Buffalo Grove's Kaitlyn Ko barely cracks 5-foot-1, but the Bison sophomore was huge on Saturday at the Mid-Suburban League girls cross country meet.
Ko set the pace early in the first mile, extended her advantage in the second and ran unchallenged in the third mile, crossing the finish line in 17:07 to secure the MSL title at Willow Stream Park in Buffalo Grove on a picture-perfect fall morning.
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Ko became the second Buffalo Grove girl to win an MSL title and the first since Olivia Jones won in 2009. Making it more special was that fact that Ko did it on her home course.
"It's really great," said Ko. "I know this course really well and I was happy with how it went."
Palatine also came up big, thundering to the team title with 43 points. The Pirates placed five runners in the top 14 and seven in the top 16 in dominating the team race from start to finish.
"That's what we wanted to do, run our best race of the year," said Palatine coach Joe Parks, whose team won its second consecutive MSL title. "We made some progress and we're getting better. Conference is a big deal, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going."
Barrington placed four girls in the top 24 in securing second place with 106 points, followed by Hoffman Estates (109 points), Schaumburg (120 points), and Prospect (137 points).
Ko held off a strong challenge by Fremd junior Ayako Higuchi (17:23), Palatine sophomore Kelly O'Brien (17:27), Schaumburg freshman Elie O'Connell (17:28), and Palatine senior Liz Cox (17:28) in securing the individual title with a 16-second winning cushion.
"She is running so well right now," said Buffalo Grove coach Sara Farrell of Ko's impressive victory. "Every race she is just so strong, and she steps up to the competition. I am excited for the next few weeks."
Ko has had several big wins already this season, including triumphs at the Fenton Invitational, the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria and the Wheeling Invitational. She also finished second at the Palatine Invitational.
O'Brien and Cox pushed the pace for Palatine and set the tone in the first mile.
"That's one of the things we really focus on," said O'Brien of the fast start. "But you can't just depend on the fast start -- you have to take it through the whole race."
Junior Amy Kieliszewski (17:39) followed right behind with a ninth-place finish, and then the Pirates kept it rolling with junior Kara Burton (17:54) and senior Cassidy McPherson (17:59) in 12th and 14th place.
But it didn't stop there with sophomore Sabina Yosif (18:00) and senior Jessica Lincoln (18:03) adding 15th and 16th place in a dominating performance.
"Winning conference doesn't get old," said Cox. "We were all able to key off each other and we set the tone early."
Senior Caroline Reynolds (17:33) pushed Barrington by taking seventh place; followed by sophomore Lauren Conroy (17:58) who took 13th place. Junior Lauren Cropsey (18:12) and sophomore Arushi Agarwal (18:13) kept the Fillies rolling with 23rd and 24th place.
"It was a battle for second place and it came down to our 5-6-7 runners," said Barrington coach Debbie Revolta. "It took all seven runners today and this group work really hard. There is no room for error."
Senior Solome Haile (17:32) kept Hoffman Estates close by taking sixth place. Sophomore Meagan Biddle (18:05) added a 17th-place finish.
"Our split is getting smaller and smaller, and the pieces are there," said Haile. "This is a good piece of the puzzle that we can use as momentum. I am getting more confident in going out harder and breaking through the pack."
Schaumburg was missing one of its top runners in Ali Gutt, but freshman Elie O'Connell broke through in securing fourth place and pushing the Saxons to a fourth-place team finish.
"I just wanted to stay strong and push through the hills," said O'Connell. "I am real happy about my place and time."
Junior Erin Falsey (17:44) and junior Caroline Kurdej (18:05) helped the Saxons by taking 10th and 18th place.
Freshman Brooke Wilson (17:48) gave Prospect a big lift with an 11th-place finish. She was followed by junior Hannah Getschman (18:10) and freshman Alleen White (18:13) in 22nd and 25th place as Prospect placed fifth.
Higuchi had a breakout race for Fremd, challenging Ko the first 2 miles before nailing down second place for the Vikings.
"She totally ran a smart race," said Fremd coach Joe Marcin. "She started working that middle mile. She stuck to the race plan and attacked the middle mile."
Junior Katie Escobar (18:07) finished 20th to help Fremd to sixth place.
"I'm so happy with the results, and the team did really well," said Higuchi.
Senior Vanessa Sanchez (17:37) aided Rolling Meadows' seventh-place finish by taking eighth place. Sanchez is coming on strong after an injury-plagued junior season.
"I definitely couldn't have done it without my team," said Sanchez. "They have always been there for me. I found my spot and was able to stick with it."
Hersey freshman Claire Gritt (18:05) took 19th place for the Huskies, and Conant sophomore Natalia Lakomski (18:07) added a 21st-place finish for the Cougars.