Prospect senior Brooke Wilson is not looking to change too much this season -- maybe just polish up the edges a bit.
And why not? She's coming off a junior year in which she finished third in Class 3A and also won the Mid-Suburban League race and Schaumburg sectional title.
Wilson picked up where she left off last season by rolling to her second consecutive Fenton Earlybird Invitational title, crossing the line in 17:56.2 in Bensenville on Saturday.
On a sunny and comfortably warm morning, Wilson took control in the second mile and didn't look back in running up the final straightaway uncontested.
"Not much different this year," said Wilson. "I'm trying to keep everything the same, fine-tuning a few little things. Today I just wanted to get a feel for racing again and do what I had to do to help the team finish strong."
Wilson was a bit off her pace of last year, when she won the title in 17:27.1. But the senior seemed in control from start to finish.
"We wanted to keep the emotions in check early and focus on running the back end of the race," said Prospect coach Pete Wintermute. "Pretty good start to the season."
Downer Grove South placed five girls in the top 18, with four finishing in the top 10 in easily securing the team title with 47 points.
Vernon Hills and Prospect tied for second place with 106 points, but the Cougars were awarded the second-place trophy on a sixth-place runner tiebreaker.
Oak Park-River Forest (139 points) took fourth place, followed by Glenbrook South (145 points) in the 23-team field.
Downers Grove South senior Katie Stapleton (18:07.4) secured second place in powering a young Mustangs attack.
"Last year I was still learning a lot," said Stapleton who finished in 32nd place in Class 3A last fall. "This year, with a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the team, we are learning to trust each other and we have a great bond."
It showed on Saturday with sophomore Becky Versaskas (18:34.6), sophomore Melissa Weidner (18:34.8) and freshman Brenna Cohoon (18:36.6) linking up for a 8-9-10 finish for the Mustangs.
Sophomore Olivia Duax (19:24) completed the Downers Grove South scoring by taking 18th place.
Also putting a stamp on a nifty start was Conant senior Sydney Davis (18:11.4), who secured a third place finish for the Cougars. The junior jumped out a quick start in the first mile and hung with the lead pack the entire race.
"I knew to avoid a lot of traffic I had to establish my position early," said Davis, a state qualifier last season. "This year I have gained some confidence knowing I can be up with some of the top girls."
"The season she had last year has put her at another level," said Conant coach Ron Theberge of his senior standout. "Now she has become more of the hunted instead of the hunter, but she is fine. Her workouts have been great and she is doing the little things."
Vernon Hills had a pretty sweet season last year finishing third in Class 2A. Surely, the Cougars will miss Vivian Overbeck, a three time all-state runner in cross country. But they didn't seem to miss a beat on Saturday.
Sophomore Payton Makowskyj (18:59.4) and junior Lauren Katz (19:09.5) secured 14th and 16th place in leading the Cougars to a second-place finish.
"Losing Vivian was really hard, but we have a strong pack and it is showing early," said Katz, who finished eighth in Class 2A last season. "We want to improve on our third place Class 2A finish from last year."
Sophomore Hannah Ray (19:24.1) and freshman Caroline Sear (19:26) also contributed to a tight pack by securing 19th and 23rd place.
"The pack is doing it for us this year," said Vernon Hills coach Suzanne Curry. "Obviously our sixth runner was the difference today to break the tie. We have some work do and everybody is trying to see where they fit."
Prospect is also gearing up for a big season after winning the MSL title last year. Wilson keyed the effort, but senior Molly Leeney (19:23.5) contributed a 17th-place finish, with strong support from sophomore Marissa Valentini (19:30.5, 25th) and sophomore Cori Drew (19:33.8, 27th).
"We have all the pieces, it's just a matter of putting it all together," said Wintermute. "The goal is to get better each week, and by the time we roll into October we want to be firing on all cylinders."
Senior Sarah Harden (18:20.9) and senior Hailey Bowes (18:28.9) gave Hersey a nice 1-2 punch in helping the Huskies to an eighth-place finish.
Bowes has been battling back discomfort, but the Huskies senior grinded through the race alongside Harden.
"We bonded junior year and we both have the same dedication," said Bowes. "We are giving each other confidence and trying to push our team to a long post season run. I am definitely running with a lot more confidence this year."
Sophomore Anna Miller (19:48, 33rd) and junior Megha Ramanathan (19:50.3, 35th) paced Hoffman Estates' ninth-place finish.