ST. JOSEPH — Jackson Grambart may have produced the best description of Saturday’s Illini Prairie Conference girls’ and boys’ cross-country meets.
“We really felt like it was kind of like a miniature state,” the Monticello junior said.
It’s easy to see why he and many others gathered at St. Joseph Community Park for the morning’s races felt that way.
The girls’ field contained last year’s Class 1A second-, third-, seventh-, 11th- and 17th-place teams.
The boys’ docket included the previous season’s Class 1A champion, as well as its Nos. 3, 18 and 19 squads.
Quite a prestigious lineup indeed.
And those running Saturday didn’t disappoint, with numerous personal bests recorded amid cool and cloudy conditions on the flat, grassy layout.
Monticello finished atop the girls’ leaderboard, with the Sages and their 29 points only truly contested by Unity’s 45. Olympia staved off the Sages in the boys’ showcase by a more narrow 39-44 margin.
Mabry Bruhn led both the Monticello girls and all of her competitors, starting the morning’s festivities with a 3-mile clocking of 17 minutes, 19.13 seconds that gave her the individual victory by 50 seconds.
“It’s a good start to championship season, and I’m just happy we could all run this race,” Bruhn said. The catch to Bruhn’s comment was the girls and boys being split into two races apiece, with the Nos. 1-4 runners in one heat and the Nos. 5-7 runners in another to better abide by COVID-19 pandemic gathering restrictions.
“Last time I ran this course, I went out way too fast and I paid for it dearly in the last mile,” Bruhn continued. “This time I went out a little slower, and I kept a kind of consistent pace throughout the second and third mile.”
Joining Bruhn inside the top six were teammates Grace Talbert (second, 18:09.55), Estella Miller (fifth, 18:26.68) and Rachel Koon (sixth, 18:52.15) as the Sages continue to resemble the outfit that brought home Class 1A’s 2019 state runner-up trophy.
Both Miller and Koon recently have dealt with injuries, so the door opened for Talbert, a senior, to step up. And she gladly took that opening.
Talbert recorded a personal-best time by 9 seconds, an exciting chapter in her interesting distance running story over the past two seasons.
Talbert missed her sophomore campaign because she was in Ecuador as a foreign exchange student. There was no cross-country team for Talbert to join there, so she largely separated from running for a year.
“Just the Ecuador part, that was super cool. I’m really glad I did that,” Talbert said. “I got to make a whole lot of friends overseas, and seeing the different culture was amazing. Like, they have two recesses (at school).
“But I did really miss the running because that’s part of what I do to unwind, and that’s part of where I make my friends. ... I’m here for the team. I really like the people on this team, and being able to say that I can run fast is kind of just a bonus in the end.”The Unity girls, last year’s Class 1A third-place team, provided Monticello a strong challenge thanks in part to freshman Erica Woodard (fourth, 18:18.00), freshman Caelyn Kleparski (eighth, 19:12.99) and senior Taylor Joop (ninth, 19:15.09).
“We’re doing everything we can to try and get as close as we can to (the Sages) as possible, and that motivates (the Rockets) to have them here,” Unity girls’ coach Kara Leaman said. “That’s, I think, something our freshmen haven’t really experienced yet because in their junior high experience they were always on top, so they’ve never had anyone to chase.”
Fourth-place St. Thomas More was paced by senior Reese Hogan (12th, 19:31.92), and fifth-place St. Joseph-Ogden received its best clocking from junior Ava Knap (21st, 20:19.21). Rantoul’s Angelle Wrobel also cracked the top 15 by placing 15th in 19:44.43.
In the boys’ meet, Monticello proved it’s still near the top of its loaded league despite missing Luke Sokolowski and Morgan Dixon, who opted out of this cross-country season.
Grambart and senior Josh Baysore led the defending Class 1A state titlist by crossing the line in second and third, respectively, with times of 15:40.36 and 15:42.30. The Sages also netted a top-10 effort from junior Ed Mitchell (sixth, 16:19.39) as Grambart set a new career PR and Mitchell posted a season PR.
“Me and (Baysore) feed off each other during races, and it works out pretty well,” Grambart said. “We focus on sticking together now. We really want to compete well. A lot of people didn’t expect much out of us after we lost our key runners, but now we’re really getting back there.”
Meet host St. Joseph-Ogden also impressed in the boys’ race, with their 60 points good for third. Senior Brandon Mattsey (fourth, 16:07.43), junior Charlie Mabry (eighth, 16:22.22) and freshman Carson Maroon (ninth, 16:25.25) were integral to that outcome.
“Oh, there’s for sure more to come, and that’s the exciting part,” Spartans coach Jason Retz said. “We’ve worked all the way through. We didn’t come down at all this week. ... We’re going to continue to see good times.”
Fourth-place Unity’s pacesetter was senior Connor O’Donnell (10th, 16:29.35), eighth-place Rantoul took its top time from sophomore Caleb Neitzel (29th, 17:41.59) and ninth-place Prairie Central’s list was topped by sophomore Grant Fogarty (36th, 18:04.51).