CHAMPAIGN — High school cross-country’s 2020 Champaign County debut nearly didn’t happen as scheduled.
Not because of any concerns pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous safety measures were put into effect for that purpose during Thursday evening’s quadrangular meet hosted by Judah Christian that included Monticello, Tuscola and Uni High.
Warm weather can’t be controlled, however. Race official Bob Rice was closely watching pre-meet temperature and humidity readings to calculate the afternoon’s Wet Bulb Glow Temperature.
WBGT is described by the National Weather Service as “a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight.” It opposes heat index, which is recorded in shade. And, according to IHSA rules, an event has to be postponed if the WBGT exceeds 90 degrees.
Rice’s ruling prior to athletes arriving at Judah’s Field of Dreams complex: 89.4.
So the show went on, serving as the season’s first race for Judah, Monticello and Uni High, as well as Tuscola’s first 3-mile contest. It was also the inaugural cross-country meet to be held at the Field of Dreams, Judah’s sprawling sports complex in southwest Champaign.
“I’m glad the kids had the opportunity,” Judah Christian coach Gary Garrison said. “We need to have some competition — kids do.”
It certainly wasn’t a typical outing in many respects.
Athletes wore protective masks until they reached the start line, which joined the finish line in existing on the track at Field of Dreams. Coaches, officials and a permitted smattering of fans all donned masks throughout the event.
Teams were separated into four individual lanes on the track for the start. Rice sounded an electronic whistle prior to firing the starter’s pistol, instead of blowing into a whistle like he normally would.
All measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Once that gun was fired, though, a typical cross-country meet commenced.
Uni High was the day’s big winner, securing the top individual spot in both the girls’ and boys’ races and finishing first as a team in the girls’ meet.
Illineks sophomore Kate Ahmari got her year started on the right foot, putting more than one minute between herself and the runner-up en route to a time of 19 minutes, 16 seconds that dominated the girls’ race.
“It wasn’t the best race because it’s so hot, but I was just trying to take advantage of the flat course and I’m pretty happy about how our team did,” said Ahmari, a 2019 News-Gazette All-Area first-team pick. “We did a good job staying positive.”
Uni High claimed most of the top-10 spots on the girls’ side. Junior Cadi Hu (third, 21:40), junior Erin Smith (fourth, 22:28), junior Stefania Dzhaman (fifth, 22:29), junior Madeleine Keenan (sixth, 22:30), senior Danbi Choi (seventh, 22:55) and junior Maxine van der Donk (eighth, 22:58) joined Ahmari among the top finishers.
“It’s great in practice because they all are so close together and work really well together,” first-year Illineks coach Rachael Brewer said. “Whether they’re at the top or toward the back of our group, they’re all just wonderful.”
What could have been a duel between Monticello and Uni High, last year’s second-place and 10th-place teams in Class 1A, respectively, didn’t transpire. Coach Dave Remmert’s Sages utilized an all-JV lineup in both races.
The Illineks tallied 18 points to best Monticello’s 60 and Tuscola’s 62. Junior Cora Sowinski (11th, 23:38) paced Monticello and senior Brynn Tabeling (ninth, 23:36) did the same for Tuscola.
Judah Christian sent out just two girls’ runners and couldn’t compile a team score as a result, but the Tribe still boasted the race’s second-best finisher.
Freshman Aleigha Garrison, granddaughter of Judah’s coach, crossed the line in 20:29 to begin her prep cross-country career on a high note.
“You just want to keep pushing yourself, and whenever I run, I try to have goals to reach,” Aleigha Garrison said. “To try and get to the next person or pass the next person or lap them or something like that.”
Uni High bagged the top two spots in the boys’ race thanks to senior Ray Jones (first in 17:47) and junior Henry Laufenberg (second in 18:03). The duo raced together for 2 miles before Jones broke away and recorded a personal-best time.
“It’s really nice to be out here,” Jones said. “There’s been a lot of changes to our team in terms of people, but we’re having a good time and making new friends.”
The Illineks lost seven athletes to graduation from their Class 1A sixth-place outfit of the previous season.
It was Tuscola that pulled out the team triumph in the boys’ race, compiling 26 points to outscore Uni High (42) and Monticello (65). The Warriors collected the third through sixth spots in the finishing order, via freshman Josiah Hortin (third, 18:17), junior Logan Wallace (fourth, 18:43), freshman Jackson Barrett (fifth, 19:10) and senior Riley Nolan (sixth, 19:11).
Junior Ethan Robson (seventh, 19:42) led Monticello and Judah’s lone boys’ runner, senior Josh Schultz, finished 15th (20:43).
“Good experience for us,” Tuscola coach Michael Rosenbaum said. “We’re pretty excited with what we’ve got, and hopefully we keep trending up — or down in times but up in (results).”