After a one-year hiatus, the Lake Zurich girls cross country team has returned to the top of the North Suburban Conference pack.
The Bears' squad achieved that feat in pretty impressive fashion Saturday afternoon on the 3-mile Camp Henry Horner course hosted by Grant under 53-degree running conditions and even a few rain drops falling during the race.
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Vernon Hills sophomore Vivian Overbeck (18:50.22) easily won the race by 13 seconds over runner-up Meaghan Gelinas of Lake Zurich, as Overbeck really shined in her first NSC meet.
But it was the Bears taking the team title pretty comfortably, 49-75 over the Cougars, who are ranked seventh in the state in Class 2A.
Pack running proved to be the difference-maker for Lake Zurich as Gelinas was backed up by all-conference (top-30) finishers Kristie Houghton (fifth), Nicole Syverson (ninth), freshman Maryjane Koza (14th), Katie Fabbrini (19th), and Laura McNair (22nd). Freshman Jemma Kim just missed the cut in 32nd.
"We ran real tight and this was our best meet of the season so far," said Lake Zurich coach Ian Silverman, whose team reached the state meet after winning the NSC two seasons ago. "We knew we were one of the best teams coming into today so we knew we had a shot to win it because we've competed well against a lot of these teams this year."
Vernon Hills has to be extremely optimistic headed into regionals, sectionals and state after how well the Cougars competed against many Class 3A teams Saturday. Besides Overbeck's great performance, Vernon Hills got a third from Cassie Lira, a 17th from Samantha Hershman, a 25th from Shannon Skeoch, a 29th from Lexi Reich, and a 30th from Lauren Kim.
"Lake Zurich ran a great race and we had six all-conference girls, so I was happy with that," said Vernon Hills coach Suzanne Richert. "I'm happy with their progress because they've been unhealthy and injured, so it was nice to see them out there working like they can."
Overbeck is shaping up to have a great postseason after placing 56th in Class 2A as a freshman.
"My plan was to create a surge between 1½ and 2 miles to get up with the front-runners," Overbeck said. "I think our team is probably going to do pretty well. We all ran pretty well, and the key is our pack from three to seven."
The Bears and Gelinas (35th in Class 3A in 2011) are also very hopeful that they can put together a big push for the end of the season.
"Right now we're looking really strong, we're staying healthy, and we're getting better each race," said Gelinas. "Our top three have been running together for awhile and we switch every race the way we come in."
Libertyville edged the host Bulldogs 95-96 in the final standings as senior Ali Urbanski led the Wildcats in fourth place. Warren wound up placing sixth with 141 points followed by Lakes (187 points) in seventh.
"Our top three ran awesome today and that was the best and closest those three have run together all year," said Grant coach Jeff Durlak. "We've got a tough regional and a tough sectional so we want to be running our best, and this was a good step in the right direction today."
Libertyville teammates Kristi Del Prato (11th), Sarah Pirih (23rd), and Hannah Manetsch (26th) also made all-conference while Gina Palmieri barely missed out for the Wildcats in 31st.
Grant's trio of freshman Lauren Troemel in sixth, Lindsey Lewis in seventh, and Madison Romig (12th) had great days on the familiar course.
Warren was led by the duo of Greta Doden (15th) and Becky Haight (16th).
"We ran all right, and everybody raced their hardest and that is all I can ask from my girls," said Warren coach Brett Heimstead. "They (Doden and Haight) have been running well. Becky has been nursing an injury so her coming back has been pretty tough."
Other all-conference runners included Lakes' Ashley Espinosa in 18th, Lakes' Nicole Towne in 20th, Antioch's Ashley LaPointe in 24th, and Mundelein's Emily Schlebecker in 27th. Mundelein's Kelsey Loar placed 33rd to nip Grant freshman Brooke Drabek in 34th.