Where: Deer Grove East Forest Preserve, Palatine.
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When: Saturday. First race 9 a.m.; girls varsity race at 10:20 a.m.; boys varsity race at 10:50 a.m.
Parking: Limited parking will be available at Deer Grove East. A spectator shuttle bus will be available from Palatine High School starting at 8 a.m and will offer return service after the race.
Girls teams to watch (rankings by Illinois Cross Country Coaches Poll): Assumption (Kentucky), No. 3 Palatine, No. 4 Lake Park, No. 7 Prospect, No. 10 Wheaton Warrenville South, No. 12 Downers Grove North, Maine South, Barrington.
Girls individuals to watch: Kaylee Flanagan, sr. ( Lake Park), Samantha Montalbano, sr. (Lake Park), Emily Leonard, jr. (Maine South), Megan Lemersal, sr. (Maine South), Brooke Wolfe, jr. (Prospect), Lauren Poplawski, sr. (Prospect), Tess Wasowicz, sr. (Palatine), Jessica Lincoln, jr. (Palatine), Sami Staples, soph. (Crystal Lake Central), Hope Schmelzle, sr. (Wheaton Warrenville South), McKenna Kiple, sr. (Wheaton Warrenville South), Gabby Hesslau, sr. (Downers Grove North), Hanna Winter, sr. (St. Viator), Meaghan Galinas, jr. (Lake Zurich), Kristi Del Prato, soph. (Libertyville), Lauren Conroy, fr. (Barrington), Kaitlyn Ko, fr. (Buffalo Grove).
Outlook: Flanagan ran to a victory at Richard Spring Invitational at Detweiller Park in Peoria in a course-record time of 16:20.3, breaking the mark set by Woodstock's Kayla Beattie (16:22) in the 2010 Class 2A race. The Lancers senior won the 2011 Palatine Invitational in 16:51, and seems to be destined for a state title. It figures that Flanagan will set the pace on Saturday, but the field is loaded with starpower, including Staples, who is the defending Class 2A champion, and Wolfe, a two-time Class 3A all-state runner. Assumption (Louisville, Kent.) is the two-time defending Class 3A Kentucky state champion and cruised to the Palatine title last season by 54 points over second place and Class 3A state runner-up Wheaton Warrenville South. Lake Park and Palatine finished in a virtual tie with 142 points, second behind No. 1 Glenbard West at the Richard Springs Invitational last week, but the Lancers were awarded second place with a sixth runner tie-breaker. The Lancers and Pirates will both be in contention for state trophies in November, and the pair will battle it out this weekend. Prospect and Wheaton South also have aspirations for state trophies; they'll be looking to sharpen their attack against top-notch competition.
Boys teams to watch (rankings by Illinois Cross Country Coaches Poll): No. 1 York, No. 5 Palatine, No. 8t Hersey, No. 11 Barrington, No. 14 New Trier, Jones College Prep, Maine South, St. Ignatius, Fremd, Lake Zurich, Crystal Lake Central, St. Xavier (Louisville, Kent.).
Boys individuals to watch: Jack Keelan, sr. (St. Ignatius), Christian Zambian, sr. (Palatine), Graham Brown, soph. (Palatine), Andy Philips, jr. (Hersey), David Rodriguez, jr. (Hersey), Ryan Burgeon, sr. (Barrington), Mike Ripley, sr. (Barrington), Harry Winter, jr. (Fremd), Nick Vucovich, jr. (Fremd), Kyle Mattes, jr. (York), Alex Mimlitz, sr. (York), Chris May, sr. (York), Micah Beller, sr. (Niles North), Grant Kykaza, sr. (Beecher), Alex Baker, sr. (Crystal Lake Central), Joe Cowlin, sr. (Prairie Ridge), Nicholas Korhumel, sr. (Libertyville), Ethan Kaplan, sr. (New Trier).
Outlook: If York was looking to make a statement, the Dukes certainly did at the Richard Springs Invitational at Detweiller Park in Peoria last weekend. The Dukes stormed to the title with 93 points, showing a lethal pack that has put them as an early favorite to win their 28th state title. Defending Class 3A champion Palatine, despite losing its top five runners from last season, finished a solid fourth in Peoria. Hersey and Barrington have also had impressive starts and will look to keep building their momentum. Class 2A powers Jones College Prep (Chicago) and Crystal Lake Central will also be in the loaded 31-team field. Four out-of-state teams, all ranked in their respective states, will add to the field. St. Xavier won the Class 3A title in Kentucky two of the last three years. Keelan will lead the individual race; the St. Ignatius senior ran an impressive 14:35 at the First to the Finish race at Detweiller Park in Peoria on Sept. 8. Don't be surprised to see a pack of York runners up front, either. Kykaza finished second in Class 1A last season and Baker finished fifth in Class 2A last season. Keep an eye on Winter, Brown, and Rodriguez -- they're emerging stars in the Mid-Suburban League.
-- Michael Eaken