The Lake Zurich girls cross country team knew it was going to be in the mix to earn one of the five berths downstate out of the Class 3A Schaumburg sectional Saturday morning.
And when all was said and done the Bears did just that as they captured the fifth and final trip to Peoria's Detweiller Park next weekend with 145 points.
The 3-mile race at Busse Woods was dominated by Mid-Suburban League teams with Palatine easily rolling to the championship of the 18-team meet by a comfortable 57-100 margin over runner-up Hoffman Estates.
The next group was very close with third-place Schaumburg (140 points) nipping both fourth-place Barrington (142 points) and the Bears with running conditions at 42 degrees at the start of the pressure-packed race.
Senior Meaghan Gelinas was a strong front-runner for Lake Zurich in 14th place followed closely by sophomore teammate Kristie Houghton in 17th place.
The Bears' top-five pack was rounded out by Katie Fabbrini (36th), Nicole Syverson (39th), and Laura McNair (51st).
"We finished really strong and we all came in pretty close together," said Gelinas, who placed 35th in Class 3A as a sophomore. "I'm really excited, we all just gave it our all, ran our best race, and we left it on the course."
Lake Zurich is following the same course this season as it did in 2011 when the Bears won the North Suburban Conference before qualifying for the state meet as a team.
"They ran what we wanted them to run and the good race we expected to run," said Lake Zurich coach Ian Silverman. "Gelinas has been solid for three years, she leads the team, and Kristie Houghton has been running spectacular, especially the second half of the season."
McHenry junior Lauren Opatrny was the class of the individual field as she posted a first-place time of 17:45.71 to outdistance fellow at-large state qualifier Kaitlyn Ko of Buffalo Grove by 13 seconds.
Cary-Grove's team may have fallen short of earning a trip downstate with a solid seventh-place finish (202 points). But the Trojans did have two individuals reach Peoria next weekend as at-large qualifiers.
Cary-Grove junior Morgan Schulz was very impressive with her fourth-place time of 18:03 giving her the third of the seven at-large berths to the always exciting state meet. What makes the feat even more surprising is that Schulz is a first-year cross country runner who competed in soccer before this year.
Cary-Grove junior Talia Duzey (18:38) was also able to weather the storm for the Trojans as she placed 15th to earn the sixth at-large berth. Duzey will be running in the state meet for the second straight year.
"I made sure to stay up there the whole entire time and I didn't want to get too far behind," said Schulz following the awards ceremony. "Talia (Duzey) is a fantastic runner, she pushes me so hard in practice, and she always makes me go faster and harder than I know I can."
Cary-Grove coach Mark Anderson was happy to get two runners downstate although he was hoping his entire squad would be qualifying following the race. The Trojans' top-five pack also included Gretchen Price in 58th, Linnea Yokup in 69th, and Sarah Caesar in 75th.
"They ran pretty well, but we just had too big of a gap between our top two and the rest of our group," said Anderson. "It's sectionals and you have to bring your A-game because everybody brings their A-game and sometimes it's just not enough."
Grant placed eighth with 216 points followed by Crystal Lake South (219) in ninth, and Libertyville (226) in 10th.
Libertyville was led by junior Kristi Del Prato in 25th place, but she fell just short of making a thrid straight appearance in the state meet for the Wildcats.
"We ran well, we ran a gutsy race, and Kristi (Del Prato) kind of moved into that No. 1 position for us today," said Libertyville coach Bill Etnyre. "She (Del Prato) had a better race today than she's had all season long and she had a tough season all year long."
Sophomore Madison Romig led Grant in 30th place followed by Libertyville senior Ali Urbanski in 32nd and Stevenson sophomore Jessica Philipp in 34th. Grant freshman Lauren Troemel placed 35th.
"Team-wise we ran well and I'm proud of the way we ran," said Grant coach Jeff Durlak. "She (Romig) has been coming on strong the last three weeks and she came on strong again today. We're a pretty young team and Lindsey (Lewis) is the only senior in our top seven that we lose so hopefully this will be a springboard for good things to come."