria (Notre Dame) copped the third trophy, scoring 224 points. Unity completed their quest for a three-peat in what may be their best performance, averaging 18:18 per runner.