Bulldogs, Sages start season off on right foot

Bulldogs, Sages start season off on right foot

CHAMPAIGN — Steep hills aren't exactly a staple of east central Illinois cross-country running, as flatter courses typically dominate the high school landscape.

That was the case in Saturday's Saber Corn Classic, hosted by St. Thomas More.

The Mahomet-Seymour girls feasted on that setup, as a runner-up finish from senior Brisa McGrath and a fourth-place display from freshman Elizabeth Sims pushed the Bulldogs to the team championship ahead of Olympia.

But perhaps coach Kristin Allen's athletes wouldn't have minded a few inclines in their weekend diet.

"We had a team camp at the (Indiana) dunes this summer, and we tent camped a couple nights," the first-year leader Allen said. "And the word that came out of that camp was scrappiness."

The Bulldogs are by no means veteran-heavy in 2018. McGrath is the lone upperclassman, though she returns with a 24th-place state showing in tow.

Surrounding her in Saturday's varsity lineup were four freshmen, a sophomore and a junior.

"These freshmen are awesome, and then with the leadership of the returning (athletes), we just have a good chemistry so far," Allen said. "They put the work in. These girls have the most grit I've seen."

McGrath was bested only by St. Thomas More junior Fran Hendrickson, who dueled side-by-side with McGrath and crossed the finish line first.

"I wanted to stay in control through the whole race," Hendrickson said. "Definitely the first and second mile, and especially in the wind. I just wanted to hold back and conserve my energy until the last mile."

Hendrickson is facing a unique situation — to her, anyway — in Year 3 with the Sabers. Older sister Marguerite has graduated, leaving Fran to be a new leader for the program. She got off to a good start in that regard.

"It's definitely encouraging for the rest of the season," Hendrickson said. "I wasn't hoping for the time I got, but it's OK because it's just the first race."

Dixon, Sages pace local boys. Garrett Dixon knew Saturday's race wasn't about him, even with his victory in the boys' varsity showcase.

He blew past the field to win the race, and his Sages teammates put on a clinic in pack mentality, too, as Monticello landed behind only Clifton Central in the team standings.

Still, Dixon was focused on something else amid congratulatory offers from teammates and fans.

Sages athletic director Dan Sheehan and principal Adam Clapp both made the trip to Champaign to watch their runners compete.

Dixon was sure to let both know just what their presence meant.

"We've had a change in administration the last few years, and they've been very supportive of our sport," Dixon said. "I really appreciate that so much because we all enjoy them. They're both social and actually know where we are."

Where the male Sages wound up Saturday was at the head of all area comers. That result was aided significantly by Dixon commandeering the three-lap layout on STM's campus.

"I like that it's a little muddy," Dixon said. "I like muddy courses because it messes up people a little bit, because it's not a perfect course."

Monticello coach Dave Remmert was also pleased with the pack running the Sages showcased on the day.

"I love that," Remmert said. "Cross-country running, it's all about that pack. So it's really nice to see them so tightly grouped and bunched."

Dixon will play a major role in any success Monticello experiences this season, as he's coming off an 11th-place display at last year's Class 1A state meet.

But, again, Dixon is more concerned about happenings beyond his own status.

"This year, it's a grind ... every day in practice," Dixon said. "It's a fight for varsity (spots), and it's awesome to see. I'm not sure how it looks as a spectator, but whenever I don't have to search for other guys, it's great."