With all the state-ranked teams at the Class 3A St. Charles East girls cross country sectional Saturday at LeRoy Oaks, separating the five who earned a state berth and the ones who just missed came down to a razor-thin margin.
It took a team effort to make it out, and it took individual efforts like the one by St. Charles North junior Kaylee Wessel.
Wessel spent the week leading up to sectional unlike the rest of the field, with her foot in a walking boot after an injury last week at regionals.
Wessel didn't run her best time Saturday, but just by pushing through her injury and placing third for the North Stars and 46th overall in 18:42, she helped provide that little boost that made the difference between getting to Detweiller Park and not.
The North Stars snared the final team spot with 175 points to join the state's No. 1 team Naperville North (39), Wheaton Warrenville South (114), Geneva (122) and Naperville Central (145) as Saturday's qualifiers.
St. Charles East (188), Jacobs (190), Benet (198) and Batavia (205) were left on the outside looking in.
Wessel hurt her foot running in the mud last week at the Wheaton North regional.
"She rolled her foot and ligaments snapped, didn't go apart, but they put her in a boot all week," North Stars coach Shari Hayes said. "She was disappointed she finished pretty far back today but if she didn't run we wouldn't have made it. She did very well, and we are thankful she ran."
Wessel wasn't the only injured North Star to return to the lineup as Ashley England took 10th after missing regionals nursing a hip injury.
"We're very happy, very excited," Hayes said. "We've been pretty banged up the last couple weeks. For the girls to step up and gut it out today was really good."
Freshman Nina Olshever was second for the North Stars, Shelby Artman fourth and Nicole Lopez fifth as St. Charles North earned its third straight trip to state.
Jacobs was one of those teams the North Stars edged. The Golden Eagles came into the sectional ranked second in the field and with a group of about a dozen shirtless boys who braved the 40-degree temperatures to paint their chests and cheer on the girls team.
Sophomore Lauren Van Vleirbergen finished second overall in 16:58.9 to DeKalb's Kelsey Schrader (16:57.5) while Jacobs senior Sam Baran also qualified in 17:40.
"I'm happy but I really wish everybody could come with me," Van Vleirbergen said. "I really wanted our team to make it."
Van Vleirbergen and Schrader were even most of the race before Schrader pulled ahead in the stretch. Van Vleirbergen just missed a spot as a freshman last year finishing as the ninth individual (top seven not on state qualifying teams advance).
"I just got outkicked at the end," Van Vleirbergen said. "I was little disappointed but it was OK. I just want to get all-state (next week), top 15 maybe."
Metea Valley's Kendall Cast led the other area individual qualifiers (fifth, 17:27) and was joined by the two Jacobs girls, Benet's Audrey Blazek (11th, 17:40), St. Charles East's Toree Scull (13th, 17:42) and Batavia freshman Dakota Roman (14th, 17:44). Roman made it to state by .3 seconds.
Geneva, the 2007 and 2008 state champions, is headed back to familiar territory. Freshman McKenzie Altmayer (17th, 17:45), sophomore Brook Nusser (18th, 17:47.4), junior Sydney Gelis (25th, 18:04.4), junior Kathryn Adelman (28th, 18:14.3) and sophomore Marin Leone (35th, 18:30.9) finished with a 46-second split.
"The girls have worked unbelievably hard all season," Vikings coach Bob Thomson said. "This is our fourth meet here, we run it like we're comfortable here, and we are. Sydney had a great race, McKenzie PR'd, Brook had a PR, everyone ran well. We knew we'd have to run close to our PRs today."
Dan Iverson's Naperville North team is not only ranked No. 1 in the state, the Huskies have been called by some potentially the best girls team ever.
That's quite a billing to live up to, but the Huskies certainly looked the part Saturday.
"It's certainly a compliment," Iverson said. "I don't know if that's true, we're a good team, but ultimately I don't even know if we are the best team in the state this year. I'd like to be.
"Whether we are or we are not (best ever), and for the record I think there's a good chance we're not, but at the same time we would settle for being the best team right now and see where that takes us. It's a really good group of kids."
Sophomore Elly DeTurris led the Huskies in third in 17:11.9 followed right behind by junior Maria McDaniel in fourth in 17:20.0. Freshmen Judy Pendergast (sixth, 17:33.5), Kate Shannon (seventh, 17:34.9) and Kimber Meyer (19th, 17:47.9) gave the Huskies all five of their runners in the top 19.
"We ran well," Iverson said. "I think we can take another step next week and that's kind of what our aim is. We wanted to run well this week and see what we could accomplish next week. I'm excited for next week certainly. Kate Shannon, nice kick and got herself in the top 10, best race of the year. Good team effort overall. That's the neat thing about cross country, it's such a team sport you don't need anyone to have an amazing day if you just have seven people who run hard."
Naperville North will be joined at state by two other DuPage Valley teams. Senior McKenna Kipple led Wheaton Warrenville South in eighth in 17:35.6, one spot and .3 seconds ahead of teammate Hope Schmelzle. Erin Herrmann (17:45.5), Helen Majer (18:17.0) and Kayla Kightlinger (18:54.1) rounded out the Tigers' top five.
Sophomore Katie Hoffman finished in 20th in 17:52.1 to lead the Redhawks followed by Rachel Hoffman (26th, 18:07.2), Emily White (29th, 18:14.7), Ruta Raulickis (32nd, 18:23.0) and Ellie Marcet (40th, 18:37.4).