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updated: 9/4/2014 11:09 AM

Girls cross country: Scouting the Fox Valley

Girls cross country: Scouting the Fox Valley

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  • South Elgin's Sam Czuprynski competing at the Elgin Invite cross country meet at Lords Park in Elgin on Tuesday.

      South Elgin's Sam Czuprynski competing at the Elgin Invite cross country meet at Lords Park in Elgin on Tuesday.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Bartlett's Jess Wittmayer competesat the Elgin Invite cross country meet at Lords Park in Elgin on Tuesday.

      Bartlett's Jess Wittmayer competesat the Elgin Invite cross country meet at Lords Park in Elgin on Tuesday.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Harvest Christian Academy's Valerie Richter competes at the Elgin Invite cross country meet at Lords Park in Elgin on Tuesday.

      Harvest Christian Academy's Valerie Richter competes at the Elgin Invite cross country meet at Lords Park in Elgin on Tuesday.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent

Bartlett HawksCoach: Beth Morrison

2013 finish: Fifth place UEC Valley

Top returning runners: Seniors Jess Wittmayer, Emily Dowden, junior Gabrielle Murdoch, sophomores Coral McFarland, Kayla Garrigan

Key newcomers: Freshmen Abby Brinkman, Leah Kern

Outlook: Morrison already has seen a lot of improvement from this year's group. "We have an energetic and eager team," she said. "They are excited about racing and improving. There are a lot of younger girls vying for varsity sports and that inner-team competition ultimately will make us a stronger overall team." Bartlett had 14 freshmen come out for the team. "That's a big group for us," said Morrison. "There is a lot of potential with that group. We are looking forward to seeing where they go this season. As always, we are striving to place better in meets than the previous year. We re looking forward to being more competitive than last year."

Burlington Central RocketsCoach: Vince Neil

2013 finish: 2nd place Big Northern Conference

Top returning runners: Courtni Neubauer, Vanessa Lorenz

Key newcomers: Freshman Chloe Bilyk

Outlook: The Rockets graduated a number of key performers from last year's team including Katie Bush, Hannah Zipoy, Mykayla Evans and Nayely Valenciano. "This team will have a totally new look," said Neil, in his 11th season at the helm. "Most of our upper class girls have graduated so we are developing some of our younger girls to fill those gaps. Adding Chloe this season already has brought some great effort to the girls' team, but we still have a lot of room to grow. I am excited where this team can be by the end of the season."

Cary-Grove TrojansCoach: Mark Anderson

2013 finish: First place Fox Valley Conference Valley Division

Top returning runners: Seniors Morgan Schulz, Talia Duzey, Gretchen Price, juniors Sarah Riley, Molly MacDuff, sophomores Sarah Caesar, Linnea Yokup

Key newcomers: Sophomore Meghan O'Malley, freshman Avery Henegar

Outlook: Cary-Grove is in great shape as it returns its entire Top 7 from a year ago (team took seventh at the sectional). "That kind of experience on the varsity level will be very valuable for us," said Anderson. Schulz and Duzey were state qualifiers in 2013. "The girls have been training hard and smart. I can see their group confidence starting to build," said Anderson. In terms of the conference, Anderson said squads such as Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake Central and Jacobs will be ones to keep an eye on. "We hope to be able to compete with those teams," he said. "Our focus is on Cary-Grove and we'll let everything else fall into place."

Crystal Lake South GatorsCoach: Ken Greenfield

2013 finish: FVC champions

Top returning runners: Senior Kiley Britten, junior Andie Kobrick, sophomores Caitlin Bruzzini, Ann Lewandowski

Key newcomers: Junior Jenny Luken, freshmen Kayla Ehrenhaft, Alex Ray

Outlook: South won the FVC meet last year and returns four runners from that group that finished in the Top 34, headlined by Britten (11th) and Bruzzini (15th). "We return four runners from a strong team last year," said Greenfield. "I think we can be competitive in our conference and in the sectional this year. In order to do that we'll need to see some improvement in our Top 4 over last year and have at least one runner bridge the gap that currently exists between our Top 4 and everyone else." Greenfield sees another battle in the FVC. "The top conference teams didn't lose much from last year so the FVC is going to be really tough," he said. "Crystal Lake Central. Cary-Grove, Woodstock, Jacobs and McHenry are all going to be very good and there easily could be some other teams that emerge as well."

Dundee-Crown ChargersCoach: Tyler Carlson

2013 finish: 12th place Fox Valley Conference

Top returning runners: Senior Lena Hemmer, junior Maggie Himmel, sophomore Jenna Berlet

Key newcomers: Junior Kayla Hostetler

Outlook: The Chargers feature a mix of veterans and newcomers -- a recipe Carlson hopes translates into success. "We have a returning core of experienced athletes that we are hoping will turn the corner this season," he said. "We also have good frosh/soph numbers, so we're excited about what they are going to accomplish this season. Through practices so far this season, we've had a strong pack of varsity girls, something we hope to replicate in races this season. We should have a tight pack 1 through 6. Carlson revamped the program's running schedule during the summer. "We tried to put an emphasis on increased mileage," he said. "Nearly every girl on the team had a significant increase in the longest run they've ever completed, which was a really empowering experience for many of them."

Elgin Academy HilltoppersCoach: Joe Zambetti

Top returning runners: Juniors Corinne Lam, Michael Lucas

Key newcomers: Juniors Michael Huang, Devin Uner, freshmen Prudhive Gudapati, Ben Simon, Max Bromet, Connor Jawerski

Outlook: The Hilltoppers will have enough athletes this year to score in meets as a team for the first time in four years. "We have a lot of young athletes and a lot of newcomers," said Zambetti. "Looking at our preseason thus far I can see we have a lot of potential. We're working on creating team chemistry and learning the spot in general. Even so, we have high expectations this year and are expecting to have a good showing at conference."

Elgin MaroonsCoach: Jon Miquelon

2013 finish: Seventh place UEC River

Top returning runners: Juniors Anali Cisneros, Chloe Burkhardt, Rose Salazar, sophomore Nayelia Cisneros

Key newcomers: Senior Lizbeth Cortez, sophomore Alicia Heydt

Outlook: Anali and Nayeli Cisneros along with Burkhardt are vying for the team's top position in the lineup. "This is the first time we've had Nayeli healthy," said Miquelon. "Her times are getting faster by the day. With veteran leadership and dedication from Rose, Chloe and Anali, we are going in a positive direction this year. These girls have been working incessantly to improve their times, get stronger and stay motivated. They have a shot at sectional this year. Our goals are pretty simple. We want every girl on our team to enjoy running competitively and to take ownership of their physical fitness. That being said, this year we are going to sectionals in some capacity whether we qualify one runner or the whole team. You will see a bus-full of Maroons on Nov. 1." Miquelon noted the program has more than 30 athletes participating for the first time since the early 1990s. "The program continues to grow, the kids are excited and I'm excited," he said. "We recruit the most positive and supportive group of girls in the school, which makes my job easy. Anyone within eyesight of these girls can sense their desire to work hard and get stronger. Now is the time to turn that hard work into results. I think the kids have it in them to turn some heads this year."

Hampshire Whip-PursCoach: Patti Nihells

2013 finish: 11th Fox Valley Conference

Top returning runners: Senior Natalia Sztuk Vel Sztukowski, junior Anna Wilson, sophomores Morgan Richert, Shayl Sotelo

Key newcomers: Junior Elizabeth Evans, sophomore Marie Mayer, Freshman Sophia Aury

Outlook: Sztuk Vel Sztukowski qualified for sectionals as a junior last year. "Our only goal is to run as a compact team," said Nihells.

Harvest Christian Academy LionsCoach: Steven Bland

2013 finish: NAC champions

Top returning runners: Seniors Valerie Richter, Whitney Donaldson, Kylee Knox

Key newcomers: Freshmen Nygia Pollard, Rachel Higbee, Rayna Steiner

Outlook: The Lions won the conference title last year and advanced to sectionals as a team. That group included returning runners Richter, Donaldson and Knox. Bland said freshmen Pollard, Higbee and Steiner all should make an impact this season. "Our primary goal is to win conference, from there it would be to advance to sectionals as a team and then state," said Bland. Depth could be a concern this fall. "As a small school we need our runners to stay healthy both physically and mentally."

Huntley Red RaidersCoach: Brad Gallaugher

2013 finish: Ninth place Fox Valley Conference

Top returning runners: Senior Kelly Meehleib, juniors Kate Mitchell, Jerissa Chan

Key newcomers: Freshmen Chloe Smith, Megan Hernandez

Outlook: Meehleib and Mitchell both were all-FVC performers last season. Meehleib finished third in the regional, while Mitchell was seventh. "This is the deepest team we have ever had from top to bottom," said Gallaugher. "We have three locks for the varsity 7 and after that it is wide open. Our 5, 6 and 7 runners return from a year ago, but they will have to compete with some freshmen to keep those spots." Meehlieb continues to work her way back from an injury suffered sophomore year. "Kelly has worked very hard since her injury sophomore year to get back to elite status," said Gallaugher. "I'm sure this is the closest she's been yet." Gallaugher sees teams such as Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South, Jacobs and McHenry as among some of the teams that will vie for a top spot in the conference.

Jacobs Golden EaglesCoach: Kevin Christian

2013 finish: Second FVC Valley, Sixth FVC

Top returning runners: Seniors Lauren Van Vlierbergen, Molly Barnes, Taylor Bona, Courtney Eubanks, junior Alex Lorenz, sophomore Kathryn Van Vlierbergen

Key newcomers: Junior Natalie Cook, sophomore Bailey Zinger, freshman Chloe Walsh

Outlook: Christian would like to see the Golden Eagles make advancements on the team front this season. "Three of the Top 7 still remain from the FVC invite championship team two years ago," he said. "With several additions we are hoping we can get back to that point. Lauren was able to log some great miles this summer after not being able to run at all last season so we are hoping for an even better finish this season. Molly and Kathryn are ready to step up as the second and third runners. If Taylor and Alex can run injury-free, they will make for a solid Top 5." Lauren Van Vlierbergen won the 800 Class 3A state title this past spring and was fourth in the state in cross country last fall. Barnes is a two-time state track qualifier, while Bona qualified this past spring as well. Kathryn Van Vlierbergen was 12th at the county invite last year, while Lorenz finished 28th in conference.

St. Edward Green WaveCoach: Katie Brackett

Top returning runners: Sophomore Megan Kremer

Key newcomers: Freshman Tiffany Keokanlaya

Outlook: Brackett took over the boys and girls programs midsummer. "It always is a great feeling to show up to practice and all the members of the team are excited to get going and working toward our goals," said Brackett. "I feel the positivity that the team exudes and the encouragement they offer each other will be our major strengths throughout this season." St. Edward is now part of the expanded Metro Suburban Conference. "Being in a new conference it is hard to tell. We are one of the smaller teams, so we will have to get out on the course and show the other teams what we have," said Brackett.

South Elgin StormCoach: Jorie Bartholomew

2013 finish: Seventh place UEC Valley

Top returning runners: Juniors Sam Czuprynski, Jackie Delamora, Maggie Vickrey

Key newcomers: Senior Danielle Salvadori, freshman Lindsay Alvarado

Outlook: Czuprynski and Vickrey are both returning sectional qualifiers. Experience is on the Storm's side this season. "The majority of girls from the varsity last year are back," said Bartholomew. "This year we have already surpassed our enrollment numbers (from last year). With a bigger team, we can be competitive on all levels. I like that we have a really good group of girls that are committed to working together as a team. We have a bigger team and it seems like the dynamics of the team are coming together. We want to improve overall, improve our times from last year's meets, improve our team standings and get more girls to the sectional."

Streamwood SabresCoach: Denny Lau

2013 finish: Fifth place UEC River Division

Top returning runners: Seniors Gabby Juarez, Addie Kelly, Samantha Harding, Cassidy Wingered, Berenice Cabral

Key newcomers: Shonalie Pierce-Vazquez, Natalye Hernandez, Stephanie Olds

Outlook: Streamwood qualified for the sectional as a team last year and returns its top 5 runners, which Lau calls the "Fab Five." Juarez finished 49th at state.\

Westminster Christian WarriorsCoach: Ariana Armstrong

Top runners: Freshman Sophie Danner

Outlook: Armstrong said summer programs went well with a strong commitment to the biweekly sessions. "Overall, the team continues to demonstrate a strong work ethic," she said. "They encourage each other and push each other in practice. They are not just a teammates, but friends as well and look out for each other in all areas of life."

Larkin did not respond to requests for information.

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