Plenty of Fox Valley area teams and individuals take high expectations into Saturday's state cross country meet in Peoria, including Harvest Christian trying to repeat as Class 1A boys champion and runners like Geneva's Josh Rogers, Batavia's Mia Gianfrancesco and Kaneland's Matt and Rachel Richtman looking to see just how high they can finish.
It's the 72nd annual boys state meet and 39th for the girls. And for the fourth straight year, Chad Hillman's Batavia girls team will run at the Class 3A meet.
The Bulldogs' best finish in that stretch came two years when they finished third. That team was led by a 13th-place finish by Emma Stephens and also included Dakota Roman, Daphne Kolody, Marygrace Golden, Anna Malay, Maia Haworth and Alexa Andrews.
Golden also ran on the state team as a freshman when Batavia took 11th.
Last season the Bulldogs finished 18th in state. Golden was the top finisher on the team, taking 62nd.
Audrey Pellico, Gianfrancesco, Daphne Kolody, Erika Mansfield, Maia Haworth and Alexa Andrews joined Golden on last year's state team.
Five of those runners -- Gianfranecesco, Golden, Mansfield, Andrews and Pellico -- ran in Batavia's lineup last Saturday that finished second behind power Naperville North at the Waubonsie Valley regional.
"Overall they ran a very solid race," Batavia coach Chad Hillman said. "The girls felt they ran OK but they definitely know they have a better race in them."
Sophomore Erin O'Brien and freshman Jenna Schifferer are the two newcomers to Batavia's state lineup from last year and finished third and fourth for the team at sectionals.
"Erin O'Brien is really running well," Hillman said. "She has consistently worked her way up and closed the gap on our number one in a big way. Our freshman Jenna has done a great job in our top four."
Gianfrancesco has emerged as the team's lead runner and did it again last week with an 18:17. She has all-state potential.
"Mia ran well," Hillman said. "Mia has performed like a top 25 girl this season and that is her expectation at the state meet. She is mentally and physically tough and is ready to have her best race."
After a season when he's had a hard time getting his best lineup on the course at the same time, Hillman is hoping that happens Saturday.
"All of our girls are ready to run well at state," Hillman said. "They have a great look to them. Now that the qualifying meets are over, we are a team that has nothing to lose going into the state meet and are ready to have our best race together.
"Marygrace has also put herself in a position to have a great finish and make a run at the top 25. She did not have a great race at the sectional and still finished well so I look for her to have her best race of her career in what will be her fourth state meet. Our other senior Erika will be racing her third state meet and looks fantastic in workouts. She will have a great race to finish off her season. Alexa was a little under the weather at the sectional so she is ready to bounce back with her normal strong top five finish for us and Audrey coming from injury most of the season til the last few weeks will be ready to run her best race as well."
Cary-Grove earned its first state appearance since 2005. Sophomore Allison Drage (18:02) led the Trojans at sectional in 11th.
Individual qualifiers include St. Charles North's Natalie Galvan, St. Charles East freshman Alice Abbott and Geneva sophomore Andrine Larsen.
There's a few more teams headed to state on the boys side including Dundee-Crown, who snared the fifth and final qualifying spot at Hoffman Estates and its first state appearance since 2007.
By taking third, fourth and fifth, respectively, at Waubonsie Valley, St. Charles East, Geneva and Batavia all qualified for state.
The Saints did it with just two seniors in their top five -- their No. 1 at sectional Cole Adesso and No. 5 Campbell Koch. What really helped St. Charles East was just a 24-second split between Adesso at 15:50 and Koch's 16:14.
In between those came sophomore Bob Liking (16:03), sophomore Aidan King (16:08) and junior Bennett Melone (16:12).
Rodgers continued to lead Geneva with the sectional title in 15:24.
"Josh is a very hard worker and has set goals for himself in the preseason that included qualifying to state," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "Another goal of his was and is to finish as an all-stater. This is more than within his reach and ability."
The rest of Geneva's top five at sectional started with Ryan Kredell running a 15:51 followed by Cole Montgomery, Matt Hoskins and Kellen Cesarone.
"The boys ran great," Thomson said. "Though we weren't on anybody's radar to be among the sectional top five, they didn't ask our kids. They put it all together last Saturday. Others might have been surprised, but we knew that we would do better than others expected us to.
"Ryan had another great day. Finishing in the top 10 in our sectional is a great accomplishment. Cole and Matt ran great for the team in the three and four positions. We ran well enough in our number five position to qualify the team to the state meet but our remaining runners know that someone among them will need to step up this Saturday for our team to do well. They are all well aware of what's ahead and I know that they will all have their best race on Saturday."
Adam Kennedy, Shane Knanishu, Sean Adams, Damian Rodriguez and Chris Levario made up Batavia's top five Saturday, with Eamon Samsami just five seconds off the No. 5 runner.
Class 2A: Fourth in the state a year ago, Kaneland senior Matt Richtman enters the state meet after a photo finish Saturday when he was edged out at the line on his home course.
"We're just going to keep doing our workouts in practice," Richtman said. "Coach (Chad Clarey) has a good plan for us. Hopefully we'll do well down there."
Kaneland's team will join Richtman at state, as will Hampshire and Burlington Central after taking second and fourth, respectively at sectional.
Richtman's sister Rachel will try to make all-state a second straight year after taking 18th last year. Kaneland's girls team also qualified for state.
Class 1A: All eyes will be on Harvest Christian trying to defend its Class 1A state championship.
The Lions won the Lisle sectional, scoring 37 points and placing all five of their scoring runners in the top 15. Senior Andrew Dobrescu led the way, finishing second in a time of 15:49. Senior Mark Davila placed fourth for the Lions while Matthew Olech was seventh, senior Connor Seals 10th and senior Kyler Young 14th.
"Boys are running well," Harvest coach Steven Bland said. "I'd like to see our 1-5 split a little lower. Last year we ran about 35 seconds and we will need to do something like that in order to take home another trophy."
Bland said Dobrescu can finish top 10 at state.
The key, according to the coach, will be his fourth and fifth runners.
That is always true in cross country but even more at a smaller school.
"I tell all our athletes, 'teams live and die by the four and five,'" Bland said. "A lot of teams in 1A can have a great one-two runner, maybe even a great three runner but then fall off a cliff. This is one of the biggest issues of being such a small school. Most of our boys have already run significantly faster, to this point, than they did last year."
Bland said the freshman Olech has stepped in and made an immediate impact. No. 6 runner Erik Richter is running faster than last year's No. 4.
That's a good formula for another state championship for the Lions, who have been ranked No. 1 all year.
"The boys are excited about the possibility of repeating. They definitely have a shot," Bland said. "And while there is a bit of pressure with that position, they are up for the challenge."