Despite a tough fourth place at conference, Kern looks to be the favorite in 3A this season with his two major invitational victories. He is the number one returner and has the fastest time in the state regardless of classification. Kern's late surge tactics have proven to be simply deadly on the cross country course, and even frontrunners with crazy paces have typically been unable to shake Kern from pursuit. Kern likely will have his eye on the backs of the Lyons runners, especially after finished fourth in a grind-it-out race on Lyons' campus at conference. This is certainly now a little more of a wide open individual race but Kern has to be the safest bet among the whole bunch.
Lyons has the incredible luxury of two legitimate state championship contenders, and Zona appears to be slightly more likely to finish ahead although the gap is very small. Zona has been considerably consistent the entire season, however, and sports the second fastest time of the season with a 14:22 at Peoria behind Kern. Vona beat Soren Knudsen to win First to the Finish and has 2nds at WSC-Silver, Culver Academies, Lions Pride, Peoria and Portage. Zona is primarily a middle distance runner in the spring, which makes his amazing success this fall particuarly intriguing, and also raises thought about how his speed will factor into his chances to compete against Kern, Kilrea, Griffith, etc. Unlike Kilrea, he will not have next year to improve on this years finish... expect Zona to be targeting first all the way.
Griffith showed he belongs in the title conversation early on by duking it out with familiar names Dylan Jacobs (and winning at Richard Spring) and Charlie Kern (losing by just a couple tenths of a second). Griffith, the North Suburban champion, has not be unleashed the last few weeks, and instead has run in lockstep with his brother and with Matt Pereira. As Lake Zurich begins to be tested on the team level once again beginning at sectionals, we will see Griffith running for the win once again. Along with Soren Knudsen and Vince Zona, Griffith appears to be one of only 3 runners in 3A to finish no lower than 2nd a single time thus far in the season.
When Danny Kilrea fought pouring rain and sloshed to a runner up spot at the Hinsdale sectional in 2015, it was evident that his competitiveness would be crucial for Lyons, and an outstanding season in 2016 has so far affirmed Kilrea's potential. Kilrea has traded spots with Vince Zona, and although the Vona held the head to head edge against Kilrea most of the season, Kilrea now has the extremely impressive title of Western Suburban Silver individual champion. Kilrea brings to the course much of what Irwin Loud is known to do: running hard from the gun and dismantling conservative tactics for opponents. Kilrea is a huge X-factor for the individual race, especially in juxtaposition to the sit and kick tactics we usually see from Charlie Kern. Kilrea is a good contender for the state title.
Last year, Soren Knudsen called me out for not including him among state title contenders in my state preview. This year, I have no choice but to put him up among the best because his mid to late season races have been phenomenal. Knudsen found himself outkicked for 2nd place at Hornet Red Devil and then First to the Finish, but has won every race since, and along with Jack Becker, has won the most races in Illinois. His best race thus far may be his victory under the lights at Naperville Twilight, were he stretched out the field and finished in a season best 14:40. Knudsen won the SPC title, as expected, and now will look to follow through expectations for regionals and sectionals before chasing the state title at Detweiller.
Evertsen continues to be consistently spectacular against the toughest competition in the state. Evertsen has finished no worse than 3rd even once this year among 3A runners and has a Hornet Red Devil invitational title to his name. Evertsen now has one last step to make before winning the state meet, and has to demonstrate that he can take down every big name in a race instead of most (he has also finished no higher than 3rd since Hornet-RD). Few runners have finished in the top 30 at state four years in a row but Evertsen has a good chance to lay claim to that incredible accomplishment (29th, 12th, 4th).
Reese Jordan is the biggest individual surprise of 3A in 2016. Jordan began the year very strong with a 4th place finish at Lions Pride and a runner-up in the Minooka Invite championship flight. He has only gotten better since then, with a fifth place at Palatine, a BLAZING fast 14:30 at Peoria and a conference individual title at CSL. Jordan's best 3 mile entering last year was 16:17, but now hopes to be the highest Maine South finisher at state (Jack Carpenter, 6th in 2013), as he already has the fastest time in school history at Peoria. Jordan has the talent to win the state championship.
Jacobs has fit nicely into the role of harrier for a much different Sandburg team from what we saw last year. He won the SWSC pre-season meet and Lions Pride the following week, and finished a narrow second to Griffith at Richard Spring. Jacobs was a notable omission from the SWSC conference meet, so we will keep an eye on his status moving forward.
Illinois cross country is best when Palatine is one of the top teams in the state, and you can thank Brian Leonard for helping his Pirates back into contention for a top 10 finish at Peoria in November. The MSL individual champion has broken 15 thrice and provided consistency throughout a healthy 2016 after a difficult, injury-ridden 2015 campaign. He finished top 5 at Hornet-Red Devil and Richard Spring, and was the ninth 3A finisher at his home invite. Leonard qualifies as a state title contender.
Make no mistake about it: Irwin Loud is going to be at the front of the pack at Detweiller this November. A very difficult end of season in 2015 led to a slightly disappointing track season and a slightly different Loud from the one we saw last year. Loud's lone victory was at Locktoberfest, but has finished 5th at Richard Spring and WSC-Silver, and his best time this year is 14:47 for 6th at Palatine. It is a far cry from his 14:20 performance at Peoria in 2015 but we fully expect Loud to compete for the state title in his competitive frontrunning fashion, one we have grown accustomed to the last 3+ years.
Matt Pereira's role on Lake Zurich's team has changed along with the complexion of their team. Although Brian Griffith may be the likely #1, Pereira is still one of the most experienced runners in the state and has proven himself numerous times at Detweiller (3rd in 2014, 5th in 2015). He rebounded from a less than stellar 29th at Richard Spring to finish 1st at a triangular and at Wheeling (barely over Brian Griffith), 16th at Palatine and 2nd at NSC. Matt Pereira will likely want to end his storied cross country career on a high note with a third consecutive top 5 finish at state.
Neuqua Valley's only weakness to begin the season appeared to be their lack of a frontunner. However, after a strong second place at Naperville Twilight, Neuqua elected to allow Jake McEneaney to run solo at DVC, which resulted in a dominant win for the conference championship. McEneaney will look to be challenged individually the next couple weeks before state, and will likely go ahead and break from the Wildcat pack to score the lowest possible score for Neuqua. Because he has run with the rest of his team's pack, we may not have seen what McEneaney is capable of, but the prospects of a strong, clear #1 runner is exciting for an already powerful Wildcat squad. His personal best is 14:49 from Naperville Twilight.
Jack Becker was just 400 meters from winning the Fox Valley individual title before collapsing and DNF'ing at Veterans' Acres. Despite this tough past weekend, Becker has shown fantastic potential and race dominance: only a course record at Warren from Jack Aho has kept Becker from winning FIVE invitationals in 2016, but his 4 is still the most in Illinois. Becker has not had the luxury of fast courses in Northern Illinois, so no worries... he blazed at 14:46 at Peoria for 8th place. Becker is certainly an individual to watch this November.
An extremely senior-heavy top 25 includes just one underclassman: Zach Kinne, future Neuqua harrier. However, for now, he is a key pack component and, more recently, the consistent #2 man. Kinne led his split squad at Peoria Central and ran 14:50, #2 on the team, and finished runner-up to Jake McEneaney at DVC. We may be seeing Kinne compete for the state championship the next two years, but for now, look for him to shoot for a top 10 spot at state alongside the rest of the Neuqua pack.
It can be difficult to break the Neuqua Valley pack into individuals because they have run so tightly as a pack in 2016. Jett has been a consistent top 3 man, however, and deserves individual accolades himself. His PR is a 14:55 from Naperville Twilight, where he finished fourth, and his third at DVC also indicates that he is one of the best Wildcat candidates to be all-state.
Do not let a fifth-place finish at CPL deceive you- Adams is one of the most emergent runners in 2016 and may still be the best runner from Chicago at the state meet. Adams won the Harvey Braus Invite by breaking his previous best by 35 seconds and then finished seventh at Palatine in 14:50. Jones has an uphill battle to qualify for state but Adams should be at the front of the pack at sectionals.
New Trier has found consistency in Warren Blood's performances this year: 10th at Hornet Red Devil, 10th at Palatine, ninth at First to the Finish, and second at the Central Suburban League meet. Blood has a shot at finishing in the top 5 at Niles West and should make a substantial improvement on his 44th place finish at state in 2015.
Hersey has been injury plagued but that has slowed down neither the Huskies nor frontrunner Jacob Krupa. Krupa won the Fenton Earlybird Invite and finished 11th at Palatine. Krupa's 3rd place at MSL shows he is prepared to frontrun, a necessary role to play for a Husky squad with outside hopes of chasing a trophy position.
A relatively disperse York pack has had to rely on the strength of its first three runners to finish at the top of large invitationals in 2016. MacGregor, a state qualifier in the 3200, has been possibly the most consistent Duke and a solid #2. He has finished top 15 twice at Peoria (including a 14:55 at Peoria Central), 13th at Palatine and then 6th at WSC for possibly his best finish of the season.
The Southwest Prairie runner-up from Oswego East kept Soren Knudsen's winning margin to just twelve seconds. Zangri has been a reliable low stick for a surprising team this year, finishing in the top 2 four times in 2016 (Charger, SPC, West Aurora, and Rich Dust). He has led a team that finished just one point behind ranked Minooka at SPC.
Neuqua Valley was denied a perfect score at conference by Ralph Papa at the DuPage Valley Conference meet. Papa quietly finished 7th at Hornet-Red Devil and 14th at Richard Spring, and has top 5's at Charger and St. Charles North, and hopes to be an individual qualifier out of Aurora.
Downers Grove North is fantastic this year, and Alec Danner is a major reason although his times do not put him in the top 25 of Illinois. He has consistently mixed it up with the rest of the star individuals in Western Suburban Silver, and is more likely than not to repeat his All-State performance from cross country last year. Remember, he is the ninth returner.
The Broncos' top runner has really come at strong at the end of this season. Laning moved from a 20th place finish at Palatine to 5th at Wheeling, and most recently a runner-up finish at MSL Conference, where he finished ahead of Hersey and Prospect's packs. Watch for Laning to continue to trend upwards.
Skucas is the second varsity runner remaining from the legendary 2015 Eagle team. Skucas has found himself alongside teammate Dylan Jacobs at a handful of meets, and brought home an individual title at the Southwest Suburban Conference meet this past weekend.
Lake Zurich has employed some pack running with Griffith, Brian Griffith and Pereira the last month of the season so it has been difficult to discern a noticeable difference in fitness between the top 3 Bears. Having said that, Kyle Griffith has improved throughout the course of the season and appears set to be the Bears' third all-state contender at Detweiller.