The Jacobs boys and girls cross country teams are flying high heading into Saturday's IHSA regional action.
The Jacobs girls cross country team won the Fox Valley Conference title. The Golden Eagles placed three runners in the Top 10 lead by standout Lauren Van Vlierbergen, who won the title by more than 17 seconds.
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However, Van Vlierbergen will not run in Saturday's Class 3A Rockford Guilford regional at Rockford College due to stress in her foot. Jacobs coach Kevin Christian noted Van Vlierbergen does not have a stress fracture.
"In order to prevent her from getting a stress fracture, she is taking a break," he said.
Christian said Van Vlierbergen will return to the lineup if Jacobs qualifies for sectionals as a team.
The Golden Eagles still boast Top 10 conference performers in Sam Baran (8th) and Alex Lorenz (10th). Teammate Kayla Giuliano finished 11th in the FVC.
On the boys' side, Jacobs is coming off a second-place FVC finish. The Golden Eagles were only 4 points behind league champion Crystal Lake Central.
Ryan Ross led the Golden Eagles with a sixth-place showing. Matt Johnson was eighth and Tyler Estell was 15th.
Ross said one major key in the team's success has been the lineup's development at the back end.
"I give all the credit to our 5, 6 and 7 spots," he said. "They have stepped up and made us a tight group that has a real good pack."
Ross credits his development on the mentoring he received from a previous Jacobs runner.
"My biggest improvement this year has been my focus," he said. "Last year I had Will Hennessy keeping me on track. With him not there, it's been different this year. I've had to really focus on what I'm doing."
Ross also has been working on the finishes of his races.
"In races, I've been running more strategic," he said. "I don't have the biggest kick in the world. With 800 meters to go, I try and widen the gap between myself and the next person behind me so I have some space."
Ross said the recipe for success Saturday is all about muscle memory.
"When we ran over at Bartlett, we ran a tremendous race," he said. "To be successful we have to run our race. We have the ability to reproduce what we did. If we have that same running strategy, I think we could come out with a regional title."
The Guilford field also includes Larkin and Huntley. The girls' race starts at 10 a.m. at Rockford College. The boys follow at 10:45 a.m.
Bartlett, Elgin, South Elgin and Streamwood will compete in the Class 3A Wheaton North regional at St. James Farm in Warrenville. The girls' race starts at 10 a.m. with the boys following at 11 a.m.
The Class 3A Grant regional field at Camp Henry Horner in Ingleside includes Dundee-Crown, Crystal Lake South and Cary-Grove.
Cary-Grove girls' runner Talia Duzey, who is coming off a fifth-place showing at the FVC meet. Cary-Grove finished third as a team behind Jacobs and Crystal Lake Central. Duzey also placed fifth at the McHenry County meet.
"I am a lot more confident in myself this year," Duzey said. "In the past, I didn't think I could run up with some of the runners I've been running with now. It's been a big boost to my confidence."
Duzey said she stepped up her training commitment in the offseason.
"I ran a lot more over the summer and trained a lot harder," she said. "I also have a lot better mental focus."
Duzey is excited about the team's prospects as well.
"We've worked hard and we've really improved," she said. "All the hard work definitely has paid off."
The boys' race at Camp Henry Horner starts at 10 a.m. The girls follow at 11 a.m.
Harvest Christian Academy, which will compete in the Class 1A Aurora Christian regional at Oakhurst Forest Preserve, also enjoyed success on both the boys and girls sides at the Northeastern Athletic Conference meets.
Harvest Christian won the girls' conference title. Hannah Nelson was second in the meet. Harvest had five runners in the Top 11.
"My teammates and coach have encouraged me and helped me improve this year," Nelson said.
Nelson has been running cross country for two years. Her first experience was last year in middle school at Harvest Christian.
"Last year we only ran one mile in races," she said. "We're running three miles now. It's been a big adjustment. It was harder at first, but it's gotten easier as I get in shape more."
Nelson is looking forward to the opportunity before her at the regional.
"I'm going to try my best and try and get up and stay close with that first group," she said.
Harvest Christian placed second in the boys' conference meet. Robert Doby placed second individually.
"My mental capacity in races has improved," Doby said. "I'm running through pain now. Coach (Steve Bland) has really helped me out. In a race, there may be pain for five minutes. Instead of asking myself, 'Could I have done well? "I'm pushing through it and breaking 18 and now 17 minutes, which have been hallmarks for me."
Doby also has been working on aspects of his running off the course.
"I'm getting properly hydrated and getting the right amount of sleep and working on nutritional preparedness," he said. "I'm prepared. Things like proper nutrition and mental toughness and being prepared for the course will be keys to having a good race Saturday."
The field at Aurora Christian also includes Elgin Academy, St. Edward and Westminster Christian. Races start at 10 a.m.
In Class 2A, Burlington Central and Hampshire are part of the Kaneland regional field at Elburn Forest Preserve (boys 10 a.m.; girls 11 a.m.).
At the regional level, the top 7 teams and the top 5 runners not on qualifying teams advance to sectionals next Saturday. The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-place overall individual finishers not on qualifying teams also advance.