With three teams in the top four places, it was a pretty great day for Mid-Suburban League girls cross country teams Saturday morning at the 21-team Warren Invitational.
Evanston managed to hold off Fremd 94-105 for the championship of the 2.98-mile race on the grounds of the O'Plaine campus followed by MSL rivals Buffalo Grove (110 points) in third and Rolling Meadows (142 points) in fourth.
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The Vikings' push for runner-up honors was led by the tandem of juniors Ayako Higuchi in second, and Katie Escobar in sixth.
"A lot of teams are counting us out after losing five of our top seven, but we've reloaded nicely," said Fremd coach Joe Marcin, whose team was without two of its top five runners. "Ayako has been our top runner all year and Katie Escobar has just gotten started so she has a lot of room for improvement. We had several p.r.'s in the varsity race today."
As was the case last year at the Warren Invite, Buffalo Grove sophomore Kaitlyn Ko really shined Saturday as she won the race by 27 seconds with a winning time of 17:24.79.
"Going into it I really didn't know much about the competition so I kind of just had to push myself and run my own race," said Ko. "I don't think coming into it we thought we would do this well and everybody did really well with a lot of p.r.'s."
Besides Ko's first-place finish, the Bison also got great support from first-year cross country runner sophomore Natalie Lezama, who placed 14th. Freshman Natalie Fitch was also a key part of Buffalo Grove's top trio in 21st place.
"It was a great race and it was a great day for everybody in the varsity and in the open race," said Buffalo Grove coach Sara Farrell. "It's exciting with like a new (top-three) group up there and they are really good about pushing themselves and pushing each other."
Rolling Meadows relied heavily on its 1-2 punch of senior Vanessa Sanchez in third and sophomore Gabby Sanchez in fourth to really help carry the team scoring in the meet.
"It's been a lot of hard work for Vanessa after knee surgery in the spring so she's getting in better and better shape," said Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Young. "Gabby is super competitive, she's been consistent all year, and a little at a time she's been getting better. It was only the second varsity race for our fourth and fifth runners and they scored well enough for us to take fourth so it was a great meet."
After the logjam of MSL teams at the top of the final standings, the host Blue Devils placed sixth with 184 points followed by North Suburban Conference rival Mundelein (224 points) in seventh. Grayslake Central placed ninth with 243 points.
Warren's pack was led by Greta Doden in 16th, Becky Haight in 23rd, and Michelle Klimt in 24th.
"We're trying to get through some injuries, we're continuing to work hard, and we've put in a solid block of training so far," said Warren coach Brett Heimstead, whose team placed 21st in Class 3A last year. "We've got a good pack up front and I've got a handful of girls battling for the 4-7 positions."
Mundelein only had five runners entered in the varsity race, but the Mustangs still showed some good depth behind top runner Emily Schlebecker in 10th place.
Juniors Kelsey Loar (32nd), and Jackie Shannon (34th) were a part of Mundelein's top trio.
"She (Schlebecker) did fabulous, she was in 11th place with about 50 meters to go, and she turned it on and got herself a (top 10) trophy," said first-year Mundelein coach Christy DeVitto. "Jackie Shannon had a great performance and she has dropped more than a minute in the last two weeks so she is moving up gradually each race."
Like Mundelein, Grayslake Central had an outstanding individual performance Saturday with senior Korina Gomez running to a fifth-place finish. Gomez placed 68th in Class 2A last fall.
"A top five finish in this meet really says a lot and she (Gomez) put in a fantastic summer," said Grayslake Central coach Jimmy Centella. "She put in more miles this summer than anyone, boys or girls, and her hard work is paying off."
Grayslake North freshman Camryn Cowperthwaite continues to shine in the early stages of the season with a seventh-place run while Kiley Britten was Crystal Lake South's top runner in eighth place.
Senior Ashley LaPointe led Antioch's squad in 17th place while sophomore Sara O'Malley gave Rolling Meadows' pack great support in 26th.
Malgorzata Waz added a 28th-place run for the Gators to nip Fremd's Angela Wu in 29th, and Buffalo Grove senior Megan Gardner in 31st. Fremd teammates Anita Grudzien and Nora Finegan placed 33rd and 35th respectively while Carmel's Theresa Gray placed 36th.