Girls' cross-country state storylines

Girls' cross-country state storylines

URBANA — Even after his Urbana girls' cross-country runners passed the mile marker at last Saturday's Class 2A Normal University Sectional, coach Forrest Farokhi didn't have a good read on whether his team would be state bound or not.

After a season of ups and downs, injuries and family matters kept runners out of meets throughout the year, the coaching staff's pre-race math told them that the Tigers were slated to finish fifth — the final state spot.

At the mile, though, he had a hard time reading his runners.

"We had a couple of girls around the mile marker who looked a little bit anxious, and we couldn't tell if they were going to fall apart or if they were just gearing up over the second mile," Farokhi said. "We were anxious pretty much until the end of the race."

As it turned out, the back of his team's lineup was gearing up for a strong finish across the final 1200 meters, which helped the Tigers surge into a third-place overall finish. On a cold, windy day in which personal bests were rare, Olivia Rosenstein took third in 17 minutes and 54 seconds, while Chian Scott finished just behind teammate Libby Cultry in a season's best time of 18:32.

This Saturday, an Urbana program that has ascended greatly during the past two seasons hopes to best last year's 10th-place finish in Class 2A.

Farokhi said conservative projections could put his team eighth as the program heads to state for the second year in a row for the first time since 1982.

Bullish estimates put them fifth.

"The real difficulty was sectionals," Farokhi said. "So at state, we're going to be competitive, and we want to get the best times possible, but we're still a pretty young team. We're kind of building off of last year's experience, and we're just trying to enjoy the moment."

Farokhi's measurement of how far the program has come won't stop on Saturday. Urbana has doubled in numbers in the past year. Both the girls and boys' sides of the program have improved, with Justice Carter becoming the first male qualifier in decades.

"I think the real test will be maybe one to three years from now to see, 'Can we sustain the number of kids that come out?'" Farokhi said. "'Can we continue to get the quality of runners feeding into our program. Are we making enough noise locally for kids to consider coming to Urbana?'

"We're not sure. But we're just going to continue doing what works and try to teach kids how to be lifelong runners."

Harmon makes Unity prohibitive favorites. For a competitive runner like Unity's Jordan Harmon, it may have been easier to grit through the pain in her foot and run than to tell her coach, who is also her mother, that something didn't feel right. 

The No. 1 runner on the top-ranked team in Class 1A did the latter, which forced her to sit and watch her team win its regional. Later, the Rockets finished second to defending state champion St. Joseph-Ogden by three points during sectionals.

"Thankfully, she was willing to recognize that something didn't feel right," coach Kara Leaman said. "Sometimes, I think especially in her case, (she's) very competitive and wanting to run above all else ... So I'm very thankful that she said something, and we were able to take care of it."

After a few weeks of training in a pool and with an anti-gravity machine, Harmon is ready for this weekend's Class 1A state meet, where she finished sixth last season.

Plenty of runners stepped up in her stead.

Specifically, Leaman pointed to senior Natalie King, who ran as the Rockets' ninth or 10th runner throughout he season but finished fifth on the team at regionals and sectionals. King bested her season's best time by a minute and a half in the postseason. Audrey Hancock, Leaman said, also stepped up and closed the gap from the first to the fourth runner.

One of the biggest leaps, though, came from Caroline Bachert. The freshman topped her season's best by 40 seconds to finish third in 17:51. She was only seven seconds behind winner Fran Hendrickson from St. Thomas More. Hendrickson's time was the fastest in Class 1A this season.

It wasn't just the result that impressed Leaman, though. It was how Bachert ran the race.

"She led the race for maybe half a mile in the last mile, and as a freshman, that took a lot of courage to do that," Leaman said. "As we've been saying all year, when you race, your times will go down. And she really did. So it was really exciting for her."

With Harmon back, the Rockets enter Saturday as the prohibitive favorites to win their second championship in three seasons. This time, though, the vibe around Unity is different after claiming the 2015 Class 1A title with four freshmen.

"The girls are ready to race," Leaman said. "They know what it takes, and they also know that anything can happen, so they're preparing themselves the best they can. We have some experience coming in, and two years ago we had four freshmen on the team. So now that we have some juniors and seniors who can provide that leadership, I feel like there's a little more mental preparation than we were able do in the past."

STM aims for top-10 result. The finishing kick from St. Thomas More's Fran Hendrickson was coming — coach Tessa Hanlon knew as much — but the speed of that kick surprised even her.

"Fran is a very competitive runner," Hanlon said. "She likes to get people in the last quarter mile of a race with a strong kick, and she did that on Saturday and won the race. She's looking forward to having some good people to run with."

After finishing 26th in Class 1A last season — just one spot away from an all-state medal — Hendrickson enters Saturday's meet in Peoria with the top time in Class 1A (17:44).

She's not the only Saber to improve this season. Seniors Marguerite Hendrickson, Fran's older sister, and Morgan Cinnamon have each taken nearly a minute off of last year's top time. As a result, Hanlon hopes that STM can improve on last year's 14th-place finish at state.

"They've really come on strong as a solid two-three for us, especially in this postseason," Hanlon said. "We're definitely hoping to improve on that and to even crack the top 10 would be a great goal."

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GeneralLeePeeved wrote on November 01, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Hey Anthony,

There are 4 area girls teams going to left out Monticello.....tsk...tsk