Defending Class 3A state champion New Trier and state runner-up Wheaton Warrenville South entered the 32nd annual Hornet-Red Devil Invitational with all the headlines.
But Glenbard West and Hilltopper junior Madeline Perez stole their thunder.
Perez took control of the race in the first mile and didn't look back in cruising to the victory in 16:59, leading Glenbard West to a surprising title with 51 points at Katherine Legge Park in Hinsdale.
Glenbard West placed five girls in the top 15, including a third-place finish by sophomore Lisa Luczak (17:20) in an eye-opening performance.
"You never know what you have until you run the first meet," said Glenbard West coach Paul Haas, whose team finished sixth in Class 3A last season. "We didn't come to this race to win, we came to do our best. I'm really proud of how the girls stepped up."
New Trier blitzed the state field last year on the way to winning the Class 3A title by 62 points over second place Wheaton Warrenville South, and the Trevians returned their top three all-state runners. But they couldn't match the Hilltoppers' attack on Saturday in finishing second with 55 points.
Palatine showed it will be a team to contend with by taking third with 60 points; Wheaton Warrenville South (139 points) finished fourth, followed by Naperville Central (147 points) in the 20-team field.
Perez, a junior, controlled the race on an overcast and muggy morning, and was never threatened, finishing 14 seconds in front of New Trier senior Courtney Ackerman (17:13). New Trier sophomore Mimi Smith (17:36) took fourth, followed by Hinsdale Central senior Jill Hardies (17:59).
"That was pretty exciting," said Perez. "It's still early, but it was a solid start and we'll keep pushing ourselves in practice working hard."
"She is so driven to do her best every time," said Haas of his standout. "We hoped she could take another step and she did today."
Also taking another step was Luczak, who finished 53rd last year in Class 3A but reached another level on Saturday.
"It was surprising," said Luczak, "but I've been working really hard all summer."
The Hilltoppers sealed the victory with freshman Caitlyn Reick (18:38), senior Emma Reifel (18:55), and freshman Christine Sedall (18:58) taking 12th, 17th, and 18th place.
Megan Ozog (19:11) added a 24th-place finish for Glenbard West.
New Trier was not too far behind. Courtney Ackerman and Smith gave the Trevians a nice boost up front, with senior Jessica Ackerman (18:25) adding an eighth-place finish. All three were all-staters last season.
And the veteran Trevian squad is not pushing any panic buttons yet.
"Well, the target is on Glenbard West now," said Ackerman. "We'll peak right when need to, and come November we'll be ready to go."
Palatine was ready to go on Saturday. The Pirates placed five runners in the top 16 and showed they are ready to rebound from a 10th-place finish in Class 3A last season
Senior Tess Wasowicz (18:16) led the charge, taking sixth place. She was followed by a solid pack that included junior Jessica Lincoln (18:31), junior Cassidy McPherson (18:39), junior Liz Cox (18:43) and sophomore Amy Kieliszewski (18:49) who took 11th, 13th, 14th, and 16th.
"We filled a lot of holes," said Palatine coach Joe Parks, whose team won a state title in 2009 and was state runner-up in 2010, before being sidetracked by injuries last season. "Seeing the kids step up and seeing the improvement, and being able to put in the work, it will have us ready this year."
Palatine struggled last year filling its fifth spot, but Saturday's results have to please the Pirates.
"No one is really expecting too much from us," said Lincoln, "We can just show what we have, and this team has a lot of depth."
Wheaton Warrenville South is also likely to figure in the state picture in November. The Tigers have won three consecutive state trophies, including last fall's second-place finish, and return a good portion of their team.
Senior Hope Schmelzle (18:25) led the charge on Saturday, finishing in ninth place to lead a Wheaton Warrenville South team that was missing a chunk of its top seven.
Senior Mckenna Kipple (18:46) took 15th place, and senior Erin Herrmann (19:19) added a 27th-place finish.
Last track season, Schmelzle, Kipple, and Herrmann helped lead the Tigers to a state title and state record in the 3,200 relay (8:59.03).
"That definitely gives us confidence and we know we'll have strong kick at the end," said Schmelzle of 3,200 state title. "We know what we're up against because there are so many strong teams, but it is going to be exciting."
Junior Ruta Raulickis (19:09) and Ellie Marcet (19:11) finished 23rd and 25th to pace Naperville Central.
Hardies, a three-time all-stater, powered Hinsdale Central. The Red Devil senior hung with Perez early before settling in the chase pack.
Hardies finished fifth in Class 3A last season and is primed for another big season.
"I went out to fast today," said Hardies who still hung on for a fifth-place finish. "I just need to stay engaged in the second mile. I've had two very tough weeks of training and I didn't back off at all."
Becca Morcotte (19:01) aided the Red Devils with 20th-place finish.
Last year Metea Valley's Kendall Cast finished 41st in Class 3A. This year the Mustang junior is aiming higher.
So far, so good. Cast (18:20) finished an impressive seventh on Saturday to lead Metea Valley.
"I've been working really hard this year," said Cast of her improvement. "This race definitely gave me a lift."
Glenbard East freshman Lindsay Graham (18:30) also had an impressive day, securing 10th place for the Rams.