Hinsdale Central's Billy Magnesen was knocking on the door of all-state honors last season by finishing 32nd in Class 3A.
This year the Red Devils senior is looking to open it.
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Magnesen took a step forward Saturday at the 33rd annual Hornet--Red Devil cross country invitational, crashing through to win the title in 14:40 and leading host Hinsdale Central to the team title with 59 points at Katherine Legge Park in Hinsdale.
Magnesen battled Wheaton Warrenville South senior Nolan McKenna and Palatine junior Graham Brown the first two miles. Then the Red Devils senior made a move at the beginning of the final mile and pulled away for the win with a 13-second cushion over Highland Park's Angel Estrada (15:03).
New Trier senior Peter Cotsirilos (15:06) took third, followed by Brown (15:08) and McKenna (15:12).
"I heard someone yell to put the hammer down entering the third mile, and I thought now would be the time to go," said Magnesen who didn't look back. "I have expectations for myself that are much higher than the past, and it was a huge advantage to be running on my home course."
Magnesen paced a Hinsdale Central squad that put five runners in the top 19. Senior Emmet Scully(15:32) and senior Kevin Huang (15:35) took 10th and 11th places, with junior Matt McBride (15:50) and senior TJ Caveney (15:50) adding 18th and 19th.
Runner-up New Trier (74 points) placed four runners in the top 20. In third was Wheaton Warrenville South (83 points), followed by Neuqua Valley (88 points) and Palatine (125 points).
York and O'Fallon are considered the early favorites to contend for a state title, but Hinsdale Central's performance has vaulted the Red Devils into the trophy conversation.
"This victory was really a product of all the hard work put in over the summer," said Hinsdale Central coach Jim Westphal. "This doesn't define our season; a lot of great programs are out there. It's a nice victory, but we still have work to do."
Wheaton South's McKenna, who finished fifth in the 3,200 in Class 3A track in May, is set to lead the Tigers.
"Last year in track was my best season yet," said McKenna who finished 30th in Class 3A cross country. "I just want to keep moving forward and keep progressing."
Junior Kyle Cepeda (15:13) and senior Luke Schroer (15:17) weren't too far off McKenna's pace, finishing seventh and eighth.
"We have a good group and we're all moving forward," McKenna said.
Senior Nick Bushelle (15:12) and junior Daniel Weiss (15:27) gave Neuqua Valley a lift by finishing sixth and ninth. Bushelle is another runner to keep an eye on this fall after he finished 31st in Class 3A last season.
"I felt pretty good overall," said Bushelle, who ran a controlled race. "We have some younger guys that have been stepping up and I think we'll make progress as we continue."
Brown pushed Palatine, as the junior was hanging in the second spot midway through the final mile before being passed by two runners in the final 400 meters. The Pirates junior looks to be a major threat this season, with Saturday being a nice opener.
"I was happy with the race, the time was right where I wanted it to be," said Brown, "I put myself up there and really battled today."
Pirates senior Argeni Bailon (15:41) took 14th place, while junior Connor McGough (16:07) was 27th.
"We know it is going to take us some time to get it together this season," said Pirates coach Chris Quick. "We could have ran better today, but I think we'll run a lot better as the season progresses."
For Naperville Central, junior Scott Hicks (15:40) and senior Ryan Auld (15:46) were 13th and 16th.
"We're a little sluggish in September because we are working through these meet," said Naperville Central coach David Ashton. "But we are looking to get sharper. Hicks is running well right now, but we have some guys that are right on his heals."