With a history and tradition that dates back to 1946, the Illinois High School Association State Cross Country meet has had more than its share of exciting moments and epic racing, and the perfect conditions that greeted the runners Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria promised more of the same for the event’s 71st edition.
Sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s set the stage for personal bests throughout the field, and many runners – especially those up front – responded with the fastest races of their careers.
In any sport at any level, experience tends to favor the people who have been there before, and that was the case Saturday, as many of the runners and teams that found success were very familiar with the pressure that comes with competing at the highest level on the historic three-mile course.
Here are a few highlights:
Class 1A: Effingham St. Anthony senior Anna Sophia Keller etched her name in the record books as she joined Dana Miroballi of Wheeling (1984-87) and Carthage’s Katelyn Bastert (2003-06) as the only runners to win four straight individual titles. The consistent Keller, whose state championship-winning times fell all between 16:21-16:35, has now won a combined nine individual state titles between cross country and track. In the team standings, St. Joseph-Ogden won its second championship in three years while Unity, the 2015 champions, finished second.
With less than a mile to go, Athens junior Wyatt McIntyre held a comfortable lead over senior Brayden Hamblin of Rock Falls, but Hamblin started chipping away at that lead before he finally passed McIntyre with about 200 meters to go to win the race in 14:23. Hamblin’s time is the fourth-fastest in Class 1A history. Though its top finisher was in 20th place, Elgin’s Harvest Christian Academy used pack running to capture its first title in school history, besting Freeburg by nine points.
Class 2A: It was already a memorable day for the Aho family as triplets Jack, Matt and Elizabeth (who finished 60th in the girls’ Class 2A race) all toed the line for Grayslake Central, and it was made even more special as Jack won his second straight individual title in a time of 14:12 – a record for Class 2A — and Matt came home in second place 15 seconds back. Despite the Aho brothers hanging two low numbers towards the team score, the Rams’ bid for a second consecutive team title was thwarted by Mahomet-Seymour, which put all five of its scoring runners in the top 21 to score just 58 points. The Bulldogs won their first team title after finishing as the runner-up the last two years.
It was an historic day for the Belvidere North girls’ program as the Thunder scored 61 points to get past Dunlap and capture the first girls’ team title in school history. Jenna Lutzow won the first individual title for North with a 10-second win over Rockford Boylan senior Delaney Appino, while Lutzow’s teammates Madison Diercks and Gianna Sagona – both freshman – finished fourth and 11th respectively to help with the Thunders’ low team score. Three of the five scoring runners for North were freshman, are the Thunder setting themselves up for a dominant run?
Class 3A: The girls’ race featured a repeat of the boys’ 2A race as Glenbard West teammates Katelynne Hart and Lindsey Payne finished 1-2. Hart, a freshman who came into the state final having won both of her regional and sectional races, became the first freshman to ever win at the 3A level, while Payne finished as the runner-up for the second straight year. Naperville North put three runners in the Top 20 to score 111 points and capture their seventh state team title, tying Palatine for the second-most championships in state history. Yorkville, which had won five straight Class 2A championships, scored 130 points to finish second in its first year of Class 3A competition.
The best race of the day was saved for last as the 3A boys ran what could be considered the fastest race in state history, as the top five finishers all came in under 14:15 – which had only been done 25 times before in the previous 70 years – and 175 runners broke 16 minutes. The lead pack went through the first mile in 4:38, and Minooka senior Soren Knudsen ran the final mile in 4:33 to win the race in 14:02, the 10th-fastest time in state history, with Danny Kilrea of LaGrange Lyons coming in second in 14:08 and Dylan Jacobs of Orland Park-Sandburg finished third in 14:10. Naperville Neuqua Valley and Downers Grove North both had the same split time between its five scorers – 23 seconds – but Neuqua got its five runners in before North did and won the team title with 83 points. The Wildcats, who have advanced to the state finals for 16 straight years, won their third team title overall and first since 2009.
The IHSA has long touted its state cross country meet as the best in the country, and most years it lives up to that billing. Saturday it delivered as usual, and then some, as this state meet will be one cross country fans will be talking about for a long time.