Bartlett senior Nicole Watkins had seven North Stars on her tail through the two-mile mark of Tuesday's Elgin City Classic cross-country meet at Lord's Park in Elgin, enough to form a constellation.
The St. Charles North pack accomplished its goal of a first-place team finish, but none of the North Stars could reel in Watkins, the meet's Big Dipper.
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A top-10 finisher in the same race each of the previous two seasons, Watkins surged after a hill climb with 800 meters remaining to pull away from St. Charles North junior Ashley England. Watkins finished in 18:38.2, winning by over 12 seconds.
"The game plan was to surge the last half mile because I thought it might scare my competition," Watkins said. "I was like 'Kick, kick.' Then I saw the red flags way up there and I said, 'Oh, no, I kicked too early.' But it turned out to be OK.
"(England) really kept me going, wondering the entire time if I had her or not. She's really good. I was prepared to have a fight. And it was definitely a fight."
England said she was not at full strength in the first major meet of the season following a medical issue last week that necessitated a break in training. Nevertheless, she took second (18:50.5).
"I still have to train fully and get back into it, but I thought it was a good race overall," England said.
The North Stars won the event with 20 points. Streamwood, led by top-10 finishes from sophomores Gabby Juarez (seventh), Samantha Harding (eighth) and Adelaide Kelly (ninth), took second with 54 points. Bartlett was third (81), followed by Glenbard North (90), South Elgin (148), Harvest Christian Academy (179), East Aurora (199) and Larkin (241).
Led by England, the North Stars placed seven runners in the top 11. Junior Kaylee Wessel finished third (19.24), followed by freshman Nina Olshever (fourth), senior Elle Murata (fifth), freshman Shelby Artman (sixth), senior Nicole Lopez (10th) and junior Natalia Gawlik (11th).
St. Charles North's fast-pack mentality worked to perfection.
"We want to do well at state this year so we're trying to get a pack instead of having a few runners spread out in the front and the back," Wessel said. "We think it will really help us if we're seconds apart instead of minutes. That should help us more in meets."
Streamwood's Juarez, Harding and Kelly passed two North Stars in the final mile to gain top 10 finishes.
"We were expecting to get third, so second is right around our goal," said Juarez, who trimmed a minute off her 2011 time in the same race.