St. Charles North, Geneva and Batavia's girls cross country teams are going to see a lot of each other the next few weeks, and if Saturday is any indication those promise to be some can't-miss events.
The host North Stars won their own 12-team invitational Saturday at LeRoy Oakes with 46 points, just one better than Geneva with Batavia in third at 63.
With St. Charles East joining the fun, the teams will meet again on the same course in two weeks for the conference championship and then likely all four will be back at LeRoy again for sectionals.
North Stars coach Shari Hayes was glad to see her team improve over a third-place finish the previous week at Bartlett.
"It was still a good day because we did not run well last weekend," Hayes said. "This is a much improved meet. Last weekend our first runner was 18:40 and then back into 19s so this was big improvement."
This time the North Stars' first runner was junior Ashley England in third place in 18:04.02 just .2 seconds behind Batavia's Dakota Roman as the two raced neck-and-neck into the chute.
Kaylee Wessel followed in fifth with Elle Murata giving the North Stars another top-10 runner in 10th. Freshman Nina Olshever shook off some leg problems to take 14th and another freshman Shelby Artman was 17th.
"She (England) ran consistent, very pleased with her performance," Hayes said. "My second, she should close the gap a little, little more of a gap I don't want to see later in the season. My fourth and fifth were back a little further than should, 18:40s should have been in the 18:30s."
The North Stars will need to get those times where Hayes wants to stay in front of Geneva. Freshman McKenzie Altmayer ran an 18:24 to take sixth with Brooke Nuser, Sydney Geils and Mackenzie Williams running together in 11th through 13th, respectively.
Marin Leone rounded out the top five in 18th, and Geneva could be adding other runners to the mix after watching its sophomore team dominate the first race of the day.
"That was as close to a top seven as we've had," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "But we have some kids who may move up. We felt we could run with St. Charles North and Batavia and we felt good about how we ran today. We know we'll still getting better. We're not as good as we're going to be."
Nusser finished second last week at Sterling but wasn't at 100 percent Saturday.
"We know we'll have to beat a team like St. Charles North to get to state and we're right in the back pocket now," Thomson said. "That (Saturday's race) is going to be a confidence-booster for us. Mackenzie as a freshman is doing extremely well and still learning and finding out what high school cross country is all about. And we have some other freshmen, sophomores who might make some contributions too."
Any discussion of impact freshmen has to include Batavia's Roman. She came from behind to pass England in the last quarter-mile and then held off a furious sprint from England to take second.
"She had a hard time moving her legs today," Batavia coach Chad Hillman said. "She's looked better than she has today. I think she would have been right in there (going for first if at her best)."
Hillman compared Roman with Batavia's No. 2 runner Saturday, sophomore Lexi Slome (seventh, 18:33) for having one of the best freshman seasons since he's been coach.
"Lexi last year is the best freshman we've ever had and Dakota is at the very least is right there with what she had," Hillman said. "Couple good young kids. Lexi, she's been consistent. There's a couple (races) she hasn't been all that happy with, she wasn't all that happy today. She's had a great summer and great season of training so that will start to take over this last month."
Senior Gracie Ball impressed Hillman by taking 15th.
"She's the one that's been closing the gap on the top two," Hillman said. "We've got as good of a top two as most teams. We've had that gap and she's the one who has been consistently closing it."
Batavia has been running this year without senior Rachel Spalding who had been the team's No. 1 runner the last few years but is out for the season with a stress fracture. Adding her to the lineup could have pushed Batavia up even higher.
"She's a great kid and as hard of worker as we have who did everything she could to get back. As good as our front two are we'd have a great front three," said Hillman who pointed to an eighth-place finish out of 53 teams as Peoria as one of Batavia's highlights this fall.
"The rest of the girls feel it wasn't their best (today)," Hillman said. "You aren't going to come out and race great every week. We were a little flat which is going to happen. You can't expect to be on fire every week. We definitely didn't run bad, it was just OK."
Metea Valley junior Kendall Cast led nearly the entire race. Her 17:50.6 time put her 14 seconds ahead of Roman.
Cast also won at the Downers Grove South Invitational, placed seventh at Hinsdale's Invitational and 20th in Peoria.
"I did got out fast," Cast said. "I usually do go out fast because I know my kick in the end isn't as strong as I'd like. I got tired, I slowed down but it's OK. I could hear people cheering the names of the girls behind me so I thought they must be close."