With one of the top runners in the state racing, girls cross country teams knew the competition was going to be tough Saturday in the 15th annual James "J.T." Taylor Invitational.
Woodstock senior Maura Beattie, who finished 17th in the Class 2A state meet last year, rolled to first place on the 3-mile Camp Henry Horner course in 18:09.41. She beat her closest competitor by more than 1:13 under warm running conditions.
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Beattie's performance helped carry the Blue Streaks to the championship of the 18-team meet by a 66-73 margin over runner-up Lake Forest, while host Grant placed third with 126 points. Lakes was fourth with 135 points.
After placing 12th in the state in Class 2A last year, fifth-ranked Vernon Hills is ready to set the bar even higher. The Cougars placed fifth with 143 points, despite not being at full strength.
Grant's effort was led by senior Lindsey Lewis, who placed seventh, just behind Lakes sophomore Kortney Schardt (sixth).
"We ran well, and this was the first invite we ran all of our kids up at the varsity level," said Grant coach Jeff Durlak. "Lindsey looked a lot better than she has the last couple of weeks, and all of the other kids were close to each other, which is a good sign."
Besides Schardt (77th in Class 2A last year), Lakes had a good effort from junior Ashley Espinosa in 21st and junior Nicole Towne in 27th.
"Kortney was a little bit sick today, but she was really competing well with some of the top girls in the area," said Lakes coach Keith West. "Ashley has had a three-minute drop from last year, and it's just fantastic that we had someone who was a little off the radar who has been in the No. 2 spot consistently for us."
Vernon Hills ran without three of its top seven runners. The Cougars turned to sophomore Vivian Overbeck for leadership, and she responded by placing fourth in 19:25, despite being under the weather.
Sophomore Lexi Reich placed 23rd for Vernon Hills, while junior teammate Lauren Kim took 29th as the Cougars' third runner.
"I think our team did pretty well, but we have a lot of injuries and some people are sick," said Overbeck, who placed 56th in Class 2A last year. "We're where we want to be right now, and if we're all healthy I think we can do well at the sectional meet."
There is still a long way to go until the state series begins, but Vernon Hills coach Suzanne Richert is optimistic that her squad can be competitive when the pressure-packed meets roll around in late October and early November.
"Vivian did well and we were missing some girls today with sickness going through the team," said Richert, whose team placed sixth in the North Suburban Conference last fall. "I'm happy with them. They came out and competed, and we were short-handed at all levels today."
Grayslake Central took eighth with 204 points, followed by Carmel (280) in 10th and Grayslake North (283) in 11th.
Freshman Camryn Cowperthwaite continued to shine as Grayslake North's top runner. She ran to a 13th-place finish, while senior Korina Gomez was Grayslake Central's top runner in 16th.
Grant freshman Lauren Troemel was 24th, nipping Carmel senior Theresa Gray in 25th. Grant junior Kaleigh Bauer placed 30th to outdistance Grayslake Central junior Emma Mitchiner in 32nd. Grant's Stephanie Zimbru and Rachael Temple placed 35th and 36th, respectively.