ST. JOSEPH – The expectations are different for Tom Pacey than for virtually every other area cross-country runner.
Most athletes enter meets hoping to do their best and finish among the leaders. Pacey, a senior at Paxton-Buckley-Loda, is expected to be the leader.
The logic is natural. Last year, he was the top underclassman at the Class 1A state meet.
And yet, to maintain his prominent position, Pacey must continue his training regimen, which means it's impossible for him to be well-rested and fresh for every race.
"The target is on his back," PBL coach John Overstreet said. "He's the one they go after."
Unlike a small meet Tuesday at Hoopeston – the day after he'd completed a 9-mile training run – no one could catch Pacey in Saturday's Spartan Classic.
He finished four seconds ahead of Monticello sophomore Steve Schroeder and six seconds in front of the third-place finisher. Pacey's time for the 2.95-mile course was 15:11.10.
"I didn't have too much left to give at the end," said Pacey, who took control in the final mile.
The street race – except for the final 200 meters on the track – featured a majority of the area's top competitors.
"This is a good test that shows where we're at in our sectional," Overstreet said.
Pacey knows he can't let up.
"A lot of local guys are picking it up this year," he said. "Anybody can step up. It proves you never know."
For Overstreet, however, there is one certainty. In a sport that most consider a showcase for individuals, Pacey is a supportive teammate.
"He's one of the biggest cheerleaders for the other kids," said Overstreet, who had reason to cheer himself after PBL moved up from 21st last year to ninth at the Spartan Classic.
"I was happy the way the team ran," he said.
No team ran better than Monticello's, a group of underclassmen who excelled. With three sophomores and two juniors leading the way, the Sages ran away with team honors in a field where 34 schools entered runners.
The split between Monticello's top finisher (Schroeder) and the No. 5 runner (junior Stu Bauler) was 65 seconds.
In between, Alex Furcich, Petey Biddle and Luke Zocher teamed up to give coach Jeff Butler's team five of the top 27 placers in a 194-runner field.
SJ-O was second, edging Uni High by one point for the runner-up team trophy.
In this week's state poll, Monticello was rated sixth, one spot behind SJ-O and three positions ahead of Uni High. Overall, six of the top 14-ranked boys' teams were entered in the Spartan Classic.
Ciara Pierce, who ran just two cross-country races as a freshman before her season was ended by an injury, was the area leader. The Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac sophomore was third in the 1.97-mile race, covering the distance in 11:27.63.
The other area competitors among the top 15 were Monticello junior Kelsey Hardimon (seventh) and SJ-O sophomore Chelsea Blaase (eighth).
SJ-O's team ran second to Decatur St. Teresa's.
The significance of the girls' race is nebulous to some coaches because it's not the 3-mile distance they'll race in the postseason and because most of the race is on streets.
O/A-P coach Tim Lee, though, said Pierce's finish has plenty of meaning.
"There's such good competition here (including defending state champion and meet winner Kelly Curran, from Bloomington Central Catholic) and this shows what she can do," Lee said. "Ciara did very well. We're pleased."
SJ-O's top five finishers ended within 75 seconds of one another in the 184-person race.
In the most recent 1A state poll, St. Teresa was fifth, SJ-O sixth and BCC seventh. They finished in that order Saturday, claiming the top three spots with third-rated Eureka taking fourth.