The last two years have been banner ones for area cross-country programs.
In 2011, both the boys’ and girls’ Class 1A individual state champions were area athletes. Monticello’s Steve Schroeder won the boys’ 3-mile race and St. Joseph-Ogden’s Chelsea Blaase was the girls’ 3-mile champ. On the team side, Unity boys’ were the 1A runners-up.
In 2012, St. Thomas More’s boys’ team captured the state championship, led by third-place finishing Nick Hess. On the girls’ side, Monticello was the 1A second-place finisher.
Early indications are that the 2013 season will feature more of the same.
A statewide website devoted to running lists three area boys’ teams among the preseason’s top seven in 1A. St. Thomas More was placed in the No. 2 position. Unity is ranked sixth and Monticello seventh.
In the girls’ division, three area teams are ranked among the top six, led by Monticello, the top-rated team, according to il.milesplit.com. St. Joseph-Ogden is ranked fourth and Unity sixth.
The website is lavish in its recognition of area individuals, too.
Hess is regarded as the top-ranked 1A boy. Tuscola junior Eric Ponder is ranked seventh. Two other Sabers are listed among the top 25, Sam Powers at 19th and Brendan Remington at 24th.
In Class 2A, Danville’s Johnny Leverenz — a Class 3A all-stater as a junior — is ranked second in 2A, five spots ahead of Mahomet-Seymour senior Forrest Smoes.
Among girls, Urbana Uni High freshman Annemarie Michael — who had big-time success as a middle-school runner — is ranked fifth among all Class 1A individuals. Jess Clarke, a senior from LeRoy who runs with the Tri-Valley co-op, is ranked 14th. Monticello senior teammates Hannah Houska and Emily Foley are listed at 17th and 24th, respectively.
In 2A, Danville sophomore Mercedes Elliott was listed as an honorable mention selection.
Michael was the IESA cross-country state runner-up last fall and followed with a first-place state finish in track for the 800 meters (including a state record time) and a second-place effort in the 1,600.
Sages ready for breakthrough
Monticello ran an all-underclass girls’ lineup last year at state and the team’s five scoring runners were all timed in 18 minutes, 55 seconds or less. The split between the top five was 48 seconds.
“They’ve been to the puppet show and they’ve seen the strings,” first-year Monticello coach David Remmert said. “They know what it takes to compete at a certain level.”
The leader is Hannah Houska, a two-time all-stater, but another senior, Emily Foley, and junior Maddie Tutich are hot on her heels.
“The girls’ team, returning all of the girls making up our second-place team from a year ago, is especially exciting,” Remmert said.
Maggie Utgaard and Audrey Duncan are others who helped the Sages to their highest state finish in November.
Sabers not backing down
St. Thomas More’s trio of state-ranked runners is a group that coach David Behm expects to see out front.
“Our front end (runners) should be one of the toughest in the state,” Behm said.
It’s what will be behind frontrunners Nick Hess, Sam Powers and Brendan Remington that the coach finds especially appealing.
“Our Nos. 4 through 9 guys have really put in the work and look pretty good going into the season,” Behm said. “With six or seven guys fighting for a varsity spot, our No. 4 and 5 runners could end up very similar to last year’s places and times.”
Among those seeking berths in the top seven are Connor Aubry, Jack Bolger, David Horn, George Pennacchi and Josh Stricklin.
The Sabers have their largest turnout (18 boys) during Behm’s tenure. Newcomers include Brendan Bohac, a junior transfer who has attended Mahomet-Seymour and Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin and is new to the distance sport.
Two sophomores who participate in other sports are running cross-country for the first time in high school, wrestler Matt Cinnamon and soccer player Matthew Jones. Cinnamon ran cross-country at St. Mathew and Jones was on the track and field team last spring.
Powers is one that Behm said was “the catalyst to our summer running program and looks stronger than I have ever seen him.”
Going down Memory Lane
When Greg Walters evaluates his current Centennial cross-country team, it brings him memories of the past.
“We have much more depth than we’ve had since 2003-04, when we won back-to-back conference titles,” Walters said.
There’s also a commitment that hasn’t been present for some time. The team’s top two runners, senior Reis DeSantis and junior Alec Shedelbower, each logged more than 500 training miles during the summer.
Freshmen standouts Carter Ware and Alex Miller were in the 400-mile range.
“In 30 years, I’ve never had incoming freshmen record this kind of mileage,” Walters said. “Haven’t had the varsity do this kind of work since the 2003-04 group either. We had a great summer.”
Other lettermen being counted on as contributors are Sam Blissett, Dominic Corso, Evan Peirce and Riley Skube.
The ‘Wright’ way
Champaign Central senior Hannah Wright has been an individual state-qualifier for three consecutive years. She also holds the school’s 3-mile cross-country record, 18 minutes, 47 seconds. In preparation for her final prep season, Wright ran more than 400 miles in the off-season.
Bismarck-Henning’s Maddie Winkler is a volleyball-playing cross-country runner. When she is available, the Blue Devils will have enough runners to be scored as a team. ... Central’s roster includes freshmen twins Faith and Hope Llewellyn, who are also BMX riders. ... School records could fall at Danville and Mahomet-Seymour. Danville’s 3-mile mark (14:32) has stood since 2002, when Ricky Alvarez was a senior. The M-S record of 14:41 has lasted since 1974 when Mark Johnson was a senior. Danville’s Johnny Leverenz and M-S’ Forrest Smoes are runners within reach of records in their senior years. ... At Prairie Central, sophomore Caitlyn Ifft has tied the school record (19:44) set in 2011 by Sam Groce. ... Few area girls ran as many miles this summer as LeRoy’s Jess Clarke, who competes with the Tri-Valley co-op. She logged nearly 500 miles.
Nifty 50s: Runners to watch
NAME SCHOOL YR.
Brandon Allsup Prairie Central Sr.
Nimesh Avashia Central Sr.
Lane Avenatti G-RF/Chrisman So.
Wyatt Avenatti G-RF/Chrisman Sr.
Joe Baker Unity Sr.
Sawyer Biddle Monticello Sr.
Braydon Crozier SJ-O Sr.
Jon Davis Oakwood/A-P So.
Reis DeSantis Centennial Sr.
John Evans Tuscola Sr.
Justin Furcich Monticello Jr.
Jesse Galaway Monticello Sr.
Kyle Gateley Unity Sr.
Nick Godsell Unity Sr.
Brennan Guido SJ-O So.
George Gunter Uni High Sr.
Alex Harvey Sullivan/OV So.
Tyler Hemmen A-O Jr.
Nick Hess STM Sr.
Ashton Hyatt Central So.
Carter Huff Urbana So.
Caleb Hummer Danville Jr.
Grant Iverson PBL Sr.
Isaac Kasten Central Jr.
Alex Keeble M-S So.
Matt Knipfer SJ-O So.
Ethan Lehman Sullivan/OV So.
John Leverenz Danville Sr.
Noah McClurg Clinton Jr.
Matt Norvell Monticello Jr.
Eric Ponder Tuscola Jr.
Evan Peirce Centennial Jr.
Nick Porter PBL So.
Sam Powers STM Sr.
Brendan Remington STM Sr.
Arch Robison Uni High Sr.
Tyler Rubarts PBL Sr.
Ethan Russell M-S Sr.
Andy Savage B-H Jr.
Alec Shedelbower Centennial Jr.
Tristan Smith A-O Sr.
Forrest Smoes M-S Sr.
Matt Stock Hoopeston Area Jr.
Corey Thompsen SJ-O Sr.
Carter Ware Centennial Fr.
Andrew Warnes Unity So.
Carl Way Danville So.
Corey White Central Sr.
Austin Woodard Unity So.
Jonny Yockey Uni High Sr.
NAME SCHOOL YR.
Cassidy Baugh G-RF/Chrisman So.
Audrey Bloomquist PBL So.
Hannah Bray Hoopeston Area Jr.
Maddie Brown Hoopeston Area Jr.
Jess Clarke Tri-Valley/LeRoy Sr.
Emily Cleveland Danville Jr.
Aleah Combs Rantoul Jr.
Annie Crumbaugh T-V/LeRoy Jr.
Allison Duncan B-H Fr.
Audrey Duncan Monticello Jr.
Mercedes Elliott Danville So.
Abby Fisher SJ-O Jr.
Emily Foley Monticello Sr.
Abby Gawthorp SJ-O So.
Gabby Greaser Centennial So.
Heather Halverson T-V/LeRoy Sr.
Randa Harshbarger STM Sr.
Emma Henderson Tuscola Fr.
Hannah Houska Monticello Sr.
Raeann Huffman Clinton Jr.
Caitlyn Ifft Prairie Central So.
Rebecca Kaefring Centennial Jr.
Eliza Kramer STM Fr.
Paige Kuester PBL Sr.
Sarah Larson Schlarman Jr.
Chloe Lessaris Central Sr.
Nicole Mannen Tuscola Sr.
Megan McKee G-RF/Chrisman Sr.
Cassie Meyer A-O Fr.
Olivia Meyer M-S Fr.
Annemarie Michael Uni High Fr.
Hannah Miles Clinton Sr.
Abigail Nielsen M-S Sr.
Cadisen Nuzzo Sullivan/OV So.
Carlin Nuzzo Sullivan/OV So.
Isabelle Pommier M-S Sr.
Alyssa Pridemore SJ-O Sr.
Taylor Renfroe Unity So.
Karsen Root Hoopeston Area Fr.
Laura Seiler Unity Sr.
Hannah Shinew Central So.
Caylin Smith Danville Jr.
Keely Smith SJ-O Fr.
Ha-il Son Uni High Fr.
Maddie Tutich Monticello Jr.
Maggie Utgaard Monticello Jr.
Liz Walter Prairie Central Sr.
Julia Welle STM Sr.
Lauren Whitehouse M-S So.
Hannah Wright Central Sr.
N-G Top 10: Boys
1. St. Thomas More Ranked second in state preseason Class 1A poll
2. Unity Ranked sixth in state preseason Class 1A poll
3. Mahomet-Seymour Five of top seven from 2 regional championship team return
4. Monticello Ranked seventh in state preseason Class 1A poll
5. Champaign Central Twelve runners contending for sports among top seven
6. St. Joseph-Ogden Ranked 15th in state preseason Class 1A poll
7. Centennial Depth an asset for Chargers
8. Urbana Uni High Honorable mention in state preseason Class 1A poll
9. Danville Top two runners as strong as any area 2A team
10. Paxton-Buckley-Loda Honorable mention in state preseason Class 1A poll
N-G Top 10: Girls
1. Monticello Ranked first in state preseason Class 1A poll
2. St. Joseph-Ogden Ranked fourth in state preseason Class 1A poll
3. Unity Ranked sixth in state preseason Class 1A poll
4. Mahomet-Seymour Three freshmen projected among top seven
5. Tri-Valley/LeRoy Ranked ninth in state preseason Class 1A poll
6. Champaign Central Team leaders logged more than 400 summer miles
7. St. Thomas More Ranked 15th in state preseason Class 1A poll
8. Urbana Uni High Honorable mention in state preseason Class 1A poll
9. Centennial Ten of 11 squad members are juniors or sophomores
10. G-RF/Chrisman First time fielding a girls’ team in several years