Barrington's girls cross country team has picked it up after a sluggish start to the season, while Buffalo Grove sophomore Kaitlyn Ko has been strong from start to finish.
On Saturday at the Wheeling girls cross country invitational, the Fillies and Ko were in prime form.
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Barrington placed five girls in the top 23, securing the team title with 65 points at the Allstate Campus in Northbrook.
Libertyville (74 points) took second, followed by Lake Zurich (98), Belvidere North (138), and New Trier (151), which did not field its full varsity line-up.
Ko continued her strong start by holding off a strong challenge from St. Viator senior Meghan Carroll to capture the individual title in 18:25.
Ko and Carroll battled the first mile and a half before the BG sophomore made a move. Ko then maintained separation in the final mile, easing to the victory with a 13-second cushion.
"I kicked it out and then kept it going," said Ko of her race-changing move.
Ko has been in command all season, from winning the title at the 'First to the Finish' event in Peoria in early September to taking second at the Palatine Invitational in late September.
And she doesn't seem to be slowing down with the postseason on the horizon.
"There is definitely pressure, but I'm feeling confident," said Ko, who finished 22nd in Class 3A last season. "I want to do well, but I'm kind of in a good position. Now I just want to go out there and do my best."
Carroll wasn't too far off pace on Saturday in taking second in 18:38.
The St. Viator senior finished 19th in Class 2A last season and finished seventh in a strong field at the Richards Springs Invite in Peoria in mid-September.
Since the Peoria race, Carroll has been slowed by a right knee injury, but she was back in top form on Saturday.
"I'm better," said Carroll who has responded to a short rest. "Today I wanted to get out strong then finish strong. This year I am really starting to believe in myself and I'm looking forward to the postseason."
After a slow start to the season, Barrington is starting to gain believers, too.
The Fillies opened the season by finishing a disappointing ninth at the St. Charles East Leavey Invitational. But since the early season setback, the Fillies have been steadily improving, and they continued in the right direction Saturday.
"We're not deep, but we're solid," said Barrington coach Debbie Revolta. "We are working on staying together, and we did fairly well today."
Senior Caroline Reynolds (18:57) led the charge on Saturday with an impressive fourth-place finish. The Fillies senior has had an impressive run and likes the progress she's seeing in the team.
"We definitely have improved as a team and are coming together as a pack," said Reynolds. "We've been working hard and I feel we have a lot of potential heading into the postseason."
Reynold had help as sophomore Lauren Conroy (19:30) and sophomore Arushi Agarwal (19:39) took 10th and 12th place. Junior Lauren Cropsey (19:45) and senior Kristen Patino (20:00) kept things moving by taking 16th and 23rd place.
"The pieces are definitely back," said Conroy who has dealt with a vocal chord disorder this season. "We're all just happy and excited to run, instead of being anxious and nervous. We're doing it for the team."
Libertyville pressured Barrington by placing five girls in the top 15, as freshman Emily Olson (19:27) and senior Ali Urbanski (19:29) powered the Wildcats attack by taking eighth and ninth place.
"We got off really fast and our group was able to stick together," said Urbanski. "We're excited about our finish today."
Sophomore Hannah Houghton (19:33) and junior Kristi Del Prato (19:45) finished 14th and 15th for the Wildcats.
"The girls have been working hard and running for the team," said Libertyville coach Bill Etnyre of the Wildcats' surge. "Finishing 9 points behind Barrington, you have to feel pretty good about yourself."
Lake Zurich senior Meaghan Gelinas has also been coming on strong. The Bears senior continued her momentum on Saturday by taking third place in 18:54. Sophomore Kristie Houghton (19:33) and junior Nicole Syverson (20:02) added 11th and 24th place for Lake Zurich.
Gelinas jumped out to a quick start and then was able to pace off the two front runners.
"After the gun went off I got in mindset to stay with the front pack," said Gelinas, who was able to secure her position early and then ran a controlled race. "I'm feeling strong and I feel the team is also improving."
Rolling Meadows senior Vanessa Sanchez (19:17) made a huge surge in the final mile to secure sixth place for the Mustangs. She was in 12th place midway through the final mile before making her move.
"It was all mental that final mile," said Sanchez who was derailed by a stress fracture last season. "You just have to focus on each girl in front of you and you just have to stick with it every corner you turn. I've been working for this a long time and I want it now."
Sophomore Gabby Sanchez (19:46) aided the Mustangs' attack by taking 17th place.
Grant senior Lindsay Lewis (19:18) made a move in the second mile in securing seventh place for the Bulldogs.
"I felt really good today," said Lewis of her strong finish. "I've been working hard on moving in the second mile."