The battle for first place went down to the wire between three girls cross country teams Saturday morning at the Wauconda Invitational.
And when all was said and done, it was Cary-Grove (88 points) that barely held off runner-up Lake Zurich (92 points) and third-place Crystal Lake Central (97 points) for the championship of the 14-team meet at Lakewood Forest Preserve.
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The Trojans' top duo of Talia Duzey (fourth place) and Morgan Schulz (sixth place) helped push Cary-Grove over the top on the slightly under 3-mile course with excellent support from teammates Gretchen Price in 21st place and Sarah Riley in 24th.
"It's a strong team, our fresh-soph group took third today, and we have a lot of girls who are capable of stepping up and running on varsity," said Cary-Grove coach Mark Anderson, who was pleased with this squad's performance. "We've got kids that are just setting really good examples and the whole team understands we have an opportunity of doing something special."
There was nothing ordinary about Lake Zurich senior Meaghan Gelinas' outing. She ran a winning 18:20 to lead the Bears pack under mild running conditions for this early in the 2013 season.
Like Cary-Grove, Lake Zurich also put together a solid pack with Nicole Syverson (16th), Kristie Houghton (17th) and Katie Fabbrini (25th) helping to carry the scoring load.
"I felt really strong today and I was really pumped during the race," said Gelinas, who placed 35th in Class 3A in 2011. "I just kept pushing myself. I could feel footsteps behind me. But I knew I had it in me to stay ahead of the pack."
Lake Zurich coach Ian Silverman knows his team has the potential to be strong again after placing third in the North Suburban Conference last year. But there is still a long road ahead before the Bears reach their full potential.
"Gelinas looked very strong and the other six performed very well," said Silverman, who also got a 37th-place finish from Laura McNair. "It's nice to see them look good this early in the season, and we're still trying to work out our top five. It's still early for us. We just want to see how fast they can run."
Lakes was the next highest-finishing Lake County-area team with an eighth-place score of 247 points. Huntley (282) placed ninth followed by Mundelein (307) in 10th and Warren (326) in 11th.
Lakes sophomore Kortney Schardt is looking great in the early stages of the season, as she placed third to lead the Eagles pack.
"She had another outstanding day today, she's had a solid season, and she is a 5:19 miler from last year," said Lakes coach Keith West. "What I like about the way she runs is that she challenges herself to be the leader. And late in the race today she was in the lead and our pack was looking good today."
Kate Mitchell was Huntley's top runner in 18th place, while Mundelein was led by junior Kelsey Loar in 23rd. Senior Greta Doden set the place for Warren with a 27th-place finish with senior Lindsey Lewis leading Grant's troops in 33rd.
Huntley's Kelly Meehleib added a 29th-place run for the Red Raiders to outdistance Mundelein senior Emily Schlebecker in 34th.
Grayslake North did not field a full team for the varsity meet, but the Knights did get a solid 35th-place finish from freshman Camryn Cowperthwaite. Cary-Grove's Molly MacDuff checked in 36th place on the newly configured course.