Winning another North Suburban Conference title might give the impression everything was just fine for the Lake Zurich boys cross country team.
Senior Trevor Kuehr and the Bears knew it wasn't the case. But they made a different impression Saturday morning in the Class 3A Grant boys cross country regional when Kuehr and Alex Milner finished second and third to lead a 41-48 victory over Palatine at Camp Henry Horner Park in Ingleside.
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"That was definitely our best race of the season," said Lake Zurich coach J.B. Hanson.
"We've been struggling a little this year, and we don't know the reason why," Kuehr said. "We've been trying different things and we went after it today."
Kuehr (16:03.73) went after McHenry sophomore Jesse Reiser (16:00.83) to lead the Bears into next Saturday's Schaumburg sectional at Busse Woods.
"I was a little surprised I got up there quite as well as I did," Kuehr said. "I've been struggling to find the lead pack in other races but Jesse went out and I had to stay with him. I felt strong behind him and I thought a couple of times I would get him, but going uphill he'd get away and then I'd catch him a little bit."
Milner ran 16:07.91 and senior Jon Ramirez (16:20.81) stepped up with what Hanson called "a big race" to finish sixth. Senior Jared Ripoli (16:30.79) and junior Will Llanos (16:44.91) finished the Bears' top five.
"Give credit to Lake Zurich because they ran like a hungry team and we ran like a team that expected to show up and win," said Palatine coach Chris Quick. "We won a big conference title (Mid-Suburban League) last week and then we ran like we expected somebody to give it to us -- and they took it."
Sophomore Graham Brown (16:18.65) did make strides in the right direction as he took fifth behind teammate Christian Zambrano (16:15.82).
"It's been a while since I had a really good race and I'm starting to feel it and get it back," Brown said of battling a cold in recent weeks. "I was definitely a lot more confident. It was a tough course with a lot of hills and tough competition."
Zach Stella (16:28.51) took eighth for the Pirates and seniors Andrew Clingerman and Brian Smith finished 15th and 16th. Barrington was third with 79 points as senior Ryan Burgoon took seventh (16:26.29). One of the big surprises was Jake Herb taking 14th, a spot behind senior teammate Mike Rappleye and four places in front of sophomore Konrad Eiring.
"(Herb) had a really nice race today," Barrington coach Ty Gorman said of the junior who didn't start the season in the top seven. "Our goal was to work on the last mile and finish hard and our guys did that."
Grant took the fifth team qualifying spot as senior Trent Peters-Clarke was 11th (16:32.69). Senior Duncan Henderson took 10th in 16:31.53 to lead sixth-place Crystal Lake South and senior Dustin Throw was 20th to lead Cary-Grove to the seventh and final team qualifying spot.
Round Lake had three individual qualifiers, led by senior Angel Carrera in 17th place. Sophomore Todd Noreen and senior Davide Breyette took 48th and 51st to grab the final two individual qualifying spots for Dundee-Crown and retiring coach Tom Smith, who was presented with a plaque in recognition of his career during the awards ceremony.