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updated: 9/1/2011 11:34 PM

Scouting Tri-Cities girls cross country teams

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    BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer

  • Sydney Stuenkel, above, is one of the six returnees in St. Charles North's top seven while Megan Brady (top right) and the rest of the Vikings' record-setting senior class has graduated. Watch for Batavia's Rachael Spalding (top right) to be one of the first runners in all fall.

      Sydney Stuenkel, above, is one of the six returnees in St. Charles North's top seven while Megan Brady (top right) and the rest of the Vikings' record-setting senior class has graduated. Watch for Batavia's Rachael Spalding (top right) to be one of the first runners in all fall.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


After a dominating four-year stretch by the Geneva girls cross country program, the upcoming season should have a little bit different feel.

There might not be a local team ready to contend with for a state's title in Peoria -- though veteran St. Charles North certainly will have a say about that -- but there's no shortage of top runners to watch cover Elburn Woods, LeRoy Oakes, Waubonsee Community College and plenty of other courses around the area.

We'll start with the Vikings who finished fourth in state last year after taking fifth the year before and winning the state title in 2007 and 2008.

"We've had quite a run the last few years with the girls competing downstate the last four years and the boys the last three," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "We've graduated a ton of talent so we're going to be rebuilding a bit but have plenty of talent left from last season. We do have many athletes that are up for the challenge as we have the largest team in the history of the program."

Thomson has 46 girls and 45 boys out for his two teams. Kelly Whitley (third at state) and Tess Ehrhardt (25th at state) are among the top runners Geneva has to replace.

"We're going to miss a very talented graduation class," said Thomson, who has six of his recent graduates running in college this fall.

Geneva has one returnee from its state team last year, Mackenzie Williams (140th at state). Other girls that return with varsity experience include sophomores Kathryn Adelman and Sydney Geils, junior Lindsay Ferguson and seniors Kristi Shogren, Cory McLaughlan, Angie Crowe and Ashley Dudman.

Among the 14 freshmen that came out for the team, Brooke Nusser and Courtney Reynolds have a chance to compete for a spot in Geneva's top seven.

While Geneva lost its core of top runners, Batavia returns its best. Junior Rachael Spalding placed 24th in sectionals last year, then was a state qualifier in the 3,200 in track.

At the West Aurora regional last fall, the Bulldogs didn't have a single senior on their third-place regional team: Bari Robinson, Jacki Bellandi, Gracie Ball, C.J. Iwanicki, Amanda Palmquist and Jessica Roach.

Bulldogs coach Chad Hillman also likes his freshmen.

"Early in the season to tell, but we have a very nice freshman class this season that may have an impact on the varsity," Hillman said. "We have goals of being in the top two in the conference and qualifying for the state meet."

The two other coaches of Tri-Cities teams in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division are excited to see their girls run.

St. Charles North made it to state last year and took 14th. Coach Shari Hayes has six of those top seven back, and the team already is off to a flying start with the title Tuesday at Elgin.

Sydney Stuenkel, Ashley England, Jessica Scheets, Kaylee Wessel, Ania Gawlik and Megan Young give Hayes experience to build her lineup around.

Hayes also said a pair of newcomers Kelly Manski and Elle Murata could crack the top seven.

"I only lost one of my top seven girls from last year," Hayes said. "The girls had a great track season and a good summer training session. We should be a similar team to last year. We lost Erica Bauerbach which is a huge, but Sydney, Ashley, Ania and Jessica are looking stronger this year."

Denise Hefferin is back to guide St. Charles East. Also back is senior Mallory Abel who was sidelined by injury last year.

Hefferin said junior Sarah Hill had a great summer of training. "I'm excited to see her work pay off this fall," Hefferin said.

The coach is expecting senior Kristin Sheehan to be a solid top seven contributor again this fall. Junior Lizzie Deutsch "made a big jump this summer and is looking to compete for a top five spot on the team," Hefferin said.

Juniors Kaitlin Geurin and Jess Evans are other returnees to watch.

"Geurin continues to train and compete in the varsity group," Hefferin said. "Jess is coming off a late summer injury but is putting in a lot of hard work cross training and will be back competing midseason, ready to have a great second half to the fall."

In addition to those veterans, freshman Torree Scull and sophomores Krista Fitzmaurice and Jeslaine Thompson have impressed Hefferin.

"Looking for another great fall; we have a good mix of girls who genuinely enjoy training and being around one another and we're expecting this to translate into a strong competitive season," Hefferin said. "We slipped in the River Division last year for several reasons but we're looking to regain both the individual and team title in October as well as move forward with a team bid to the state finals in November."

Kaneland coach Doug Ecker welcomes back Jen Howland. The senior took 51st at the Class 2A state meet last year.

The Knights lineup also will include sophomore Sydney Strang, an all-stater in track last spring who missed most of her freshman year in cross country due to injury. Junior Ashley Castellanos made all-conference last year.

Juniors Abby Dodis and Maggie Brundige both missed the last half of the season with injuries but came back to have strong track seasons.

Kaneland freshmen Victoria Clinton and Aislinn Lodwig are expected to be in the top seven. Clinton could crack the top three.

"The girls had a good summer of running and lifting to prepare themselves for the upcoming season," Ecker said. "If they can stay healthy which we have not been able to do the last two seasons they will be very competitive at the 2A level."

Rosary started its season Saturday taking fifth at the Aurora City Meet. Royals coach Vic Meade said the seniors on the team got several of their friends to come out, pushing the total to 16 seniors.

In that first race, Rosary was led by junior Kara Kalisz and seniors Melissa Lifka and Helen Offerman.

Meade is also counting on sophomore Abby Hammer, junior Allie Bennett, sophomore Biz Nasharr, junior Courtney Cox, senior Hannah Wulbert and senior Grace Petry.

"Kara looks like the front-runner and our strength will have to be the pack," Meade said. "It's a little early to tell about the newcomers. There's nobody to challenge the No. 1. But we have 32 on the team and I expect many to come along as they gain experience."

Aurora Central returns six girls with varsity top seven experience led by returning 2A state qualifier junior Jenna Koerner who is also coming off a stellar track season in the 800.

Seniors Paulina Morales, Corinn Groom, Emily Schwender, Adilene Rubio and Kennedy Bubolz and junior Kari Hinterlong give the Chargers plenty of experience to rely on.

Injuries hurt Aurora Central last year after a fast start.

"We appear ready to rebound from that this year and would like to regain our usual place in the upper echelon of the SCC and beyond," Chargers coach Troy Kerber said.

Senior Amanda Contreras will return to the lineup in early September after undergoing surgery and add depth to the pack.

The Chargers also have newcomers like freshmen Ci Ci Crown, Lisa Logan and Emily Ziegler and juniors Alex Decraene and Sarah Ramirez looking to make their own impact.

"We look to have an elite front-runner by the end of the season," Kerber said. "The key for us will be the ability of our pack to close the gap. If that happens we could be strong by the end of the year."

West Aurora opened its season Saturday by winning the Aurora City Meet.

Freshman Miranda Gollwitzer made quite a debut by finishing second after leading the race heading into the stretch run. Junior Dezirae Maffit and senior Jessica Nagel are two other newcomers to watch while coach Angela Cassetto knows she also has a solid group of returnees including junior Nicky Bartell, junior Rachel Cavender and junior Claire Loran.

"They are working on running together as a group," Cassetto said.

Cassetto is expecting her lineup to change at times this year giving runners a chance to move into the top seven.

"This group will be interesting to watch," Cassetto said. "We are hoping for better finishes in the DVC and postseason. The returners have set high goals and are working hard to achieve them. The team is working well together. The top seven may vary each week."