Illinek runners stroll into sectionals

DANVILLE – Alyssa Chambers had no intention of running in Saturday's Class 1A girls' regional cross-country meet at Kickapoo State Park.

So, she didn't. She walked.

The participation of the Judah Christian sophomore illustrated both the commendable willingness of an individual to help her team and the extreme folly the IHSA has created with its watered-down three-class state tournament series.

Chambers wasn't protesting about competing in a race where every individual qualified for next weekend's girls' sectional at Paxton, provided they finished the 3-mile course.

A knee injury has prevented Chambers from running for three weeks and she accompanied her team to the regional only to be a supportive cheerleader. When Judah coach Emily Edwards went to meet officials to withdraw her squad from the team portion of the meet because of a lack of runners, she learned that if Chambers completed the course – no matter how long it took – the Tribe would advance to the sectional because the top five schools automatically move on and Judah would be the fifth school with a full team.

She left the decision up to Chambers.

"I asked everybody if they wanted to go to sectional," she said.

When the response was affirmative, she set forth one foot at a time.

Leaving her sweat pants on, she finished in 53 minutes, 26 seconds.

For comparison purposes, she was barely one-third of the way through when individual winner Michelle Mehnert of Urbana University High finished in 19:17.

The way the guidelines for the sport are set forth, Judah did nothing illegal or to circumvent the rules.

"It is what it is," Edwards said. "Because she satisfied the requirements, more of us are going to sectionals than if she didn't walk the course."

Ironically, at full strength, Chambers is one of Judah's top two runners.

Coaches and runners alike agree the system that eliminates no one from the state series is flawed.

"It's a little annoying to have to run it," Mehnert said, "but it gets you warmed up for sectionals."

Jon Jamison – whose St. Joseph-Ogden teams swept the girls' and boys' team titles – agrees.

"In a way, it's almost like a wasted race," he said, "except there is still the team battle for the regional title."

SJ-O's girls totaled 28 points. Runner-up Uni High had 34.

Between the girls' and boys' meets at Kickapoo, 79 athletes finished and 75 extended their season.

"The regional used to mean something," Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac coach Tim Lee said. "I'm sure there will be some changes next year."

Meantime, Chambers will do her part again next week, if asked.

"If they need me, I'll walk it," she said.

Mehnert broke away from SJ-O's Hannah Hogan in the second mile and went on to a 23-second win.

"My strength lies in the back half of the race," Mehnert said.

O/A-P's Justin Jones was the runaway champion in the 44-runner boys' meet. He came in at 16:22, beating Uni High's Malcolm Taylor by 44 seconds.

The boys' race began 45 minutes after the gun sounded to start the girls. Jones had covered his first mile (5:09) more than three minutes before Chambers finished in the girls' race.

SJ-O had six of the top 10 boys, with third-place finisher Drew Blaase leading four consecutive Spartans into the chute.

The Spartans' top six runners finished within 33 seconds of one another. Blaase's time was 17:30.

"We don't have a front runner, so we have to have a pack," Jamison said. "We have seven runners who can match anyone's top five."

SJ-O's winning score was 27 points. Uni was second with 54.

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