All Lauren Van Vlierbergen and her Jacobs teammates wanted to do Saturday at Kaneland's Larry Eddington Invitational was run their best individual races. Turns out all that personal success worked wonders for the Golden Eagles' team results.
Van Vlierbergen led Jacobs with a fourth-place finish at Elburn Woods while it was the team's fourth and fifth runners who made the difference in a 20-point win over runner-up Marengo.
Jacobs (73), Marengo (93), Geneva (102), Crystal Lake Central (109) and Kaneland (117) were the top five finishers in the talented 16-team field, one that included seven 2011 conference champions. It was a championship for the Golden Eagles that was a long time coming.
"This is the first major invite win besides dinky 7-team meets we'll say in the last 20 years," Jacobs coach Kevin Christian said. "And to win by 20 they were excited. They can't believe it, especially our seniors because they remember what it was like four years ago and they were not up there. It's a shift in goals, it used to be 'let's try to get out of regionals' and now it is beyond that."
Fifth place last week at Peoria and a runner-up to start the season at St. Charles East, Jacobs is off to a great start. Van Vlierbergen, who ran a 18:09 and trailed only winner Katie Adams from Marengo (17:53), Crystal Lake Central's Sami Staples (18:05) and Kaneland's Victoria Clinton (18:07), was just as pleased with her own race as her team's.
"I think I did well," Van Vlierbergen said. "I just died on the hills a little. I didn't have much of a kick at the end. I'm really proud of our team, we did really well. We've been working hard this season. We all wanted to go for individual times and that we did well as a team is even better. We're doing great this season."
Sam Baran followed Van Vlierbergen for Jacobs in 11th while freshman Alex Lorenz was 14th. It was the races by fourth runner Kayla Giuliano (20th) and fifth runner Tori Tamburrino (27th) and the improvements they have made that helped turn the tide in the team standings.
"Our girls ran good," Christian said. "We've been waiting for our No. 4 to step up and she really did. She overcame some early season allergy issues. With her there it's a whole different team. And our fifth stepped up too with those two it's a completely different team. It's not just the top three."
Giuliano said Van Vlierbergen did especially well considering the hilly course at Elburn Woods.
"To finish with that group, once she gets on flat land she'll do even better," Christian said. "It's a top-heavy area. No matter where we go there's competition, even a three- or four-team meet and everyone I feel has a stud."
Clinton led the way for the host Knights. She used her course knowledge to her advantage in passing a couple runners in the second half of the race to finish third.
"It was a tough race," Clinton said. "The competition was very good, very fast. I felt good. Those hills are tough, I was thankful God allowed me to have a good race. We practice here often, we go up the hill so it does give us a little mental edge."
Clinton, second to Staples last week at Wauconda, again finished one spot behind her.
"I stayed in front for half the race, fell off a little, at the half mile I picked it up and tried to stay up with the second and third girls and I wanted to be top three and I achieved my goal," said Clinton, who took 13th at state as a freshman.
Freshman Brianna Bower (20th), senior Amanda Lesak (31st), senior Abby Didis (33rd) and senior Magie Brundige (36th) ran a pretty tight 2-5 pack for the Knights, ranging in times from 19:59 to 20:33.
"We want to go down to state," Clinton said.
Third-place Geneva always has that goal. The Vikings weren't at full strength Saturday but got a top-10 finish from freshman McKenzie Altmayer (19:01) who was third last week at the Royal-Cadet invite.
Sophomore Brooke Nusser took second in 19:42. She actually led the race at the mile mark before a foot injury flared up and she dropped back.
"She's got some foot issues," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "They were just starting to bother her as the miles went by.
"But we got third, that was good. They all ran well. I was surprised we got third as spread out as we were."
Junior Sydney Geils, sophomore Kylie Monahan and sophomore Marin Leone rounded out Geneva's top five in 21st, 30th and 32nd.
"We're hoping when we get all our pieces together we can start running together because they are kind of spread out right now," said Thomson noting he was missing two of his top five. "They are doing well but we want to get them to work together."
Freshman Lindsay Grahmam ran the course in 18:33 to take sixth for Glenbard East.
"I tried a strategy I've been using and it seems to be working for all my races so far," Grahmam said. "I start out in a place that I know I shouldn't be more in the back and when the runners slow down I get a confidence boost by passing people. It helps me get energy to finish strong. As hills came by I was picking people off and helped me know I was strong and I can pass people."
Grahmam has made a quick adjustment to varsity running taking third at the Wauconda Invitational and 10th at the Red devil invite.
"Being only a freshman I'm trying to stay in my limits that I might not have the same goals as older people but my main goal is I'd like to make it to the state meet," Grahmam said.
Waubonsie Valley senior Ashley Bruner rounded out the local top-10 finishers in seventh in 18:39.