The Class 3A Schaumburg girls cross country sectional has proven very difficult for Lake County teams to make it out of over the years.
But after Lake Zurich managed to do it last fall, Warren thought it just might be able to pull off the task too Saturday morning under perfect running conditions on the 3-mile Busse Woods course.
And after waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the official results to come out and assuming that they'd fallen short of their goal again, the Blue Devils found out that they had indeed earned a trip to the 2012 state meet with a fifth-place score of 178 points, edging sixth-place finisher Fremd (184 points), and seventh-place Lake Zurich (198).
Perennial power Palatine rolled to the title of the 21-team meet with 70 points followed by fellow Mid-Suburban League powers Barrington (103) in second, Prospect (116) in third, and Schaumburg (162) in fourth.
But Saturday was a day to remember for Warren as the Blue Devils became the first team in school history to qualify for the fabled meet at Peoria's historic Detweiller Park. Only two individual girls runners in Warren history had reached state before Saturday.
Warren's push for fifth was led by senior Meg Tully in 19th, Greta Doden in 29th, Becky Haight in 33rd, Rachel Shoemaker in 43rd, and Michelle Klimt in 54th.
"We knew we had a shot, but we didn't think we were actually going to get it until we did," said Tully who was surrounded by a pack of shocked teammates and fans following the announcement. "Everyone had good, solid races today, and in Warren history we've never made it to state as a team."
Second-year Warren coach Brett Heimstead could barely control his emotions as he was just overwhelmed with pride to see his team reach the state meet under what had to be some very long odds against the Blue Devils headed into the meet.
"We've been a great team all year and for this to happen is just a testament to everything we've worked for," said Heimstead, whose team has three seniors in its top seven. "We had senior leadership from the top, and everyone working for a common goal was the key that helped everybody."
Prospect senior Brooke Wolf was an impressive individual champ in 17:44.26 followed by Buffalo Grove's Kaitlyn Ko in second and Schaumburg's Caroline Kurdej in third.
Top-seven individual at-large berths are hard to come by, but Cary-Grove sophomore Talia Duzey actually made that task look pretty easy Saturday as Duzey turned on the steam down the stretch to finish fourth in 17:51.17 and earn the second at-large trip. Duzey missed state by a tenth of a second last year.
"I felt like I had to move up at the 2-mile mark and I had a pretty good kick," said Duzey, who placed fifth at regionals. "It's really exciting, I had a lot of fun, this is one of my favorite course, and I'm glad I did so well."
Cary-Grove coach Mark Anderson could not be happier with his "super sophomore."
"I'm thrilled for her, she's worked really hard, and we knew coming in she had a good chance," said Anderson. "She beat everybody from the regional meet and to have your best meet of the season when she had to the most I'm really proud of her."
Libertyville sophomore Kristi Del Prato placed 12th in 18:12 to earn the fifth at-large berth and return to state for the second straight year. First-year Libertyville coach Bill Etnyre is very optimistic that Del Prato will shine downstate after she entered the meet at much less than 100 percent last year due to a hamstring injury.
"This year she has pretty much had a healthy season so everything is coming together at the right time for her," Etnyre said. "Her goal was to get to the front pack and stick there because really the only guarantee to get to state is to get in the top 10."
The final at-large berth to state was still up for grabs, but Mundelein senior Ellie Palacios came through like a champion and took it with a stellar 17th-place finish for the Mustangs in the pressure-packed meet.
"Since her freshman year she (Palacios) has made huge improvements, she's dedicated, and it's just one of those great, inspirational stories," said elated Mundelein coach John Osmanski. "With a mile and a quarter to go she really started moving up and she followed the race plan to an absolute tee."
Lake Zurich was led by Katie Fabbrini in 22nd while Lindsey Lewis led Grant in 28th.
"They looked good, and they raced really well," said Lake Zurich coach Ian Silverman. "All of our training paid off and we're proud of the team we put on the line."
It was a good day for Lake County area girls cross country teams and individuals Saturday at the Class 2A Belvidere sectional.
Marengo rolled to the crown with 57 points, but fourth-place Vernon Hills (166 points) and fifth-place Grayslake Central (173) also earned trips to the state meet in Peoria next Saturday.
The Cougars' top runner was Kristen Whitney with great support from teammates Samantha Hershman, Vivian Overbeck, Shannon Skeoch, and Lexi Reich rounding out their top five scorers.
Grayslake Central's top-five pack featured junior Korina Gomez, Jamie Brew, Elsie Rehberg, Jordan Larson, and Emily Moran.
Lakes had two young at-large qualifiers reach state with sophomore Danielle Griesbaum (11th), and freshman Kortney Schardt (17th) making the cut.