Clad in neon green, Bartlett's Connor Rachford was impossible to miss. The senior was equally hard to catch.
Rachford took the lead early and maintained it throughout the hilly three-mile course at Elgin's Lords Park to win the individual title at the Elgin City Classic cross-country meet Tuesday.
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"My strategy was to see how the others ran the first mile, play with them the second mile, then the third just see much guts they had," Rachford said.
Rachford, who finished fifth in the same race last year, led a pack of three gutsy runners by five seconds with 800 meters left in the race. Though Glenbard North senior Tyler Dixon and sophomore Joe Campagna and St. Charles North senior Spencer Gray kicked down the stretch, Rachford was never in danger of losing his lead. He finished in 16:08.6, ahead of Dixon (16:14.7), Gray (16:17.4) and Campagna (16:19.8).
"He took it out early and went with it," Gray said of Rachford. "I left it all on the course. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't my best. It's still really early in the season."
Chasing Rachford's pace helped Glenbard North's Dixon exceed his goal for the season's first meet.
"I was expecting about a 16:30 and I got a 16:14, so I was so happy about that," Dixon said. "I didn't expect second. I was just hoping for top 10."
St. Charles North won the team title with 44 points, thanks to top 20 finishes by Gray, senior Nicholas Borger (sixth), junior Nathan Klair (eighth), senior Ryan Joyce (11th) and junior Kevin Davis (16th).
"The focus here was to be a team, so coming out with a win is great," St. Charles North coach Kevin Harrington said. "The kids did exactly what we always ask them to do: they built a wall and they held that wall together as long as they could. That's what we're all about this year. It's lucky to have kids who believe in that and do it out there."
Bartlett placed second in the 11-team event with 72 points, followed by Batavia (81), Glenbard North (114) and Elgin (122).
Rachford and Bartlett junior teammates Dan Cotton and Anthony Peters were running 1-2-3 at the race's midway point. Cotton eventually finished fifth (16:20), Peters twelfth (16:33.8). The Hawks were boosted to second place with strong finishes from junior Alex Peters (26th) and senior Mitch Sullivan (28th).
"Our first three are very good this year, and our 4-5 guys are right there," Rachford said.
Batavia's third-place showing was powered by top-10 finishes from junior Ricky Downs (seventh) and Jorden Berendt (10th). Also contributing were juniors Mitch Voellinger (20th) and Nick Lowe (21st) and senior Jackson Vance (23rd).
Elgin junior Emilio Mancha, who took ninth (16:28), helped the Maroons finish fifth. He was followed by senior teammates Cris Martinez (17th) and Tanner Bednar (27th).