Prospect's girls cross country team desperately needed a shot of confidence after a sluggish start to the season.
The Libertyville Invitational proved to be the perfect opportunity for the Knights.
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Junior Brooke Wolfe came from behind in the final mile to win the race in 17:46 and lead Prospect to third place with 59 points at Adler Park on Saturday.
Junior twins Courtney and Jessica Ackerman crossed the line in 17:52, followed by freshman Mimi Smith (17:53) going 2-4, to power No. 1-ranked New Trier to the team title with 34 points in the nine-team field.
Senior Megan O'Brien (18:05) and senior Stephanie Sanders (18:24) went 5-6 to help propel No. 10 Lockport to second place with 53 points.
Injuries and illness put a drag on Prospect's early season performance as the Knights finished fifth at the Fenton Invitational and sixth at the Lake Park Invitational.
Wolfe, who is coming back from an ankle injury that wiped out her track season, also had her individual struggles. She finished fourth at Fenton, and fifth at Lake Park.
But on Saturday, both Wolfe and the Knights offered a glimpse of their preseason potential.
"Coming in we knew there would be some solid competition," said Wolfe, "We just wanted to see how we measured up with them."
Senior Laura Maibuecher (19:03) and senior Kate Welch (19:04) took eighth and ninth for Prospect, followed by sophomore Rachel Henk (19:38) and sophomore Katrina Leeney (19:58), who finished 19th and 22nd for the Knights.
"It was kind of frustrating," said Maibuecher of the Knights' early struggles. "But I think it motivated us. Now that we're starting to get healthy and we're hoping that we'll be ready to peak at the end of the season. "
"I think as we get healthier and better we'll become more competitive," said Prospect coach Dave Wurster. "We ran a solid race, definitely our best race of the season, but we still have bit to go."
New Trier has been anything but sluggish to open the 2011 season. The Trevians stormed to impressive victories at Hinsdale Central and Peoria Richwoods to open the season, and they kept the pressure on Saturday.
Jessica Ackerman and Courtney Ackerman finished 16th and 17th in Class 3A last season, and the two have combined with freshman sensation Smith to give the Trevians a lethal attack.
The three powered the Trevians to comfortable victory on Saturday, and if early season results are any indication, they could push New Trier to the Class 3A state title in November.
"Knowing that we do have some strong runners on this team is just bringing everyone else along," said Jessica Ackerman.
New Trier's best finish at a state meet in cross country was its sixth place finish last season; the Trevians are aiming a bit higher this season.
"It's a goal," added Courtney Ackerman of the Trevians push for its first state trophy. "But right now we're just keeping each other focused and keeping each other on track."
O'Brien and Sanders combined with Bianca Wiemeyer (19:13) and Haley Beaumont (19:15), who finished 10th and 11th to power Lockport to second. O'Brien is a three-time all-state runner, including finishing fifth in 2009 and sixth in 2010 in Class 3A. The senior is having no letdown this season.
"This year I know I have a lot of work to do, but I'm shooting for a top-five finish," added O'Brien.
Freshman Kristi Del Prato (18:41) gave Libertyville a lift by securing seventh place and leading the Wildcats to a fourth-place finish with 69 points.
Four of the top six runners at Adler Park made all-state in Class 3A last season, but the freshman Wildcat made herself right at home in some elite company.
"It's a major boost for my confidence," said Del Prato of her performance. "I'm starting to get the hang of it. Each week I get more experience and team is really coming together."
Nicole Jaffke (19:32), Lexie Zafiratos (19:33), Emily Moroz (19:35), and Maggie Fiorito (19:37) packed it together taking 14th through 17th place for the Wildcats.
"We're thrilled," said Libertyville coach Joe Roth. "We came out and really competed hard. I thought the pack ran well."