Senior Sarah Schmitt and junior Alex Morris help the defending Class 3A championship Naperville North girls cross country team accept challenges -- no matter the competition, course or weather conditions.
After winning in Bettendorf, Iowa, Sept. 2, the top-ranked Huskies returned Saturday to Peoria's Detweiller Park, the state meet course, against eight other top 10-ranked opponents in the 3A girls race at the First to the Finish Invitational.
"We call ourselves All-Weather Women. That's a quote we like to say," Schmitt said.
"We were on a really hilly course last week. This one's definitely not very hilly but the temperature was a little different. Our target was to run the best race that we possibly could and I think we executed that very well."
Even with the warm weather and junior Hannah Ricci absent taking the ACT, the Huskies gave a fired-up performance in winning 83-109 over Yorkville, second at state last year.
Downers Grove South was a strong third with 123 points. Edwardsville won a sixth-runner tiebreaker with Hinsdale Central for fourth at 143.
Five more top-25 ranked teams were there, including 12th-place Naperville Central. Metea Valley was 17th.
"We like to be able to test ourselves under any circumstances against the very best," Naperville North coach Dan Iverson said. "We were just a shade shorthanded so I hope that any time you run shorthanded against some of the best teams in the state and you're able to come away with a win, that gives you a good sense of where you could be."
Schmitt, Morris and Ricci were all-staters in 2016. Schmitt and Morris broke 17:00 in finishing behind Evanston senior Enyaeva Michelin in 16:48.9.
Clinching the victory was sophomore Wagner Osborne and juniors Claire Hill and Sophia Bruce in 25th, 26th and 27th. Yorkville's top five were 12-17-18-19-43.
"There's definitely different obstacles every meet, but we were just trying to run as hard as I could," Morris said. "(State last year) was definitely a good memory, but now we're trying to focus on a new season, not live too much in the past."
The two Huskies were among the frontrunners most of the way with Schmitt and Michelin battling the long, final straightaway. Michelin finished second at the Hornet-Red Devil Invite Sept. 2 to Glenbard West sophomore Katelynne Hart, the defending Class 3A individual champion.
"It was the battle of the kicks and (Michelin) just had a stronger kick than I did. But it was a really good race overall," Schmitt said.
While Hill was the Huskies No. 6 state finisher in 2016, Osborne and Bruce built off strong races in Iowa.
"(They) were the two that really did step up in a pretty major way," Iverson said.
"Mr. Iverson just always talks that your best is good enough so I didn't feel any extra pressure (without Ricci)," Osborne said.
Downers South sophomore Brenna Cohoon, 38th for the fifth-place Mustangs at 2016 state, was 11th in 17:43.5. The Mustangs' remaining top five finished between 22nd and 33rd with a 15-second split.
"We focus on each other and running for each other so to hear everyone's doing great, it's awesome," Cohoon said. "My goal was aim for the top 10. I wasn't completely focused on time, but I wanted to go under 18:00."
Hinsdale Central sophomore McKenna Revord and senior sister Reilly Revord were eighth and 10th. Naperville Central senior Meghan Donovan was 31st in 18:32.1, 36 seconds faster than her 35th place in last year's soggier conditions.
The Glenbard West boys cross country team proved it can run with the big boys Sept. 2 by winning Fenton's Earlybird Invitational.
On Saturday juniors Stephen Moody and Rory Cavan continued to excel among the top individuals. Moody and Cavan finished 13th and 14th in 15:01.1 and 15:02.8, respectively, improving from 21st and 48th at the 2016 invite.
"Last year I remember I had no idea where I was. It was muddy and it was just a big whirlwind," Cavan said.
"We're starting to get in the point in our careers where you're looking around and guys are up there that you used to think were amazing. They still are, but it's really cool to just kind of be running with them."
The Hilltoppers hoped to be more competitive but finished 10th with 365 points, one point behind ninth-place Waubonsie Valley. Glenbard West No. 3 senior runner Cam Benes was out because of college testing.
Downers Grove North, last year's state runner-up to Neuqua Valley, comfortably won 139-166 over Hinsdale Central even without two of its top-five regulars because of college testing -- returning senior all-stater Jacob Ridderhoff and junior Matt Moravec.
Junior Jack Roberts and senior Ryan Birkmeier both broke 15 minutes for the first time to take eighth and 10th in 14:56.1 and 14:58.4.
"Not everyone had the greatest races but we still packed it up the best we could and we pushed each other throughout. Me and Jack finished together (and under 15 minutes) so that was really cool," Birkmeier said.
Downers Grove South was an impressive third with 206 points, 51 points ahead of fourth-place Batavia. Lyons Township senior Danny Kilrea's 14:02.3 won by 46.2 seconds.
For the Mustangs, senior Stephen Pipilas was sixth in 14:54.7. Senior Akhil Ghosh and junior Eddie Siuda were 12th and 16th.
"I'm really excited for what we're going to do later in the year," said Pipilas, 20th at the invite and 55th at state in 2016. "Akhil was ahead of me for basically the whole race. I'm happy with my time but I think I could have gone out in the front a little bit more."
Hinsdale Central's Sean O'Connell and Alec Hill were 19th and 22nd. Waubonsie Valley sophomore Wes Butler was 40th in 15:35.6.