Boys cross country: Absences no worry for No. 1 Neuqua
Jake McEneaney toed the line at the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational on Saturday morning thinking of his missing teammates.
"Whenever you are without two guys who are key components to your team, there is going to be extra pressure," the Neuqua Valley senior said.
But the Wildcats' boys cross country team is the consensus top-ranked team in Class 3A for a reason.
Even without the services of the injured Scott Anderson and Danny Winek, not to mention Matt Milostan due to a family commitment, Neuqua Valley was dominant in a 36-80 victory over No. 5 Hinsdale Central at Katherine Legge Memorial Park.
McEneaney finished third to anchor four Neuqua Valley runners in the top eight.
"The primary focus was to dust the rust off," said McEneaney, who is considering North Carolina, Illinois and Nebraska for his collegiate destination. "We haven't really done any fast training work yet. This is a great starting point. I haven't raced in six months because of injuries."
McEneaney toured the 2.99-mile layout in 15 minutes, 5.1 seconds to lead three fellow medal-winners -- Josh Mollway, Zach Kinne and Jackson Jett -- from Neuqua Valley.
Mollway was fifth, followed by Kinne in sixth and Jett in eighth.
Ryan Kennedy completed the Wildcats' 44-point triumph with his 14th-place result.
"So we needed to fill those spots," Mollway said of the Wildcats' three absent state returnees. "I was hoping to be there. I just wanted to stay in the pack. I wanted to beat my time from last year."
"We took a lot more conservative approach to try and keep them healthy and the irony is that I have more injuries than I had before," Neuqua Valley coach Paul Vandersteen said. "I really didn't know what to expect. We are very fortunate to have a lot of guys who can run at that level."
Blake Evertsen, fourth at the state finals last fall, was the lone athlete to break 15 minutes to claim the individual title for co-host Hinsdale Central.
"Senior year, the last time to make an impression," said Evertsen, who finished in 14:48.6. "I am being patient with everything, but I definitely have big goals."
Wheaton Warrenville South had four runners in the top 17 to earn the third team slot.
Kyle Thompson narrowly missed top-10 status to power the Tigers, who also received complementary efforts from Aleksei Sorokin and sophomore twins Scott and Sean Maison.
"Our team was really packed up," Thompson said of the top-four WW South athletes placing seven positions apart. "That helped me the whole race. Our goal was to finish top three, which we did. We know we can do a lot better."
Naperville Central, Naperville North and Metea Valley had respective finishes in the Nos. 7, 8 and 10th spots.