PAXTON — Saturday was a day of firsts for Nick Hess and Alyssa Pridemore.
Hess, from St. Thomas More, and Pridemore, from St. Joseph-Ogden, were individual winners in Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s 15-school Class 1A cross-country regional.
The two underclassmen led their respective schools to first place in the team competition. The regional championship marked the first in school history for the Sabers’ boys’ program.
To cap off the festivities, Hess and Pridemore were first-time invitational winners this season.
“I was tired of getting second,” Hess said. “It has happened more than often.”
He outstepped his closest pursuer, Schlarman senior Jesse Hahne, by 13 seconds. Hess’ 3-mile time was 15 minutes, 49.9 seconds.
Pridemore’s win came in a meet where she hadn’t tapered.
“It’s about time I got first,” Pridemore said, “but I didn’t think I was ready for it.”
Her 3-mile time was 19:14.6. Runner-up Theresa Welle, from St. Thomas More, was timed in 19:58.0.
For Hess and his teammates — who are collectively ranked No. 1 statewide — the regional was a statement race. St. Thomas More had four of the top five finishers and ended with a team score of 20.
A perfect score in cross-country is 15.
“This is the first part of the state season, and we wanted to show we deserve the No. 1 ranking,” Hess said, “and if you want it, you’ll have to take it from us. What I wanted was to put an exclamation mark out there for myself and the rest of the team.”
Sean Kelley was third, Jacob Helfrich fourth and Sam Powers fifth in a field of 94 finishers. Their split was 34 seconds.
“To win a regional in this area is an honor,” STM coach David Behm said. “It’s a tough regional. What I want is for us to continue running at our best.”
Out of respect for Hahne, Hess made certain he opened some distance in the second mile.
“Jesse is a phenomenal runner and a great guy, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t give him enough room to catch me in the last mile,” Hess said.
SJ-O edged Unity by a point for second place. The Spartans prevailed when their No. 5 runner, Matt Knipfer, finished one second in front of Unity’s fifth runner, Robbie Decker. Overall, they were 25th and 26th, respectively.
“Our primary goal was to advance, and we took care of that,” SJ-O coach Jim Acklin said.
Drew Knipfer was the Spartans’ leader, finishing 13th. The split between SJ-O’s first and seventh runners was 62 seconds.
Also happy to move on was Schlarman’s Hahne.
“It’s all about surviving,” Schlarman coach Tyler Overstreet said. “That’s all that matters. He was second here last year, seventh at the sectionals and fifth at state. He knows you’ve got to run these races smart.”
The top seven teams and the top five runners not on advancing teams all qualified for next Saturday’s Effingham St. Anthony Sectional.
SJ-O extended its streak of consecutive regional crowns to six, thanks to four Spartans placing among the top nine.
Following Pridemore were Abby Gawthorp (third), Abby Fisher (seventh) and Jessica Kassuelke (ninth). The Nos. 2-4 runners were timed within 36 seconds.
“They looked physically strong,” first-year SJ-O coach Kristin Allen said.
Pridemore was as pleased by her teammates’ showing as her own.
“We’ve been doing well, but not everyone has had a good race on the same day,” Pridemore said. “We needed a race where every person had a good race the same day, and we got it.”
Allen said Pridemore had a grueling week of workouts and ran the equivalent of an 18:05 time for 3 miles Monday.
“That’s when she started believing,” Allen said.
Runner-up Welle helped the Sabers to a second-place team finish, three points ahead of Unity.
“Today wasn’t a day to kill myself,” Welle said. “Next week is when we need to be fast. Pridemore was amazing. She was on it today.”
The Sabers consider themselves a bubble team at sectionals, where only five schools secure state berths.
“It would be a first, qualifying as a team,” Welle said. “It would be so exciting to be there with our boys.”
Unity’s Taylor Renfroe was fourth, and STM’s Regan Kelley — who played in the Sangamon Valley Conference volleyball tournament later Saturday — was fifth.
Class 2A at Taylorville
Mahomet-Seymour’s state-ranked boys’ team had three of the top five runners and captured its fourth regional title in the past seven years under coach Neal Garrison. Junior Forrest Smoes was the second-place individual. Teammates Jonathan Schaap and Ethan Russell were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Also breaking into the top five was Danville junior Johnny Leverenz, who was third.
Central tied Mattoon for third and joined Centennial and Danville as sectional qualifiers. Also moving on was Urbana freshman Carter Huff, 35th overall.
The girls’ meet came down to a race between freshmen, and Danville’s Mercedes Elliott outkicked M-S’ Lauren Whitehouse. Elliott’s time was 18:30.14.
Two other area underclassmen placed among the leaders. Central junior Hannah Wright was third, and Centennial sophomore Rebecca Kaefring was fourth.
Mattoon beat Central for team honors. M-S was third. Also sending a full team to sectionals was fourth-place Centennial. Danville’s Emily Cleveland (16th) and Urbana’s Fiona Munro (19th) were among the individual sectional qualifiers.
Class 1A at Carlinville
Monticello’s Andrew Hanselman placed fourth and helped the Sages qualify for sectionals with a third-place team finish in the boys’ 2.99-mile race. Sullivan/Okaw Valley also advanced its full team.
Among the individual qualifiers was Arthur-Lovington’s Jeffery Earnst, who finished 10th.
Sages Jesse Galaway and Matt Norvell were 11th and 13th, respectively.
Hannah Houska was the first non-St. Teresa runner in the girls’ race, ending fifth and helping the Sages qualify for sectionals. Monticello was second to St. Teresa in the team standings.
Monticello’s Emily Foley, Madison Tutich and Maggie Utgaard were 11th, 12th and 13th and entered the chute within eight seconds of one another.
Also moving on were three Clinton runners and Sullivan’s entire team.
Prairie Central’s boys were second and the girls third, both qualifying for sectionals. The top area runner was PC’s Brandon Allsup, fifth in the boys’ race. The Hawks’ top girl was Liz Walter, sixth.