Palatine's girls cross country team made quite a statement at the Schaumburg Class 3A sectional on Saturday at Busse Woods.
On a crisp and overcast morning, the Pirates placed five runners in the top 22 in storming to the sectional title with 57 points.
"We started off well and put ourselves in good position," said Palatine coach Joe Parks, whose team had won Mid-Suburban League and Palatine regional titles the past two weekends. "We can still run better, but we have some good momentum going into the state meet next weekend."
Hoffman Estates ran its best race of the season and seems to be peaking at the right time after taking second with 100 points, with Schaumburg (140 points) nipping Barrington (142 points) and Lake Zurich (145 points) for third place.
All five teams advance to next weekend Class 3A state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
McHenry junior Lauren Opatrny (17:45) took command in the final mile holding off Buffalo Grove sophomore Kaitlyn Ko (17:58) to take the individual title.
Opatrny made her race deciding move in the final 400 meters and didn't look back.
"I just dug deep and went for it," said Opatrny of her final surge. "I wanted to latch on to Ko early and just stick with her."
Ko battled Opatrny for the entire final mile, but didn't have an answer for the final stretch.
"I tried to hold her off for most of the race, but the last 400 meters she got me," said Ko who had won the MSL title and regional titles on back-to-back weekend entering the race. "I can definitely learn from this race and use it next weekend."
Both Opatrny and Ko qualified individually for next weekend's state race and will be joined by Cary-Grove junior Morgan Schulz (fourth place), Rolling Meadow senior Vanessa Sanchez (eighth place), Prospect junior Hannah Getschman (11th place), Cary-Grove junior Talia Duzey (15th place) and McHenry sophomore Katy Purich (18th place).
Palatine sophomore Kelly O'Brien (18:01) led the Pirates with an impressive third-place finish.
"I felt like I pushed myself and I'm starting to believe that I can run with these girls," said O'Brien who latched onto the front pack and then went with the flow. "I'm really excited about the team finish -- every race it's someone different."
O'Brien may have set the tone for Palatine, but she had plenty of help with junior Amy Kieliszewski (18:24), sophomore Sabina Yosif (18:35), junior Kara Burton (18:38), and senior Jessica Lincoln (18:44) going 10-12-16-22.
Senior Cassidy McPherson (18:48) and senior Liz Cox (18:55) also added 21st- and 25th-place finishes for a dominant Pirates group.
"We all have the confidence is someone has a good day we can let them go," said Kieliszewski. "It makes us better that we can switch around so much."
Last week Hoffman Estates had trouble closing the door at the regional meet while finishing second to Schaumburg, but the Hawks slammed the door shut on Saturday in taking second place.
Senior Solome Haile (18:08) set the tone by taking seventh place and was followed by junior Alondra Aguirre (18:36) and sophomore Meagan Biddle (18:42), who took 13th and 21st place.
"We were looking to close the race and it all came together," said Haile. "We kept the pack tight and ran as a team today."
Sophomore Reena Prahbu (18:59) and senior Elsabet Haile (19:10) finished off the Hawks' effort in 28th and 40th place.
"It was exciting," said Hoffman coach Kirk Macnider of the Hawks finish. "Every girl was focused in the last mile, they closed today. It was a pure team effort."
Junior Ali Gutt (18:04) powered Schaumburg with a fifth-place finish. She was followed by freshman Ellie O'Connell (18:13) and junior Caroline Kurdej (18:50), who took ninth and 24th place in pushing the Saxons past Barrington and Lake Zurich.
"I knew I need to get out fast," said Gutt, who was key in setting the tone for the Saxons. "We wanted to keep our top four together. That didn't exactly happen, but I'm really proud how Ellie (O'Connell) gave it everything she had in that last mile."
Senior Caroline Reynolds (18:04) also clung to the lead pack early finishing in sixth place and powering Barrington to a fourth-place finish.
Sophomore Lauren Conroy (18:39) and sophomore Arushi Agarwal (19:01) took 19th and 31st place to bolster the Fillies.
"We gave it everything we had out there today," said Reynolds who has given the Fillies a spark all season. "I just wanted to stay attached to the leaders and stay focused on the second mile, and I think I did that."
Senior Meaghan Gelinas (18:36) and sophomore Kristie Houghton (18:38) finished 14th and 17th in helping Lake Zurich nail down fifth place and the final qualifying spot.
Senior Vanessa Sanchez (18:11) once again had a strong finish in taking eighth for Rolling Meadows and qualifying individually.
"It felt amazing," said Sanchez who found her pace early and stuck with her position. "I just wanted to stick with it and stay strong the entire race."