Palatine hopes to continue dealing downstate
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It was business as usual for Palatine girls cross country team this season.
The Pirates secured their 14th Mid-Suburban League title, 22nd regional title, and 17th sectional title.
This weekend, the Pirates will be looking to continue their roll as they take aim at a 14th state trophy for the program.
Palatine enters Saturday's Class 3A state race at Detweiller Park in Peoria with high expectations.
With seniors Liz Cox, Cassidy McPherson and Jessica Lincoln at the controls, the Pirates seem to be in good position.
"We all have a lot of talent and we're focusing on what we can do," McPherson said. "We just want to do our best and be proud of our effort."
"Our motto this season was to treasure the hunt," Lincoln added. "We have treasured every meet and every experience we had. Our ultimate goal is a state trophy, and that is what our hunt is."
Cox, McPherson, and Lincoln know plenty about the pressure of state meet, having combined for five individual state medals in cross country and track and field in their first three years.
And the three have been instrumental in helping lead a talented and close Pirate attack that has cruised through the regular season and postseason undefeated.
"I haven't been around a team that has been this close," said Palatine coach Joe Parks, who has already led the Pirates to two state trophies, including a state title in 2009, in his first four years as head coach. "It seems like every meet one or two girls really step up.
"I'm very optimistic on what we can do. If we can get everyone on the right page on the right day it can be very special."
It has been Cox, McPherson, and Lincoln who have been keeping the pages turning this season and guiding the Pirates on a straight line to Peoria.
Lincoln was the fifth runner on the 2010 squad that took second in Class 3A, and the following year she earned all-state honors with a 17th-place finish in Class 3A.
McPherson has earned three state medals in track for the 3,200 relay.
Cox earned her first state medal last season joining McPherson on the 3,200 relay team that finished second.
This year, the talented trio has placed their egos aside to help lead a young and talented Pirate squad that includes juniors Amy Kieliszewski, Kara Burton, and sophomores Kelly O'Brien and Sabina Yosif.
O'Brien was the top Pirates' runner at the MSL meet and Schaumburg sectional, while Yosif paced the Pirates' attack at the regional meet.
The three seniors have blended in, helping set the pace early or close the door late.
"They don't think it's all about them," Parks said of the seniors. "They understand it takes more than them to do it and they are playing their roles."
They certainly did their roles in helping the Pirates navigate a difficult early stretch that included titles at the Hinsdale Central Invite, Peoria Notre Dame Invite and Palatine Invite.
They were also there to lend an experienced hand in holding off a strong challenge by Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg to win a late-season triangular meet and nail down the MSL West division title.
They certainly could be counted on when the Pirates needed them to lock down the MSL title, regional title and Schaumburg sectional title.
"It wasn't really about egos," Lincoln said of the senior leadership. "We just wanted to work together as a team and do the best we could to push each other."
They learned a lot about leadership as freshmen from another trio of seniors that set the tone for Palatine in taking second place in Class 3A.
Courtney Brown, Sarah McIntosh and Becca Sund provided the glue for the Pirates' attack that season, and the three young freshmen took notice.
"They set a great example on what it is to be a leader," said Cox of the 2011 seniors. "They brought the team together and were tremendous in our growth. We strive to be as good as leaders as they were."
"Having them as role models, it was a good lesson for us," McPherson said. "I think we can all be leaders and we are all very different people, but it all works together. We don't have to be super vocal, we can lead in different ways and they really taught us that."
The three have not only been leaders on the course, but have also raised the bar in the classroom as each is a member of the National Honor Society.
McPherson was also homecoming queen. Lincoln is secretary of Best Buddies, a group that works with disabled students.
The faces have definitely changed each race for the Palatine attack, but the results have remained the same.
O'Brien has emerged as one of the promising younger runners in state. Yosif has flashed her talent and Kieliszewski and Burton have kept progressing.
Meanwhile, the three seniors have been plugging in the holes, whether with a second-place or seventh-place finish.
"They have really been important," Kieliszewski said. "Even freshman year when they were sophomores, they were huge leaders and we always looked up to them."
On Saturday, Palatine faces its biggest challenge of the season with defending state champion Naperville North, a powerful Glenbard West squad and rapidly rising New Trier and Minooka all in the hunt for an elusive state title.
Yet the Pirates have not blinked all season and are looking to add to a tradition that is replete with success.
"We're definitely excited," Cox added. "If you're in the mix to get a trophy you might as well be in the mix to win it. We're running to win, not to get third."
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