Thanks to the success programs like Geneva and St. Charles East have had in girls cross country, the area has become known for annually providing some of the best runners and teams in the state.
That continued last fall, this time at Kaneland where sophomore Victoria Clinton won the Class 2A state championship.
Clinton's quest for back-to-back state titles headlines what should be another fall filled with some elite runners racing at a forest preserve near you.
Kaneland coach Doug Ecker certainly is glad to have Clinton back but knows there's plenty of competition for his team.
With Clinton leading the way, the Knights won the Kaneland Class 2A regional and the Freeport Invitational, and took second in conference, third at the Belvidere sectional and sixth at the state meet.
"The conference will be strong once again with mostly 2A schools," Ecker said. "Yorkville is the prohibitive favorite and rightfully so. Dixon will be strong this year having won the middle school state girls meet last year. DeKalb, Sycamore and Geneseo will also have good teams with good individuals as well."
Besides being a good test for the Knights in the team standings, the Northern Illinois Big XII features individuals like Kelsey Schrader from DeKalb who took 10th in the 3A state meet and Yorkville's Skylar Bollinger who was fifth in the 2A state meet.
Kaneland also returns two more all-conference runners, sophomore Brianna Bower (34th at the state meet) and senior Sydney Strang (38th at state). Junior Aislinn Lodwig finished 69th at state.
Ecker said he is looking for "much improved" junior Jessica Kucera to soften the loss of graduating four seniors.
"The girls will have to stay healthy to have an opportunity of accomplishing their goals for this year which includes a third straight trip to the state meet and a top three finish in the conference," Ecker said. "Lack of depth will be a concern for us this year having several girls in the top five who are prone to injuries and sickness."
Geneva also is coming off a sixth-place state finish, the Vikings doing it in Class 3A. They also won the Upstate Eight Conference River Division and a regional championship in another strong season for Bob Thomson's runners.
The Vikings return six of their top seven runners from that team: seniors Kathryn Adelman and Sydney Geils, juniors Brooke Nusser and Kylie Monahan and sophomores McKenzie Altmeyer and Emma McSpadden.
Geneva's five alternates at state last season were all underclassman.
"At this time we have several competing for our seventh spot," Thomson said. "We have a solid team at all grade levels and there will be competition for our varsity spots as the season progresses."
While there will be plenty of competition, the Vikings look to have the returning talent to make 2013 another championship-filled season.
*We feel that we will challenge for the conference title and the girls have a goal to make it back to state eyeing a higher finish than last season," Thomson said. "Both St. Charles schools and Batavia should make for a competitive conference."
St. Charles East has a new coach this fall, Mike Backer, who has returned to teaching social studies at St. Charles East and coaching after leaving an administration position in the district. Backer has previous distance running coaching experience at Rich South.
Three of the Saints' top seven are back led by junior Torree Scull, already a two-time Upstate Eight Conference River champion and two-time state qualifier.
Seniors Jess Thompson and Corrin Adams also return to the lineup.
Backer likes his mix of newcomers. Junior Jordan Luedke, sophomore Anstasia Honea, and freshmen Hannah Ewald and Lauren Woelffer will try to help the Saints challenge Geneva.
Coach Shari Hayes returns to St. Charles North with a team that picked up several invitational titles last year and qualified for state. The No. 1 runner from that team, senior Ashley England, is back along with the second runner, sophomore Nina Olshever, the third runner, senior Kaylee Wessel, and the fourth runner, sophomore Shelby Artman.
Seniors Natalia Gawlik and Audrey Blankenship, and sophomores Caitlyn Campbell and Alyssa Isbrandt, all were in the top 12 for the North Stars last year. Hayes said three freshmen -- Madison Kaufmann, Allie Chen and Madeline McNellis -- along with junior Morgan Lain, have worked hard and will be vying for spots.
"The team did a lot of good work over the summer," Hayes said. "We have a similar looking lineup as last season. Audrey Blankenship, Caitlyn Campbell and Morgan Lain seem to have made the most improvement since last season and should all impact our top seven this season. We have three freshmen that have been training well all summer. They could be strong enough to make our top seven. We have a lot of strong teams in the Upstate Eight."
Like the Vikings and North Stars, Batavia also has several returning runners. Sophomore Dakota Roman placed 58th place at the state meet last year and leads those returnees.
Juniors Jenny Muehlbauer and Alicia Grant, and seniors Jessica Roach and Lia Kruse also are back while junior Miranda Rea is one of the top newcomers.
"We are looking to improve upon our fourth-place conference finish last season and ninth-place sectional finish," Batavia coach Chad Hillman said. "We have a lot of top seven experience returning but will need some newcomers to step in to fill the gaps."
In the DuPage Valley Conference, junior Miranda Gollwitzer is back at West Aurora after qualifying for sectionals a year ago. Junior Gabriela Aguilar is another runner the Blackhawks are counting on while freshmen newcomers Taylor Truckenbrod and Julia Connelly and sophomore Carmen Barry could step into the lineup.
"I am optimistic about the upcoming season," West Aurora coach Angela Cassetto said. "We are very young but are coming together well. They are learning to run together as a group. The DVC looks tough with the addition of Lake Park but hopefully we will go out strong. We are hoping to finish better than last season."
Rosary finished third in the Suburban Christian Conference last year with one state qualifier.
Vic Mead's team returns captains Abby Hammer and Sarah Wilkinson who will join with seniors Biz Nasharr, Abby Michel and Lauren Keiffer, junior Emily Martin, and sophomores Madison Ronzone and Shea Vero to form what Mead calls "the backbone of our team."
"We have a big team, lots of newcomers so it should be fun," Mead said.
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH