39th annual IHSA girls state cross country meet
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, awards ceremony at 1 p.m.
Where: Detweiller Park, Peoria
Vernon Hills -- Coach Suzanne Curry; senior Lauren Katz (14th in 2016, eighth in 2015, 68th in 2014), juniors Ryan Schofield (47th in 2016, 114th in 2015), Leah Wilkowski (29th in 2016), Katie Wilkowski (28th in 2016), Payton Makowskyj (33rd in 2016, 34th in 2015), Hannah Ray (58th in 2016, 62nd in 2015); sophomore Carly Sear
Lakes -- Coach Keith West; juniors Megan Knuettel, Simone Lippmann, Morgan Gillespie, Hannah Grant; sophomore Olivia Schmitt; freshmen Brooke Stromsland, Alex Bryant
Area individuals: Grayslake North junior Caroline Riss, Grayslake North sophomore Kelli Tosic
Outlook: With third-place trophies in 2013, 2015 and 2016, No. 3-ranked Vernon Hills has established itself as one of the premier girls cross country programs in the state, despite getting the job done downstate with a predominantly young lineup. That will be the case again Saturday morning when the Cougars line up for the 2017 state meet with longtime team leader Katz as the only senior in Vernon Hills' top-seven pack.
The Cougars' junior class brings an abundance of experience and depth to the table with Makowskyj, Schofield and Ray all prepared to run in their third state meet in as many years. Add to that sophomore standout Sear and junior twins Katie and Leah Wilkowski, and it is hard to imagine a scenario where Vernon Hills will not bring home one of the top-three, or now top-four trophies this time around.
"They've worked very hard for this moment, and they've gotten third-place before, which is a huge accomplishment, but we always know that anything can happen on any day," said Curry, whose team has dreams of a potential title run in the huge field. "Obviously (Katz) would love to end on a high note, and I know she wants to get back in the top 10."
Defending Class 2A champ Belvidere North is ranked No. 2, while defending state track champion Dunlap is ranked No. 1. Katz, who is also an all-state runner in track, will run cross country and track at the University of Illinois beginning next fall.
Lakes' program has been close on numerous occasions in its attempt to return to the elusive state meet for the first time since 2008. And the Eagles senior-less squad got the job done behind freshman sensation Stromsland, who placed seventh at sectionals.
After missing a lot of the season due to injury, elite sophomore Schmitt is ready to run Saturday. She was all-state in track in the 800 meters as a freshman.
" (Stromsland) had a personal record (18:05 at sectionals), and she ran outstanding," said Lakes coach Keith West. "I definitely believe they are fast enough to be top 10, and I think that places 5-10 will be pretty close."
First-year Grayslake North coach Anthony DeStephano had Tosic and Riss advance out of the powerful Kaneland sectional.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, awards ceremony at 3 p.m.
Where: Detweiller Park, Peoria
Stevenson -- Coach Maureen LeVanti; seniors Isabelle Sparreo (41st in 2016, 10th in 2015), Natalie Sparreo (64th in 2016, 99th in 2015), Gabriela Jagielo (143rd in 2016, 157th in 2015), Lauren Appell (185th in 2015); juniors Natalie Sorenson, Kendall Roberts (137th in 2016, 196th in 2015); sophomore Caimin Xi (150th in 2016)
Area individuals: Libertyville senior Melissa Manetsch (32nd in 2015), Libertyville senior Nora Tucker, Round Lake sophomore Fatima Giron
Outlook: Now making its third straight appearance at the state meet after a long drought, Stevenson should be more prepared for the big race than ever as four of the Patriots' top seven runners will be competing in their third state meet.
After missing last season due to injury, Sorenson has emerged as Stevenson's No. 1 runner, while longtime No. 1 runner Isabelle Sparreo is rounding back into shape after missing much of the 2017 campaign due to injury.
"I think this team is the most ready for state," said LeVanti, whose team placed 13th in 2015 and 19th last year. "Everybody has a positive mindset, and the team camaraderie really helps a lot."
Manetsch returns to state after a one-year hiatus, and she will be joined by fellow senior teammate Tucker, who placed 10th at sectionals. The sophomore Giron was even more impressive, as she placed eighth at sectionals to become the first Round Lake girl to ever qualify for the state meet in cross country.