Top area teams: York, Glenbard South, Neuqua Valley, Naperville North, Hinsdale Central, Wheaton North, Wheaton Warrenville South, Glenbard West, Fenton, St. Francis.
Top athletes: Addison Trail: Joe Atria, sr., Willy Foster, sr., Will Kelly, sr., Kevin Otte, sr.; Benet: Tom Berg, sr., Bobby Svoboda, sr., Anton Versay, sr.; Downers Grove North: James Diamond, sr., Ben Eaton, sr., Jamie Kennedy, sr., Andrew Noll, sr., Zack Smith, jr.; Downers Grove South: Jacob Amiri, jr., Sam Ciucci, sr., David Fish, jr., Amal Ghosh, sr., Brian Rotunno, sr., P.J. White, sr.; Fenton: Rodrigo Estrago, jr., Cristian Silva, jr., Wade Smith, sr., Fabiel Urzua, sr., Danny Wiggins, jr.; Glenbard East: Vince Booth, jr., Brad Busching, sr., Tom Faron, sr., Jake Schaefer, sr., Tim Swanson, sr.; Glenbard North: Josh Bird, sr., Joseph Campagna, soph., Tyler Dixon, sr., Ryan Emmanuel, jr.; Glenbard South: Mark Cizek, sr., Erik Greenwell, sr., Andrew Kladiva, jr., Joe Singleton, jr., Tommy Stoffels, sr., John Wold, jr.; Glenbard West: Brandon Bonifer, sr., Chris Buechner, soph., Alec Larsen, sr., Will Lindstrom, sr., Neel Patel, sr., Jack Prescott, sr.; Hinsdale Central: Nigel Gachira, jr., Kevin Huang, jr., Rajan Khanna, sr., Billy Magnesen, jr., Ryan Sommerfield, sr.; Hinsdale South: Ryan Cusick, jr., Joe Eilbert, soph., John Gieres, sr., Elias Magallanes, sr.; Immaculate Conception: Brian Anzures, sr., Anthony Barone, jr., Joe Depke, jr.; Lake Park: Eric Dade, jr., Jeremy Lozano, jr., Dakota Morales, sr., Conner Peck, sr., Mike Strachan, sr.; Lisle: Jefferson Chan, jr., Joseph Chernov, jr., Connor Corrigan, jr., Tyler Kirtley,sr., Tom Mandel, sr.; Metea Valley: Tim Danielsen, jr., Ekant Desai, sr., Gabe Malca, sr., Calvin Nguyen, jr., Connor Oats, jr., Hitesh Varshney, jr., Colin Yorke, sr.; Montini: Tyler Pacana, soph.; Naperville Central: Ethan Brodeur, sr., Christian Schafer, jr., Matt Stern, sr.; Naperville North: Sam Ceruti, sr., Kerry Gschwendtner, soph., Griffin Haugen, sr., Jake Pecorin, jr., Jimmy Qiao, sr.; Neuqua Valley: Nick Bushelle, jr., Robbie Hohlman, sr., Alekh Meka, sr., Brendan O'Connor, sr., Alex Stowers, sr., Mike Whaley, sr.; St. Francis: Andrew Hallet, jr., Nick Kolker, jr., John Lyons, sr., Scott Stiff, jr., Nick Vilimek, jr.; Timothy Christian: Clarke Doig, sr., Philip Stanton, sr.; Waubonsie Valley: Austin Carlson, sr., Garrett Eicher, jr., Julian Morrison, sr., Eric Onsager, jr.; West Chicago: Jared Baranowski, sr., Geoff Culloton, sr., Tim Linhardt, sr., Eddy Rubio, sr., Joe Sawicki, jr.; Wheaton Academy: Brandon Loch, jr., Kent McDonell, sr., Widi Moestopo, sr., Noah Van Dyke, soph.; Wheaton North: Wyatt Didier, sr., Josh Doty, sr., Joseph Emmanuel, jr., Zach Ewoldt, sr., Alex Ryan, sr., Paul Steeno, sr.; Wheaton Warrenville South: Pete Kania, jr., Andrew Martz, sr., Nolan McKenna, jr., David Santana, jr., Luke Schroer, jr., Andrew Smith, sr., Daryle Worley, sr.; Willowbrook: Anthony Acitelli, soph., Luke Caron, jr., Jim Funteasi, soph., Tim Hyde, sr., Will Unseth, jr.; York: Jack Libert, sr., Chris May, sr., Kyle Mattes, jr., Scott Milling, sr., Nathan Mroz, jr.
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Scouting report: With an overwhelming preponderance of county high schools classified in the largest of the three divisions in boys cross country, Glenbard South is trying to steal some thunder from its middle-tier status. Denied a state title by Belvidere North last fall on the 10th anniversary of their Class AA championship, the Raiders, nationally ranked after returning the bulk of their state runner-up squad, have one monumental different look this fall.
"I'm not sure who does the national rankings," said Glenbard South coach Doug Gorski, urging caution. "Whoever (ranked us that high) doesn't have Andy Preuss coaching them."
Preuss has handed over the coaching duties to Gorski after a three-decade-plus career in Glen Ellyn. But the cupboard was far from bare as Wold, fourth last year individually, and Singleton return as two of the finest juniors in the state at Class 2A. Even Gorski, though, readily admits two-time defending champion Belvidere North is hardly conceding defeat.
"Belvidere is not ranked ahead of us (nationally), but they're going to be awfully tough to beat," he said.
With Wold and Singleton as known quantities on the state stage, the Raiders' quest for ascendancy could very well rest with the senior triumvirate of Cizek, Greenwell and Stoffels.
Glenbard South had local company in the Class 2A team finals with the inclusion of Metro Suburban Conference rival Fenton and St. Francis. John Kurtz would be the dean of local cross country coaches were it not for the iconic Joe Newton at York, and the Bison headmaster, entering his 45th season, has designs on another state appearance with his team.
"The dynamics of the conference have remained the same," Kurtz said of Glenbard South and fellow team state qualifiers Timothy Christian and Illiana Christian. "But the defending conference champions (Glenbard South) certainly are loaded. We're very excited about improving our performance at the state meet (16th in 2011)."
St. Francis, meanwhile, is the class of the local Suburban Christian Conference contingent. "ACC (Aurora Central Catholic) and Marmion are the teams to beat in the conference," St. Francis coach Scott Nelson said. "We think we can qualify for the state finals once again."
Two years ago, Newton was joking about surpassing the New York Yankees' baseball world championship haul when the Dukes rallied to win their 27th state team championship. York, after placing fourth last fall, enters the season as prohibitive favorite for another large-division state championship. Returning virtually its entire team from a year ago, headlined by Milling, York is ranked fourth in the nation by ESPN. But there are five other Class 3A schools in the area with similar pedigrees, at least in terms of returning valuable members from state-qualifying squads.
Neuqua Valley has a pair of state championships and two third-place trophies in the last five seasons. Paul Vandersteen put his charges through a mentally and physically punishing summer schedule in preparation for yet more elite finishes. But the veteran Neuqua Valley coach knows much will be expected of returning state members Meka, Bushelle and Hohlman.
"These guys know they still have to prove they can mix it up (with the best in the state)," Vandersteen said.
Naperville North, the front-runner in the DuPage Valley Conference, returns five state veterans; Haugen is a leading contender for individual all-state status.
Wheaton North and sister school WW South also made the state cut last fall. The Falcons are looking for a collective second chance.
"We know that we underachieved last season, especially down the stretch," Wheaton North coach Nate Roe said of the Falcons' 17th-place result in Peoria.
In the equally renowned West Suburban Silver, Hinsdale Central has designs on a fifth state appearance in the last six years. The Class 3A finals will unquestionably have an entirely different look with respect to its individual character after 13 of the top 14 place-winners graduated last spring. O'Fallon, widely considered the class of the downstate programs, has defending runner-up Alex Riba as the one exception.
Conference showdowns, of course, always predate the state series. There are several local teams searching for wider recognition. Lake Park, for example, has its eye on ending the Neuqua Valley stranglehold in the Upstate Eight Valley.
"I feel we have a legitimate chance to qualify downstate as a team," Lake Park coach Lance Murphy said. "Obviously, our goal is to finish in the top 10."
Glenbard West is another program with designs on becoming visible on state radar screens. "My assistant (Kurt Frazier) thinks this is the best team we have had since he's been here," third-year Glenbard West coach Kyle Nugent said. "And he's been here for 15 years."
"We're looking for a few all-staters," Downers North coach John Sippel added of his crew.
Downers South looks for a fourth straight West Suburban Gold championship. "We will have our work cut out for us," Downers South coach Brian Caldwell said. "We graduated 20 seniors from our program last year."
Lisle, Immaculate Conception and Timothy Christian represent the area hopes in Class 1A; the latter was 22nd in the state finals.
Key dates: Sept. 1, Fenton Early Bird; Sept. 1, Lyons Twp Invite; Sept. 1, Hornet-Red Devil Invite; Sept. 8, Peoria Woodruff Invite; Sept. 14-15, Peoria Notre Dame Invite; Sept. 15, Downers Grove South Invitational; Sept. 21, Naperville Central Invite; Sept. 22, Palatine Invite; Sept. 29, Wheaton North Falcon Classic; Oct. 6, West Aurora Blackhawk Stampede; Oct. 12-13, Conference championships.
Predicted state champions: Class 1A: Champaign St. Thomas More; Class 2A: Glenbard South; Class 3A: York.