Chart toppers: State cross-country storylines, courtesy Fred Kroner

Chart toppers: State cross-country storylines, courtesy Fred Kroner

In the running
St. Thomas More senior Nick Hess has a shot at a unique 4-for-4 performance.

In 2010, he was the top freshman finisher in the Class 1A boys’ state cross-country meet, placing 54th.

In 2011, he was the No. 1 sophomore placer in the 1A state finals, earning all-state accolades with a 19th-place performance.

In 2012, he was first among all 1A junior runners at state, winding up third and repeating as an all-stater.

On Saturday, Hess not only is seeking to become the fastest senior at the Detweiller Park course but also to become the Sabers’ first individual 3-mile state champion.

“He has worked very hard and will be ready to race at his best on Saturday,” STM coach David Behm said. “I think Nick has a great chance to race for the state title.”

For the first time in two years, he’ll run solo. Hess is the lone representative from the St. Thomas More team to qualify.

“Nick is very focused on what he has to do,” Behm said. “Nothing has changed for him.”

Hess’ sectional time was the second best from the five Class 1A meets. The state leader is someone he knows well.

Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac’s Jon Davis beat Hess by nine seconds at sectionals. When they went head-to-head at the regional meet, Hess prevailed by six seconds.

“Seeing Jon race well at sectionals was a bit surprising although he is loaded with talent and is a great kid,” Behm said. “I know he has been training very hard this season and will certainly be one of the top runners at the state meet.”

Last year at state, Davis was the quickest freshman in the 1A meet, winding up in 26th place.

Area making strides
Five girls’ teams advanced to state from last week’s Decatur St. Teresa Class 1A sectional. Each school was ranked among the top nine in the final state poll conducted by the Illinois Track and Cross-Country Coaches Association.

That poll listed St. Teresa first, Monticello second, St. Joseph-Ogden fourth, Unity sixth and Urbana Uni High ninth. At the sectional, the Spartans finished as the runners-up to St. Teresa, followed by Unity, the Sages and Uni High.

“I’ve learned that anything can happen and on any given Saturday,” Monticello coach David Remmert said. “We may do anything between winning and succumbing to the challenges of illness or injury. We can only worry about the things within our control, but on the right day, our girls can be very tough competitors.”

Monticello’s girls were the state runners-up last year, and the top five athletes from that group will compete Saturday at Detweiller Park: Hannah Houska, Emily Foley, Maggie Utgaard, Maddie Tutich and Audrey Duncan. Tutich has been slowed by a shin injury, but Remmert said, “She is determined to continue running.”

A season of firsts
Mahomet-Seymour’s boys’ team has competed in eight Saturday invitationals thus far. The Bulldogs have won team honors in seven, including a sweep of conference, regional and sectional meets the past three weeks.

Coach Neal Garrison’s squad will participate at state for the third year in a row. Senior Ethan Russell — who ranks fifth on the school’s all-time list for consecutive days run (217) — is the only three-time state-meet competitor on the current squad. Alex Keeble, James Williams and Jackson Powell were also on last year’s fifth-place Class 2A state team. Russell and Williams are the only seniors among the top seven on the state-bound squad.

Keeble has erased entries in the school record books, running the fastest time by an M-S sophomore at conference (15 minutes, 38 seconds), regional (15:29) and sectional (15:24).

“I am very pleased with how the boys both trained and raced this season,” Garrison said. “Some runners have the discipline to train hard. Some runners have the competitiveness to race hard. I am fortunate to have a group of runners that are able to do both.”

M-S was ranked second to Illiana Christian in the last state poll conducted by the ITCCCA. The sectional crown marked the first time in school history the school had accomplished that feat in back-to-back years.

Garrison is limited to using seven runners at state, even though he has a much larger contingent that has helped the team reach its pinnacle.

“This group has so much depth that we are having to leave a large group of excellent runners off the state-series team,” Garrison said. “Many hardworking runners on our team won’t get the honor to represent the team in the state-meet race that they were so much a part of creating.”

Leverenz chases another title
Danville senior Johnny Leverenz is seeking his second state title in less than a year. Last May, he won the Class 3A track and field state title in the 800 meters.

On Saturday, he’ll be among the contenders for the 2A cross-country state crown.
“Johnny is running as good as he has all season,” Danville coach Todd Orvis said. “I’m guessing that he could be anywhere from first to fifth. In order to win, he will have to beat the defending champ (Glenbard South’s John Wold), which will not be an easy task.”

Leverenz will run the Detweiller course for the third time this season. He is a two-time all-stater, placing ninth as a junior in 2A (when he was the third underclassman in the top 10) and 25th as a sophomore in 3A.

Orvis said the state-meet course is conducive to good times.

“The Detweiller course is suited for just about everyone,“ Orvis said, “a flat course with long straights provides fast times.”

Sorting it out
Three state trophies are available for the schools that have the best team finishes in Saturday’s state cross-country meets. Among the highly regarded area boys’ squads are Unity and Monticello, each of which achieved a No. 1 state ranking during the regular season.

The Rockets will run at Detweiller Park for the first time this year.

“I feel good about the position that we are in,” Unity coach Dike Stirrett said. “Our sectional was very competitive, in fact, one of the more competitive in the state, I think. Being in this area we have raced good competition all year, week after week, and have been pretty consistent. If we can get five good performances on the same day, then I think that we will be right up there with the top teams.”

Monticello captured regional and sectional titles, each week edging Unity by a four-point margin.

In evaluating those meets, Stirrett saw room for improvement.

“It seems that after both the regional and sectional, we had one or two kids who we felt didn’t run as close to their ability as we would like,” he said. “It’s not that they raced poorly, because they didn’t, it was just that they felt like they could have performed significantly better.”

Sophomore Andrew Warnes — the only Rocket who has never run the Detweiller Park course — was the team leader in both postseason races, finishing fifth in each meet.

St. Joseph-Ogden (tied for ninth) and Urbana Uni High (13th) are other area boys’ teams competing at state that were highly rated in the last ITCCCA poll. In that ranking, Monticello was second to Winnebago and Unity was third.

Class 1A boys’ qualifiers
(10 a.m. Saturday, Detweiller Park, East Peoria)
MONTICELLO — Sullivan Brawn, Sr.; Sawyer Biddle, Sr.; Justin Furcich, Jr.; Jesse Galaway, Sr.; Zach Mesplay, So.; Will Montgomery, Jr.; Matt Norvell, Jr.; coach: David Remmert

ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Braydon Crozier, Sr.; Austin Earp, So.; Matthew Knipfer, So.; Nate Phillips, So.; Nick Poff, Jr.; Ross Smetzer, So.; Corey Thompsen, Sr.; coach: Jason Retz

UNITY — Robert Decker, So.; Dawson Dodds, So.; Kyle Gateley, Sr.; Nick Godsell, Sr.; Jacob Ping, Sr.; Andrew Warnes, So.; Austin Woodard, So.; coach: Dike Stirrett

URBANA UNI HIGH — Marshall Allston-Yeagle, So.; George Gunter, Sr.; Ansel Higgs, Jr.; Bryan Hwu, Sr.; Arch Robison, Sr.; Vinay Shanbhag, Sr.; Justin Wang, So.; coach: Doug Mynatt

OAKWOOD/ARMSTRONG-POTOMAC — Jon Davis, So.; coach: Doug Robinson

PRAIRIE CENTRAL — Brandon Allsup, Sr.; coach: Scott McGuire

ST. THOMAS MORE — Nick Hess, Sr.; coach: David Behm

TUSCOLA — Eric Ponder, Jr.; coach: Kristi Paulson

Class 2A boys’ qualifiers
(Noon Saturday)
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Alex Keeble, So.; Gabe Pommier, Fr.; Jackson Powell, Jr.; Ethan Russell, Sr.; Andrew Walmer, Fr.; James Williams, Sr.; William Wolf, Jr.; coach: Neal Garrison

CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Corey White, Sr.; coach: Argie Johnson

DANVILLE — Johnny Leverenz, Sr.; coach: Todd Orvis

Class 1A girls’ qualifiers
(9 a.m. Saturday)
LeROY/TRI-VALLEY — Jess Clarke, Sr.; Annie Crumbaugh, Jr.; Ariel Foss, Jr.; Heather Halverson, Sr.; Vanessa Holliday, Jr.; Kate Saulcy, Jr.; Madison Wombles, Sr.; coach: Todd Schneider

MONTICELLO — Audrey Duncan, Jr.; Emily Foley, Sr.; Hannah Houska, Sr.; Sophie Remmert, So.; Meggie Schroeder, Fr.; Madison Tutich, Jr.; Maggie Utgaard, Jr.; coach: David Remmert

ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Abby Fisher, Jr.; Abby Gawthorp, So.; Jessica Kassuelke, Jr.; Emma Melchior, So.; Kambry Orcutt, So.; Alyssa Pridemore, Sr.; Keely Smith, Fr.; coach Kristin Zimmer Allen

UNITY — Nicole Bagwell, Fr.; Rhoda Brucker, Jr.; Sisay Eisenmenger, Jr.; Taylor Renfroe, So.; Laura Seiler, Sr.; Kaitlynn Stumborg, Sr.; Sonya Walsten, Sr.; coach: Gary Wieneke

URBANA UNI HIGH — Tori Aber, Fr.; Carmen Gewirth, Jr.; Berit Hudson-Rasmussen, So.; Annemarie Michael, Fr.; Lea Slauch, Sr.; Ha-il Son, Fr.; Katie Tender, So.; coach: Doug Mynatt

Class 2A girls’ qualifiers
(11 a.m. Saturday)
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Madison Buzicky, So.; Mariah McAnally, Fr.; Twinkle Mehta, Jr.; Olivia Meyer, Fr.; Abigail Nielsen, Sr.; Isabelle Pommier, Sr.; Lauren Whitehouse, So.; coach: Bonnie Moxley

CENTENNIAL — Rebecca Kaefring, Jr.; coach: Laura Koterba-Buss
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Hannah Wright, Sr.; coach: Christopher Schultz
DANVILLE — Mercedes Elliott, So.; coach: Todd Orvis