Kaneland wins 1st regional in 20 years

The smile on Victoria Clinton’s face as she covered the Elburn Woods course in 18 minutes, five seconds to win the Class 2A Kaneland regional Saturday was nothing out of the ordinary — the Knights’ top runner always smiles when she runs.

The smile on Kaneland coach Doug Ecker’s face afterward was a little more unusual, at least for the reason for his happiness. For the first time in 20 years, Kaneland’s girls cross country team is a regional champion.

The Knights rode Clinton’s individual dominance — she beat runner-up Sami Staples from Crystal Lake Central by 25 seconds — and tremendous depth that saw the Knights put their top five runners in before the Tigers’ fifth.

That was the difference in a 43-44 win for the Knights over Crystal Lake Central, ranked fourth in the state.

“They (CLC) were going to beat us in the top which they did (3 of the top 5) but we had to push back and we did,” Ecker said. “Our strength is our depth. Obviously Victoria is a tremendous runner in front but it’s the depth two through seven that got them there.”

Freshman Brianna Bower finished second for the Knights, Sydney Strang third, Abby Dodis fourth and Amanda Lesak fifth.

The Knights’ sixth runner Maggie Brundige and seventh Ashley Castellanos also ran well.

“Just a good team effort all around,” Ecker said. “People don’t realize (how important the sixth and seventh runners are). Very proud of them. Nice to see everyone make a contribution. The goal was to make it to sectional but it was nice to win. Seems like there was always a Yorkville or someone like that (the past 20 years).”

Clinton’s win was her sixth of the season. She said the best of those titles was her 17:20 to win at Sterling.

“It was a fun race,” Clinton said. “We started off at a good pace. I just wanted to feel out the competition. I stayed strong. I wanted to get the course record but I missed by a couple seconds (17:56).”

Vince Neil’s Burlington Central Rockets also advanced to the Belvidere North sectional taking sixth with 155 points behind Sycamore (131), Woodstock (101) and Prairie Ridge (80).

“The girls did a great job,” Neil said. “We had one runner who didn’t perform quite as she’s capable of so that’s good for next week to see what we can do. The girls are excited about it and next week should be a good week for us.”

Kayla Wolf led the Rockets in 20:17 followed by Courtni Neubauer, Mykayla Evans, Katie Bush and Hannah Zipoy.

“She (Kayla) stepped up,” Neil said. “She hasn’t run with some of those individuals all year and she did well. A track girl who came out for conditioning performances to get ready for half-mile and she’s found out she’s pretty good at this. She’s just naturally a good runner.”

Hampshire was eighth to miss qualifying as a team but advanced all of its individuals led by sophomore Natalia Sztuk Vel Sztukow.

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