Things are looking up for the Harvest Christian Academy girls cross country team.
Harvest, in its second season as an IHSA-sanctioned school, now has 13 runners on the team, up from only seven last year.
"The team is driven, extremely competitive, but unified. They are not afraid of hard work and have done more work in the offseason than in year's past," said Lions coach Steve Bland. "Our first goal is to contend for a top spot in our conference. From there, we hope to advance out of our regional meet as a team and possibly to the state meet. At a very minimum, we would like to see several individuals advance to the state meet."
Harvest returns sophomore Kylee Knox, who was a sectional qualifier last year. Sophomore Valerie Richter is new to the team. She nearly qualified for state in the 800 in track as a freshman. Speaking of freshman, ninth-grader Hannah Nelson joins the team. She was the top runner on the Harvest middle school team and as Bland noted, "has an incredible natural talent for running."
Upstate Eight: In the Upstate Eight Conference, Bartlett returns seniors Nicole Watkins and Megan Neilson, along with junior Mariah Brown and sophomore Heather Vance. Watkins won the Elgin City Classic Tuesday.
"We have been working hard throughout the summer, putting in strong mileage," said Hawks coach Beth Emody. "We have great leadership in our veteran athletes and they continuously act as good role models to the younger girls. We're hoping to place better as a team at our meets. We also are looking forward to setting a lot of individual person records."
Elgin returns senior Makena Heffernan, junior Amelia Westberg and sophomore Idalis Salcedo. Freshman Anali Cisneros will provide assistance at the varsity level. "We get a little stronger every year," said Elgin coach Jon Miquelon. "Our girls have an excellent work ethic this season. This has helped our team get into the best shape we have ever been in this early in the season. We are going to focus on getting better this year. Each invitational, each girl is going to strive to get faster. At the end of the season, regardless of what place we finish in, we are going to be healthier, faster and better runners."
This is Larkin's second year of having its own team after co-oping with Elgin for a number of seasons.
The Royals, who qualified four individuals for the sectional last year, return seniors Crystal Nava and Molly Mc Donough, along with juniors Jocelyn Salinas, Yenitza Castillo and Cynthia Pries and sophomore Elizabeth Alvarado. New to the team is junior Jennifer Miller.
"The team goal is to advance out of the regional as a team this year," said Larkin coach Heather Carey. "Over the summer, many of the girls put in the miles and the time that it takes to be successful, not only individually but also as a team. I am looking forward to seeing the results of their efforts and teamwork this fall. There is good team chemistry."
Streamwood was fifth in the UEC River last year and welcomes back sophomores Samantha Harding and Gabby Juarez.
"Both Samantha and Gabby came off a very productive/successful freshman-year campaign," said Streamwood coach Dennis Lau. "This year they will look to step up and replace the leadership role of Amanda Patterson (Eastern Illinois) and help guide a group of sophomores that will round out the Top 7."
Key newcomers include sophomores Addie Kelly, Berenice Cabral and Cassidy Wingerd -- all three who competed in the postseason in track and field. Junior Nicole Witt and sophomore Lisa Patel also are new to the team.
"We have the ability to run in packs, especially with our 1-5 runners," said Lau. "Keeping the spread or time between our 1-5 runners as close as possible will be the difference between this year's team and last year's team. Our goal as a team is to place well in some of the bigger invites and to finish the season strong at the conference, regional and sectional with some of the better teams from around the area. In order to achieve this, we need to keep improving on our pack running and finish the last mile of the race."
South Elgin returns seniors Casey Schoenborn and Abby Kenny, junior Taylor Warrick and sophomores Kirsten Kochan. Junior Taj Williby and freshman Sam Czuprinski are newcomers.
"We are growing as a team," said South Elgin coach Jorie Bartholomew. "We have a lot of girls that have returned and we have a lot of new girls that will bring us a strong foundation in the future. We have a lot of team goals that we would like to accomplish this year. We would like to be competitive in our meets and be able to maintain al the goals we set as a team. Our top runner graduated last year, so we are looking to see how our team dynamics come together and who will be in those top spots for us this year. We still have maintained most of our varsity team, so we still have a positive outlook for our season."
Fox Valley Conference: Jacobs finished third in the conference and returns senior Sam Baran, juniors Kayla Giuliano and Tiffany Johnson and sophomores Lauren Van Vlierbergen and Courtney Eubanks.
Van Vlierbergen was seventh in the conference last year and was a state qualifier in the 800 in track. Baran was 13th in the conference, while Giuliano was 15th in the conference and a state qualifier in the 400 in track. Eubanks was 38th in the conference last year.
Newcomers that will help Jacobs include junior Elizabeth Berry, sophomores Amanda Pasetes, Molly Barnes and Taylor Bona, along with freshman Alex Lorenz.
Jacobs coach Kevin Christian feels Van Vlierbergen and Baran are capable of finishing at the top of the conference after putting in productive summers. Giuliano and freshman triathlete Lorenz are in the third and fourth positions.
"After that there is a large group of runners including Courtney Eubanks and Tiffany Johnson and others who put in a lot of miles this summer and will add a much stronger fifth runner than the past," said Christian.
Christian said overtaking Crystal Lake Central in the FVC will be tough. "It is going to be difficult to compete with Crystal Lake Central for the FVC title," he said. "But we will fight it out with Cary-Grove and Prairie Ridge for the Valley Division crown during the regular season. If a strong fifth runner can step up, we will have a chance of making state even if we get sent through a tough sectional like we did last year in Wheaton."
Cary-Grove finished first in the FVC Valley last year. The Trojans welcome back seniors Sarah Englund, Maddie Lundin, Hannah Bobrytzke, junior Natasha Geiger-Powell, and sophomores Talia Duzey and Gretchen Price. Freshmen Sarah Riley, Emma Kreutzmann and Molly MacDuff will help at the varsity level.
"We have some strong returning runners, a talented freshman class and some excellent leadership," said Cary-Grove coach Mark Anderson. "This is our biggest team ever and the girls have all shown an outstanding work ethic. As long as we focus on ourselves, everything else will fall in place."
Dundee-Crown returns seniors Natalie Himmel, Carolyn Schneider, Kirsten Berlet and Jade Franz. Key newcomers include seniors Mary Jaskowiak, junior Candace Carlson and freshman Maggie Himmel.
"We have some good experience back," said D-C coach Tom Smith. "Now we will need to see who breaks out to be a front-runner and we will need some underclass girls to add some depth as the season progresses."
Smith feels Crystal Lake Central, Cary-Grove and Jacobs will be contenders for the overall FVC title.
Crystal Lake South was third in the division last year and eighth overall in the FVC meet. Coach Ken Greenfield returns senior Laura Biederwolf and Gaby Garay, junior Malgorzata Waz and sophomore all-conference performer Kiley Britten. Freshmen Chloe Henderson, Andie Kobrick and Dakota Bliler are new to the team.
"I believe our team's strength will be our pack," said Greenfield. "Our top four right now are very close and there are a number of runners who could move into the Top 5-7 as the season progresses. There are always quite a few question marks at the beginning of the season. We have a lot of young runners. Even with veteran runners who have worked really hard in the offseason there can be a lot of chance. It feels a bit like a birthday. 'What are we going to get this year?' I'm excited to find out."
Hampshire features senior Virginia Cano, juniors Elizabeth Pagan and Natalie Sztuk, along with sophomores Vel Sztukowski, Emily Eischen and Rebecca Freund. Newcomers include freshmen Lorena Sanchez, Angel Arcuri, Julia Contreras-Paniagua, Karena Daugherty and Jordyn Flesher.
"Our goals are to have our success come from the team running in a nice tight pack," said Hampshire coach Patti Nihells, who noted Pagan's experience will help lead the team. "The team, even though young, has experience and a very strong core that will put us in contention to place in meets."
Huntley welcomes back sophomore all-conference runner Kelly Meehleib. Freshman Kate Mitchell is new to the varsity team.
"This is one of the most cohesive group of girls I have ever had," said Huntley coach Brad Gallaugher. "They all work very hard and have put in a lot of time this summer. They do a lot of things outside of practice and are a very close-knit group. They are coachable and will do anything you ask of them. I am hoping the girls' consistent efforts and time that they have put in will pay off. Posting good times and getting stronger as the year goes on would be very rewarding for them."
Others: Burlington Central is coming off a seventh-place Big Northern Conference finish from a year ago. Senior Jane Crocetti, juniors Hannah Zipoy, Mykayla Evans, Nayely Valenciano and sophomore Courtni Nuebauer are back. Senior Kayla Wolf and freshman Shelby Slager are new to the team.
"We are very small this year and have somewhat limited varsity big-meet experience," said Central coach Vince Neil. "Yet, these girls are working really hard. They are growing together as a group and I think we will perform better than we look on paper. We hope to run up in the upper half of the conference and improve on last season's seventh-place finish. The team was just shy of getting out of a very tough Kaneland regional, so we hope to advance to sectionals this year."
Neil said Marengo and Rock Falls will be teams to keep an eye on in the BNC.
Westminster Christian welcomes junior Annika VanNoord and freshman Gracie Armstrong to the team. "With two newcomers to the girls' team, the willingness to work hard is establishing a strong base for future success," said Warriors coach Ron Froeschke.