When the 2011 girls cross country season came to an end at the state meet in Peoria, Denise Heffin's talented St. Charles East squad had left all they had on the course at Detweiller Park in Peoria not knowing if it was good enough to bring home a state trophy.
Tied for third in Class 3A with Naperville North, the Saints were originally told there was no state trophy for them having lost the sixth-runner tiebreaker to the Huskies. But after reviewing the rules days later, the IHSA corrected themselves and awarded St. Charles East its share of third place and trophy.
While the Saints lose Mallory Abel from that squad they bring back a slew of experience for what could be a season that produces plenty more hardware for a program with a proud cross country tradition.
"We've got a deep pack of veteran runners, all on the third in state team, and they know what it takes and how to work together," Hefferin said.
Sophomore Torree Scull leads those returners after she got better throughout a freshman season that included winning the Upstate Eight Conference River Division title.
Scull also earned all-regional and all-sectional, and then in the track season took ninth in state in the 800.
She's joined by fellow returnees Lizzie Deutsch, Sarah Hill, Jess Evans, Maddie Westerhoff, Kaitlin Guerin and Sam Perez -- all seniors.
St. Charles North also raced at state last November and returns four runners from that team.
"There are several members from our team last season that have improved with an addition of promising freshmen that will make our team similar to our team last season," North Stars coach Shari Hayes said. "Our team goals are to be in the top three in UEC and top 15 at state."
Hayes has junior Ashley England, senior Megan Young, junior Kaylee Wessel, senior Elle Murata and junior Natalia Gawlik back to lead her lineup. She's also been impressed with what she's seen from freshmen Nina Olshever, Shelby Artman and Caitlyn Campbell.
Geneva is a couple years removed from its own amazing run of state success. Last year's team finished fourth in conference and seventh in sectionals.
"We really feel that we can move up for a better finish in both areas," coach Bob Thomson said.
Thomson said two-thirds of his team is made up of freshmen and sophomores.
"Our total number of participants is about where we were last season but we are much younger," Thomson said. "We had a nice summer of training in spite of the heat and we are anxious to compete in our first meet."
Geneva sophomore Brooke Nusser earned all-conference last year. She's joined by returnees Kathryn Adelman, Sydney Geils and Ana Samples (all juniors), and sophomores Marin Leone, Kylie Monahan, Jill McDowell, Courtney Reynolds and Annie McCarthy.
Freshmen McKenzie Altmeyer and Emma McSpadden will try to give the Geneva lineup a boost in their first year.
Thomson said the team also is looking forward to defending its championship at the Northside/Southside Challenge which is part of the Chicago Marathon. Teams run the final 2.6 miles of the Chicago Marathon course. The Geneva boys finished third in this race last year.
Batavia also has a talented squad. Now a senior, Rachael Spalding has been running at the top of the lineup for years.
She has plenty of her teammates back: seniors Gracie Ball and Kristin Ullberg; juniors Jessica Roach and Lia Kruse; and sophomores Lexi Slome, Alicia Grant, Jenny Muehlbauer and Amanda Rempert.
Freshmen Dakota Roman, Trisha Spillane and Alyssa Gao will try to crack the seven.
"Good representation from each class," Batavia coach Chad Hillman said. "Mix of experience with a very good underclass group. We have high expectations at the conference and state level."
Kaneland brings back its top seven from a team that placed second in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference and eighth at the Class 2A state meet.
Sophomore Victoria Clinton leads that group after taking 11th at state and making all-conference. Other all-conference returnees are senior Maggie Brundige (45th at state), sophomore Aislinn Lodwig (77th at state), senior Abby Dodis (78th at state), and senior Amanda Lesak (80th at state). Junior Sydney Strang took 99th at state and senior Ashley Castellanos was 120th.
Freshman Brianna Bower will add depth to the lineup after earning IESA all-state honors as an eighth-grader.
"The girls' strength is their depth," Kaneland coach Doug Ecker said. "If they avoid major injuries or illness they will be a very competitive team at the 2A level. The girls are a better team than last year so the goal is race their best in the end and see what happens."
West Aurora opened its season last Saturday taking second at the Aurora City Meet. The Blackhawks finished fourth in the DVC, seventh at regional and 10th at sectional in 2011.
Senior Rachel Cavender finished 21st at state last year to earn all-state. Sophomore Miranda Gollwitzer -- second at the City Meet last Saturday -- senior Claire Loran and senior Alejandra Rios also return while sophomore Gabriela Aguilar, junior Kim Coronado, and freshmen Courtney Bishop and Carmen Barry join the varsity.
"We are working through some injuries but hopefully the underclassmen will step up," West Aurora coach Angela Cassetto said. "The team has many new athletes to the sport and we are working hard to accomplish goals."
Aurora Central and Rosary also ran last week at the City meet finishing third and fourth, respectively.
Troy Kerber starts his 27th season with a Charger team that took fifth in conference last year and sent Jenna Koerner to the Class 2A state meet.
Koerner, now a senior, leads this year's returnees along with sophomore CeCi Crown, senior Cynthia Elizondo, senior Corinn Groom, senior Kari Hinterlong, senior Claire Weisner, senior Sarah Fleischer, junior Katie Marter and sophomore Emily Ziegler.
Freshman Karina Liz headlines the newcomers, a group that also includes senior Lisa Rodriguez, senior Danielle Barrerio, sophomore Olivia James, sophomore Claudia Aguilera, and sophomore Fatima Delgadillo.
Liz has posted eighth grade PRs of 2:16 for the 800 and 5:15 for the 1,600.
"(Along with Koerner) Liz provides (us) with a strong top two," Kerber said. "Rodriguez is coming into cross country after posting a state qualifying year on the track, and Barrerio joins a solid group of Elizondo, Groom, Ziegler and others forming a chase pack. The X-factor will be last season's returning top three runner Crown, who has come back from a track injury, and will look to bridge the gap between Koerner, Liz, and the pack."
The Royals were third in the Suburban Christian last year and qualified for the Niles West sectional.
Lead runner Kara Kalisz moved to Arkansas so coach Vic Meade will look to juniors Biz Nasharr and Abby Hammer, seniors Amelia Anderson, Courtney Cox and Allie Bennett, and sophomore Mallory Rettinmeier to lead this year's team.
Meade said it's too early to tell who his top newcomers are but that the numbers are pretty good.
"Rebuilding year," Meade said. "The question will be can we fill the gaps in the top seven."
Finishing 17th at the Class 1A state meet last year, Aurora Christian returns sophomore Becca Wert, senior Teresa Murray, and senior Anna Pape.
Juniors Emma Theeke and Emily Angelo will join the top seven along with Alyssa Hernandez who is returning from an injury.
"With good training and hard work, this will be a team that is going to be hard to reckon with," Eagles coach Priscilla Copple said. "We may be small, but I guarantee, we will be mighty."