After an incredible five-year run of championships by Lake Zurich, would there be a changing of the guard Saturday afternoon at the North Suburban Conference boys cross country meet?
The answer to that question was a resounding yes.
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Vernon Hills proved it was for real in the 13-team meet by rolling to the team title 57-93 over the runner-up Bears. Warren was a close third with 97 points followed by solid finishes from Libertyville (103 points) in fourth, and Stevenson (122 points) in fifth.
The Cougars' push for the crown was even more impressive considering they were running in the 3-mile race at Camp Henry Horner without two of their top six runners in the lineup.
But that did not matter Saturday as the No. 3-ranked Class 2A team in the state was led by the trio of senior Kyle Whitney in fifth, junior Tyler Smith in sixth, and freshman-phenom Shane Williamson in seventh. The Cougars also got all-conference (top 30) performances from Rob Williams (18th), and Eric Doerhoefer (21st).
"Two of our top six we had to rest today, but our fourth and fifth guys came through big-time for us," said Vernon Hills coach Mark Whitney, whose team placed fifth in the NSC last year. "Cross country is a team sport and today we showed that team depth is what makes the difference to be successful."
Lake Zurich's push for second place was led by its own frosh phenom in Matt Pereira (16:03.55). He took second place to surprising Libertyville senior Pat Humen (15:55.32), who is a first-year cross country runner.
The Bears' pack was bolstered by seniors Dave Brown (11th), and Will Llanos (13th).
"Vernon Hills is tough and showed it today. They pretty much handed it to the conference, and they ran great," said Lake Zurich coach J.B. Hanson, whose team placed fourth in Class 3A last year before being hit hard by graduation.
Hanson was very happy with the future of his squad though with the youthful Pereira leading their pack.
"It's pretty special (second-place for Pereira), he's a special athlete, and you are going to hear a lot about him in the next few years," said Hanson.
Warren had four all-conference runners led by Dustin Macuiba in ninth, Adam Shurson in 16th, Jakob Martinez in 19th, and Pat Kreis in 20th.
"We were hoping for better, but I think everybody was hoping for better except for Vernon Hills," said Warren coach Bill Dawson. "It was nice for both Lake Zurich and Vernon Hills to have freshmen do so well and I thought everybody ran competitive."
With temperatures near 54 degrees and a light wind, Humen took the lead over Stevenson teammates Jared Borowsky (third) and Sam Oh (fourth) after 2 miles and Humen did not look back in winning the prestigious meet hosted by Grant.
"I wasn't expecting to win it, but Sam Oh wasn't pushing hard so I took my opportunity," said Humen, who played soccer in the fall before this year. "I knew I was a pretty good runner and all of my good friends from track are running cross country, so I wanted to run with them."
Libertyville also had four all-conference finishers with Scott Post in 17th, Alex Zoellick in 23rd, and Max Roberts earning the final spot on the team in 30th.
"He (Humen) is a super-hard worker and he's got something special inside so we wish we could have had him on the team all four years," said Libertyville assistant coach Ben Zollo. "We had four guys medal and our fifth guy (Nick Seneczko) finished 32nd so we're pretty happy with our performance."
Other area all-conference finishers were Grant's Dalyn Romig (eighth), Mundelein's Bryce Richards (14th), Stevenson's Jeremy Bloomfield (22nd), Mundelein's Mickey Cardenas (24th), Antioch's Dan Ressler (25th), Lakes' Jimmy Burchard (27th), and Grant's Frank Cardy (28th).