The Vernon Hills girls cross country team was ranked fifth heading into the Class 2A state meet Saturday morning, but many figured the Cougars' squad was capable of bringing home one of the top three trophies.
And Vernon Hills' outstanding pack and depth was not to be denied on this early November day on the historic 3-mile Detweiller Park course. The Cougars ended up locking up the third place trophy rather comfortably, finishing at 181 to top fourth-place Marengo at 231.
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Yorkville pulled off a team championship three-peat with a winning score of 104 points to outdistance runner-up Glenbard South with 130 points.
Riverside-Brookfield foreign exchange student Mailin Struck rolled to the individual championship in 16:35 to beat sophomore runner-up Maryjeanne Gilbert of Peoria Notre Dame by 29 seconds.
Vernon Hills was once again able to fall back on its great 1-2 punch of sophomore Vivian Overbeck (17:46) in 11th place and senior Cassie Lira in 22nd place as both of those runners made the all-state team with their top-25 placements.
But it was their great depth from top to bottom that made the difference for the Cougars on Saturday as sophomore Shannon Skeoch took 57th, junior Samantha Hershman took 73rd and sophomore Lexi Reich took 97th. Juniors Melanie Rogers (117th), and Lauren Kim (130th) rounded out the lineup as Vernon Hills celebrated wildly after waiting nervously for the final results to be announced following the race.
"We're really excited, and it was a surprise when we found out because it took awhile for the results to be posted," said Vernon Hills coach Suzanne Richert, whose team placed third behind Crystal Lake Central (seventh in state) and Marengo at sectionals. "They (Overbeck and Lira) both ran all-time best times to make all-state. They knew they had to run their best times, and they did it."
That great pack running helped carry the Cougars to their third-place finish in what was only their second appearance ever in the state meet.
"Our No. 3 and No. 4 runners were really close together, I think that was the difference today, and Shannon (Skeoch) stepped up huge today," Richert said after the awards ceremony. "They've been down here before, so they knew what it would take to get on that trophy stand."
Lira could not have been happier to close out her high school cross country career as a part of a team that will always have a special place in the program's history.
"We just worked so hard for this all year -- everybody had their best race, and they came through," said Lira, who finished in 18:01. "We came through when we needed to the most and we had a great pack behind us."
After taking fifth place at the same Belvidere sectional as Vernon Hills, Kaneland was very impressive with a fifth-place finish at state.
Class 3A: Glenbard West was way too tough for the rest of the 25-team field as the Hilltoppers rolled to the Class 3A title, finished with 75 points to top runner-up Naperville North (112).
Competing in the state meet for the second time in three years, Lake Zurich placed 15th with 374 points.
The Bears' pack was led by senior Meaghan Gelinas in 46th place and sophomore teammate Kristie Houghton in 51st place.
Junior Nicole Syverson was Lake Zurich's third runner in 112th place followed by junior Katie Fabbrini in 133rd, and freshman Maryjane Koza in 141st.
"I think we all believed we could make a late-season charge," said Gelinas who was part of the last LZ team that qualified in 2011. "We pushed our pack and stuck together."
Houghton also came on strong individually late in the season and didn't flinch in her first state appearance.
"It was so exciting and we were really focused," said Houghton of the Bears finish. "This was our goal. We are already talking about next year and state will be our focus."
New Trier's Mimi Smith was the individual champion in 16:43 followed closely by Hinsdale Central's Alexa Haff (16:45) in second. Defending champion Madeline Perez (17:03) of Glenbard West placed third.
• Michael Eaken contributed to this report.