Neuqua Valley's Kennedy ready for his turn to run
Last boys cross country season, Neuqua Valley senior Ryan Kennedy was arguably the best healthy runner not to compete at the state meet.
Kennedy was in the Nos. 8-9 positions for the powerful Class 3A champion, and only seven get to race.
"It was rough, but I was happy that my team was able to do as good as they did," Kennedy said. "It was a little disappointing, but the best person to run is the best person to run."
On Saturday, Kennedy appeared ready to contribute to another great season for the Wildcats. He finished second to junior teammate and returning all-stater Zach Kinne as Neuqua again won the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational at Hinsdale's Katherine Legge Memorial Park.
The Wildcats prevailed 42-82 over the host Red Devils with Wheaton Warrenville South third at 121. Naperville Central and Naperville North were fifth and seventh.
Kinne covered the 3.0 miles in 15:07.6 with Kennedy second in 15:10.7. Neuqua senior Tyler Bombacino was eighth and junior Chris Keeley and senior Alex Johnson 13th and 18th.
Only Kinne returns from the 2016 state lineup, but four of the team's top eight finishers from last year's Hinsdale race are back.
"It's a full team effort. They know that watching the guys ahead of them, if they stay consistent, they've got a shot to do well senior year," Neuqua coach Paul Vandersteen said. "We never put much emphasis on the first race of the year. I thought the guys responded pretty well."
Despite nearly hitting the proverbial wall with 800 meters left, Kennedy kicked to pull out second by 2.8 seconds.
"I was able to will myself in the last 100 meters, all will power. There was nothing else there," Kennedy said.
Kinne, 17th at 2016 state, took encouragement from his victory.
"It's my first varsity win of my career so it was definitely one for the books. It definitely felt amazing to actually be up there," Kinne said. "The guys we have this year are just as strong, if not stronger. It's better because no one sees us coming this time."
WW South, eighth at 2016 state, went 4-5-6 with sophomore Billy Hauenstein just ahead of junior twins Sean and Scott Maison and sophomore Jacob Kluckhohn 12th.
"That's what I love about our team, that we use each other going through races," Hauenstein said. "I felt really good being with all of the (top) guys and the Maisons telling me, 'You're got to be with us.' We're psyched for the season."
Hinsdale Central junior Alec Hill, Sean O'Connell and Matt Kusak finished 7-11-15.
Naperville Central senior Adam Balutowski was 14th in 15:40.7, one minute faster than taking 69th in 2016.
"I actually was surprised by my finish. I didn't think I was going to be top 15," Balutowski said. "We're definitely much stronger this year."
Glenbard West sophomore Katelynne Hart, the 2016 Class 3A champion, won all but one major race last season -- her first at the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational.
"For sure, I definitely thought about that," Hart said.
On Saturday Hart's winning 16:42.8 dominated by 38.6 seconds and just missed senior teammate Lindsey Payne's course-record 16:40.1 that won in 2015.
"I think I probably could have pushed a little bit more the third mile and just gotten that course record but other than that, I was super happy with it," Hart said.
With Payne fourth and junior Katie Hohe fifth, the Hilltoppers had three of the top five finishers but their hopes of defending the title were thwarted 84-86 by Hinsdale Central behind sisters Reilly Revord and McKenna Revord and Grace McCabe going 7-8-9.
Naperville Central was fourth with 116 points, 5 behind Minooka, with Wheaton Warrenville South and Neuqua Valley sixth and eighth.
At last year's invite Hart's 17:28.5 was third to champion Payne and Minooka graduate Ashley Tuff. Hart opened with a 5:22 mile Saturday followed by two 5:40s.
"She made a statement today and I thought she would," Glenbard West coach Paul Hass said. "She's been looking so good in practice and workouts. When she finished, she felt like she could have gone faster."
Payne, second at 2016 state and the two-time defending invite champion, was contending for second but was sick and fell back the final mile. No. 4 team finisher Chloe Connolly in 36th endured shin splints.
"Chloe gutted it out," Hass said. "(Still) a lot of positives to draw from. Those top three (for us) were amazing."
Sophomore Mia Rucoba was an impressive ninth as WW South put three in the top 23. The Tigers also dominated the frosh-soph race.
"I didn't expect to do that (top 10) but I'm really happy," Rucoba said. "I've trained a lot this summer and didn't really know where I was in comparison."
Two seniors, Neuqua senior Keara Ginell and Naperville Central's Meghan Donovan, were 15th and 16th. They were 83rd and 78th at 2016 state, respectively.
The Redhawks' next four finishers were 21st through 28th with an eight-second split.
"We're trying to get our team closer together," Donovan said. "I'm pretty sure everyone in our top seven did better (here) than last year. We're hoping it's going to be a really exciting season."
The Wildcats were sixth at 2016 state with Ginell their No. 5 finisher.
"Teamwise I was hoping we'd pack up (Saturday)," Ginell said. "I was really happy with my performance. I was just hoping to have a great race and focus on the strategy."