Isabella Keller trugs through rough and tough conditions in her first Nike Cross Nationals experience
Portland, Ore- Overcast skies, mud, and rain are conditions usually associated with Nike Cross Nationals. This final season edition was no stranger to its familiar surroundings. For the Illinois faithful, the overall ending may not exactly be what the teams and individuals envisioned; however, it was a successful trip nonetheless.
For the boys, US#3 Herriman won the first team title for the state of Utah, tallying 83 points. Downers Grove North improved from 10th to 7th place, scoring 215 points. Plainfield North earned valuable experience for the future in its first appearance, placing 15th with 365 points.
The girls were similar to the boys, with solid finishes. At-large entrant Elmhurst York placed 12th with 311 points. Next was the regional champ Prospect, who plucked 330 points for 14th place, and first-time entrant Downers Grove North took 16th with 342 points.
The gents test drove the challenging Glendoveer Golf Course in the heart of urban Portland. At the outset, the Downers Grove North coaching brass thought their team was primed for a top-five finish if they were on all cylinders. But anything in the top eight range would suffice. It would be an uphill climb to crack into the top three against the nation's elite corps.
The Trojans pack hung tough together, hitting each kilometer checkpoint in the top 10. Their best showing was fifth at the second kilo with 183 points. The final verdict was an intense 27-second scoring split with Ryan Eddington (Sr.) and Grant Schroder (Jr.) leading the charge with raw finishes- 64th and 65th- 16:02.8 and 16:02.9.
Plainfield North treaded water the entire way, fighting to stay out of the basement and into the top 20. After a rough opening kilometer in which they were in 18th place, the Tigers improved and locked into the 15th spot for the final two kilometers. They ended with 365 points on the strength of Thomas Czerwinski's (So.) 72nd place in 16:07. The Tigers used a 47-second split to get the job done.
Individually, JoJo Jourdon of Olympus, Utah, took the crown in 15:16. Dylon Nalley (Sr., Marion) was the state's best placement in 27th. His journey to that point was uphill after starting in the 40s for the first mile. Nalley's time was 15:40. Aden Bandukwala (Sr., Hinsdale Central) put himself in a favorable position for the first kilometer, just under 3:01 and near the leaders. Bandukwala fought hard and finished a respectable 35th in 15:42.
The initial hope of any team in the top 10 was with Prospect, who had the momentum after winning the Midwest Regional. Notably, the southwest region was as dominant as region play has seen, with #1 Niwot CO and #2 Air Academy ready to duel. Then, Mountain Vista CO and Lone Peak CO were at-large entrants. For the first time in meet history, a team from Colorado won the title and swept the trophy spots.
The back-and-forth scenario between Prospect, York, and Downers Grove North was expected, and it played out one final time on the left coast. The Dukes used their usual pack-playing tactics to fight to stay inside the top 15. It wasn't until the last kilometer that York earned their best showing, taking 12th overall. Michaela Quinn (Sr.) led the way in 66th place (18:55).
Conversely, Prospect got off to a roaring start for the first two kilometers. The Knights were in the top eight and earned to be on their way to a finish similar to last year. Despite three top-100 finishes, Prospect fell to 14th overall in the final standings. Meg Peterson (So.) led the way in 59th place (18:45).
In their first appearance, Downers Grove North shook off the nerves of a bad start. The Trojans were sitting 20th of 22 teams for the race's first half. However, they were able to move up over the final two kilos and garner 16th place. Lily Eddington (So.) led the way with a 90th place finish (19:08).
Isabella Keller (Fr., Effingham St. Anthony) completed an excellent season, one of the best in state history, earning high All-American honors with a chilling 8th place finish in 17:43. Keller started patiently during the first two kilos in the 20s, working through the traffic and tough course conditions, she got within the top 10 with one kilometer to go. It was a sea of carnage for diminutive Keller, but she got the job done. Isabella topped her sister Anna Sophia Keller's best placement, a 15th-place All-American effort in 2016.