State cross-country notebook: 'This is just phenomenal'

State cross-country notebook: 'This is just phenomenal'

PEORIA — Faith Houston could have hung her head.

After all, the St. Joseph-Ogden senior had felt the ecstasy of winning a state championship twice before, in 2014 and 2016. On Saturday, the Spartans were so close to another one. Almost painfully so, just two points behind Illini Prairie Conference rival Unity.

But Houston knew she did everything she could. And so did the Spartans, who were slight underdogs heading into Saturday's Class 1A girls' meet at Detweiller Park.

"I'm fine with second place," she said. "I'm totally ecstatic with it. The team did amazing this year. ... Obviously, the goal was to stay with them and to battle it out through the entire race, and we did just that."

Houston's individual performance gave her reason enough to smile. Coming into the meet, her goal was simple: Finish in the top 25 to become the first Spartan ever to finish with All-State honors four times. She ended up better than she imagined, taking seventh overall in 18 minutes, 3 seconds.

"My dad told me, 'If you're out in front, don't be surprised, you can stay with the big dogs, because you're one of them,'" Houston said. "As I was passing girls through the finish line I'm thinking, 'I'm doing this. It's possible.' It's just crazy for me, this is awesome."

Behind Houston, teammate Hannah Rajlich placed 31st, Cassidy Bagby finished 34th and Emmy Houston took 37th.

Quite simply, Saturday's race was a battle between two teams that see each other nearly every week of the season, and the Spartans nearly pulled off the upset.

"It's amazing," Houston said. "Both of our teams have been neck and neck, and we've been so close to each other. It's amazing to have competitors that'll push you to these limits. It's great to have them as competitors. I couldn't ask for a better team to compete against."St. Joseph-Ogden and Unity weren't the only Illini Prairie Conference team to take home a trophy. Led by Alyssa McPike, Hannah Offenback and Morgan Elmore, Monticello claimed the third-place trophy, giving the former five-team Okaw Valley Conference a 1-2-3 sweep.

"I was really excited," Monticello coach David Remmert said. "We heard over the loud-speaker at the 2-mile mark that we were in fourth place, and coming into (Saturday), I was very hopeful and the girls were really excited at the starting line. I knew it was going to be a good day."

On the boys' side, Monticello was fourth behind a fourth-place result from Alex Helmuth and an 11th-place finish from Garrett Dixon.

"Our kids, both on the boys' and the girls' side, I could sense they were on an upward trajectory," Remmert said. "They were looking really good in practice. I was very hopeful things would turn out the way that they did. I couldn't be prouder."

In addition to the three trophy winners, St. Thomas More sophomore Fran Hendrickson finished fifth overall in 17 minutes, 59 seconds to take home the area's top Class 1A finish.

"This is just phenomenal," Remmert said. "The Okaw Conference really came through. All of our coaches and their coaches were just super excited for how it turned out for all of us."Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond senior Logan Hall isn't yet teammates with Athens' Wyatt McIntyre, but that didn't mean the Illinois commits didn't feed off of each other in Saturday's 1A boys' race.

In the final mile, F.W. Parker's Jack McNabola surged ahead of the two in the lead pack, but McIntyre and Hall refused to let him go.

"Wyatt and I worked together and tracked him back down," Hall said.

That was where the teamwork stopped.

Down the final stretch, McIntyre pulled away from the Class 1A 3,200-meter champion, leaving Hall to finish second in 14:30, five seconds shy of a state title.

"He kind of just took off, and I tried to go with him, but my legs were kind of on fire, and I just didn't have it," Hall said. "I can't really complain. He's a really good runner. It's not like I lost to a fluke runner or anything."

Hall came in with 1A's top time and dreams of a state title, but he didn't leave Detweiler Park devastated.

"It's a little disappointing, but I can't complain too much," Hall said. "Kids would die to be in the position I'm in right now, but it takes a lot of hard work, and I just can't complain about this. It's a bittersweet moment."A year ago, Shanice Garbutt finished 96th at the 2A meet in her first trip to state

A year later, the Danville senior vaulted 93 spots, finishing nearly two minutes better in 17:14 to cross the line in third place.

"I had a great season last year and made it to state and I said, 'Wow, this is something,'" she said. "I didn't end up doing my best at state last year, but I knew I had another shot at it."

Garbutt came into the race with one of the top times in 2A, but she began the race farther back in the pack than she originally hoped. By the race's final mile, though, she had weaved her way through the pack and into contention.

"The first mile, I was kind of back there," Garbutt said. "I had to just run. I said, 'Shanice, you've got to push it. You've got to put yourself in that race and just run.' I just kept trying to go through the girls, but everybody was spiking each other, and it was very muddy and slippery, so I tried not to fall."

Down the stretch, Garbutt was in second place by several yards, but Dunlap's Campbell Petersen caught her and edged her out at the finish line.

Still, Garbutt was satisfied with her better-than-expected season.

"It played out how I wanted to," she said. "I wanted to win, but at the end of the day, I'm just happy that I placed and gave it my all, because it shows me that I have come a long way. But I just know that I ran my race today. I competed and I was very competitive.Urbana sophomore Olivia Rosenstein realized that she had the ability to break her personal-best time of 17:37 from last season. A stress fracture slowed her early in the year, and that time eluded her throughout the season.

On Saturday, she shattered it, finishing fifth in 17:16 to lead Urbana to seventh place in 2A, earning all-state honors in the process along with teammate Chian Scott, who took 23rd overall.

"The goal was top five, and I did that," Rosenstein said. "My pace fell off after about 1.5 (miles), but I feel like that happens to just about everybody. ... I just tried not to start out with the lead, just start out in an okay spot and just pick people off if I could."

Just a few spots behind her, Uni High's Arielle Summitt, a two-time News-Gazette All-Area Runner of the Year, capped off her high school career with a ninth-place finish.

"I'm pretty happy with the race," Summitt said. "I felt like I gave everything and left it all out there on the course. It's a pretty good way to end."

Anthony Zilis