EAST PEORIA – Count the Mahomet-Seymour girls' cross-country team as fans of an expanded IHSA postseason.
After years of butting heads with far bigger schools in a two-class system, the Bulldogs finally are going head-to-head with rivals in their enrollment range.
When the numbers were added up Saturday from the Class 2A sectional at the Illinois Central College course, the third-place Bulldogs had stamped their ticket to state.
"Now that there are three classes, we have a great chance of being in the top five at state," M-S assistant coach Melody Smith said. "And we've never had that opportunity because we always had to compete with the Chicago schools."
Bulldog junior Amy Clawson is targeting a top-three finish at next Saturday's race in Peoria.
"It's going to be great to see what we can accomplish," she said. "I think we have a much bigger chance of actually bringing home a trophy this year."
Clawson was the Bulldogs' top sectional finisher, placing fifth in 18 minutes, 17.68 seconds on a soft and slippery course soaked by heavy rain one day earlier.
"It was a lot of fun," she said. "It felt like a cross-country race, running through the mud."
Teammate Brittany Bohn, a freshman, finished eighth in 18:28.91.
The Bulldogs will be joined at state by Urbana's Marissa Marrone, who qualified as an individual by placing 13th. The Tiger sophomore was clocked in 18:57.88.
"She went out tough and held her spot in the race," Urbana coach Renee Hunt said. "I was pretty proud of her."
Meghan Houk finished 28th in 19:34.39 for the Tigers.
Claire Tortorelli led 19th-place Centennial by placing 33rd (19:43.02).
In boys' cross-country
In his final shot at qualifying for state, Eric Simpson hit the bull's-eye.
The Centennial senior placed sixth at the Peoria Notre Dame Sectional in 15:49.80 to advance to next Saturday's Class 2A finals for the first time. Simpson barely missed a fifth-place finish, trailing Galesburg's Spencer Guerrero by 0.53 second.
"He ran a relatively conservative race," Chargers coach Greg Walters said. "He moved up and up and up, which is what you want to do. ... He was a little disappointed after it was all over and done with, but it was a good race and a good way to get to state."