Cross country: Scouting Fox Valley
Weather ruined the traditional season-opening meet for many of the area's 3A schools -- Saturday's Leavey invitational hosted by St. Charles East -- but it did little to dampen the optimism for many programs, including the Batavia girls.
Chad Hillman begins his 20th year as coach with a team that has qualified for state four years in a row including a third-place finish in 2015. Batavia finished ninth at last year's state meet.
Junior Mia Gianfrancesco headlines the returnees from that team after taking 13th at last year's state meet to earn all-state honors. Gianfrancesco ran a 17:04 at state.
Junior Erin O'Brien, sophomore Jenna Schifferer and senior Alexa Andrews also are back. All three made all-conference last year for the Upstate Eight champions. O'Brien finished 58th at state and Schifferer was 98th.
Junior Audrey Pellico returns, and freshman Katrina Schlenker is a newcomer to watch.
"Our goals are to improve on last season's successes as individuals in order to obtain team improvements," Hillman said. "We have strong returning varsity athletes with a strong freshman addition."
Hillman's team was scheduled to get their season started at LeRoy Oakes. With the girls open race going on, the rain turned into a downpour with lightning in the area.
The boys and girls teams took cover in their buses while spectators waited under their umbrellas for about 25 minutes until it was decided to cancel the rest of the meet, including the first varsity boys and girls races for a field that included Jacobs, Huntley, Geneva, Batavia and both St. Charles schools.
Geneva took second to Batavia in the UEC River last year. The Vikings return junior Andrine Larsen who made all-conference, took 13th at sectional, and 138th at state.
Senior Sophia McDonnell also made all-conference, and sophomore Lauren Hasty and senior Emily Belanger are back from the top seven last year.
"We have a few strong individuals to build our young team around," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "We have one of our smallest teams in years but what we have is a very dedicated, committed and hard working group of girls."
St. Charles East features Alice Abbott, a state qualifier last year in cross country and track, Stephanie Martens, Amber Lampkin, Anna Ford and Grace Jackson with newcomers Gia Klasa, Sydney Tobin, Faith Piercy, Hannah Kilpatrick, Marissa DiPalmero, Amelia Bellizzi and Laci Chivari.
"We want to compete well in our new DuKane Conference, let the young athletes compete and learn through the season to be ready for postseason racing," Saints coach Bradley Kaplan said. "Alice Abbott will lead this young group all year. Alice had a great track season. Amber Lampkin had a great track season and has had a great summer of training and is ready to have a great senior year."
North Stars coach Shari Hayes called Batavia and Wheaton Warrenville South the teams to beat in the new DuKane.
The North Stars return Natalie Galvan (who was 79th at state), sophomore Grace Dorrance, senior Rylie Kaufmann, senior Maddie Wiltrout and sophomore Ella Townsend. They add freshman Rachel Price and senior Shea Flood.
"We have five of our returning top seven, but two are recovering for major injuries," Hayes said. "Both injured girls were out all summer and are just starting to run again. We are hoping to have them both back to full strength by the end of the season. Grace Dorrance and Rylie Kaufmann had great summer training and both have improved from last season."
In the Fox Valley, Cary-Grove is coming off a 19th-place finish at last year's state meet. Junior Allison Drage led the way in Peoria, taking 45th in 17:47.
Sophomores Ellie Miller (111th), Morgan Dieschbourg (113th) and Delaney Blohm (125th) joined Drage on the Trojans' state lineup.
"I think Cary has the strongest returning group, but there are a lot of good teams," Crystal Lake South coach Ken Greenfield said.
Greenfield's team finished fourth in the FVC last year and second at regionals. Seniors Olivia Beckwith and Emma Heuck, junior Mackenzie Aldridge and sophomores Chelsea Greene and Emma Murphy return.
"Our main goal has been to build on a good season and improve the quality of our work," Greenfield said. "I think the girls felt they had some unfinished business last season and have been motivated to improve. Our strength is our top five returning varsity runners. They are a strong group and have had a great summer. I've really liked their focus and attitude so far. If we continue to grow in our work ethic and attitude, I think we could be in for a really good season unless injuries or illnesses get in the way."
Huntley coach Matt Kaplan agreed about Cary-Grove as a FVC favorite and also pointed to Jacobs and Prairie Ridge as teams to watch.
The Red Raiders bring back seniors Madison Overly, Rachael Morrison and Mary Raclawski, juniors Emily Glass and Bailey Wilk, and sophomores Grace Allen and Annie Mitchell.
"This group has the potential to do great things this year," Kaplan said. "They've had a good summer and are coming into the season ready to compete. The team returns six of the top seven from last year's postseason team. The team has a group of seniors who will look to set the tone for our whole group."
Junior Aly Doherty, fourth last year at the FVC meet and the conference champion in the 3,200, and senior Jenna Skuza provide Jacobs with a strong 1-2 punch. The Golden Eagles also have seniors Meghan Lemke, Lindsay Loga and Jessica Ruiz, and junior Alyssa Demma.
Jacobs' newcomers include Elisabeth Kania, Stephanie Kruk, Kelly Carpenter, Hannah Mohan, Cassie Kowalski, Jackie Cardenas and Abby Peters.
Hampshire returns senior Paige Kern, juniors Mia Vonic and Stella Oury, and sophomores Lindsey Baron and Veronica Evitts.
"Our kids on the team all range from decent to very good," Hampshire coach Dennis Wozniak said.
Kaneland looks to have one of the best 2A teams after winning the Burlington Central regional last year and taking eighth at the Class 2A state meet.
Six of the top seven runners return from that team starting with junior Rachel Richtman, who was all-state both her freshman and sophomore seasons.
Kaneland also returns senior Grace Purcell, sophomore Olivia Franklin, senior Tessa Brennan and sophomores Aubrey Broz and MacKenzie Egert.
"Everyone's individual improvement is our number one goal," Kaneland coach Doug Ecker said. "As a team we want to be competitive in conference and invitationals. For the postseason we want to put the team in position to qualify for the state meet. We are not real deep this year so avoiding injury and sickness will be important."
Burlington Central won the Kishwaukee River Conference last year with a young team that includes sophomore Erin Jossart, senior Natalia Rodriguez, sophomore Lauren Dowd, sophomore Jocelyn Victoria, sophomore Brooke Barkocy, sophomore Annalise Daniels and junior Jenna Dinges.
Boys cross country
The top returning area runner at last year's Class 3A state meet was junior Josh Rodgers from Geneva who finished 10th in 14:39.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Rodgers moved to Colorado for his senior year, leaving coach Bob Thomson with an all-stater to replace -- not to mention the conference, regional and sectional champion.
Geneva, who finished 21st at state as a team last year, returns senior Ryan Kredell (94th at state), senior Kellen Cesarone (177th at state) and junior Valdis Slokenbergs (179th at state).
Newcomers include sophomores Ben Calusinski, Isaiah Roeder, Xander Thomson and Eric Palmquist.
"We are young and have some returning, experienced talent," Thomson said. "We're going to work on blending the two. They are a very determined, committed, and hard-working group."
St. Charles East finished 11th at the state meet with a lineup of Cole Adesso, junior Aidan King, junior Bob Liking, Campbell Koch, senior Bennett Melone, Rohan Patel and senior Charles Murphy.
King finished 77th, Liking 93rd, Melone 163rd and Murphy 180th.
Batavia also qualified for state and finished 23rd led by junior Damian Rodriguez who ran a 15:31 to take 109th. Senior Chris Levario was just 2 seconds behind Rodriguez, and junior Adam Kennedy was 152nd.
St. Charles North coach Kevin Harrington is excited about his junior class of Ryan Arnold, Patrick Obernesser, Kaden Kirby, Toby Strader and Ben Cook. Harrington also expects seniors like Jack Dorrance, Lorenzo Dripps, Nic Gutierrez, Hunter Bletz and Luke Boehm to contribute.
"This is the first year in quite awhile that we will have strong and deep competition for our top seven," Harrington said.
Huntley is coming off a Fox Valley Conference championship under coach Matt Kaplan. The Red Raiders won a regional title and took seventh at sectionals while qualifying Ian Geisler for state.
Geisler is back for his junior year and will be joined by seniors Jadon Conroy, Jeremy Roe, Chris Simek and Shaaf Iqbal.
"This year our team has the potential to match the success we saw last season," Kaplan said. "The team will be led up front by the trio of Geisler, Conroy and Roe. We have a handful of individuals that will be competing for those five to seven top spots."
Kaplan said the Red Raiders will be pushed in the FVC by Dundee-Crown, Jacobs and Cary-Grove.
Dundee-Crown returns seniors Adam Swanson, Luke Janikowski and Mark Jensen, and junior Max Wizgird. The Chargers made it to state last year for the first time in 10 years (taking 17th), and Swanson was their top runner in Peoria.
Swanson took 50th in 15:05. Janikowski was 98th in 15:28 and Jensen 129th in 15:36.
"We have a number of seniors that graduated last year, but I think our returning core of Adam, Luke and Mark will do a really good job filling into those roles," Chargers coach Ron Delarmente said. "A lot of success this year will be based on that group to push the pace and challenge each other. Max had a tremendous off-season and has emerged as one of our top runners as well. Right now we're looking to see some of our seniors like Brian Hernandez and Kyle Wizgird or possibly even some of our underclassmen to step up and round out our group."
Jacobs finished third in the FVC last year. Senior Zach Albrecht, who ran a 4:13 mile in track and was 44th at last year's state cross country meet, is coming back soon from an injury. Mark Lemke started the season by winning the McHenry invitational.
"After that, we have a lot of depth, especially with freshman Andrew Doetsch joining the team, and with Brandon Cole and Brett Bognar returning after qualifying for state in track and field," Jacobs coach Kevin Christian said.
Hampshire is coming off an 11th-place finish at the Class 2A state meet and returns seniors Tommy Croissant and Teddy Lyon and sophomores Isai Morales and Darius Nguipe while adding freshman Aiden Gonzalez.
At that same Class 2A state meet, Kaneland finished sixth led by state champion Matt Richtman who won in a photo finish. Richtman graduated, but the Knights do bring back junior Daniel Occhipinti (66th at state), senior Aidan Lodwig (95th at state) and senior Jacob Wielgos (110th).
Newcomers to watch include juniors Ethan Walker, Ethan Neal, Seth Nosek and Austin Adams.
"We are back to being a pack team," said Kaneland coach Chad Clarey, in his 24th season. "The past three seasons with Matt Richtman scoring single digits, we will be looking to shrink the pack split and make our own history with new pieces. Daniel Occhipinti and Jacob Wielgos appear to be ready to start our scoring with top 10 to 20 finishes, and the pack shouldn't be too far behind them. We are concentrating on bringing the training groups together more consistently, to help develop that long speed with the new varsity additions."
This is the final year for the Northern Illinois Big XII, and cross country has proven to be one of its best sports with Yorkville, DeKalb, Sterling and Sycamore all looking strong this fall.
Burlington Central also is in the final year for the Kishwaukee River Conference, which it won last year. The Rockets finished 18th at the Class 2A state meet, their first state trip since 1997. Sophomore Anthony Farmer was all-state last fall in 21st.
Senior Adam Kries, junior Gio Martinez, senior Jack Hartman, senior Tyler Gerke and junior Tommy Zettl also return while the Rockets add newcomers freshman Zac Schmidt, freshman Robert Perry, senior Logan Andersen and senior Patrick Mayfield.
"We have a great frontrunner in Anthony Farmer," Burlington Central coach Vince Neil said. "The next step is tightening our gaps from 2-7. We made some great strides last year in our pack running and a top 20 finish at the state meet but the boys are still hungry for a better performance. The attitude and motivation is there to have a successful season, return to state and improve on an 18th place finish last year."
Fox Valley Cross Country at a glance
Top teams: Girls -- Batavia, Cary-Grove, Kaneland; Boys -- St. Charles East, Dundee-Crown, Batavia, Burlington Central
Top returning runners: Girls -- Alice Abbott, St. Charles East; Aly Doherty, Jacobs; Allison Drage, Cary-Grove; Natalie Galvan, St. Charles North; Mia Gianfrancesco, Batavia; Erin O'Brien, Batavia; Rachel Richtman, Kaneland. Boys -- Zach Albrecht, Jacobs; Anthony Farmer, Burlington Central; Ian Geisler, Luke Janikowski, Dundee-Crown; Huntley; Ryan Kredell, Geneva; Daniel Occhipinti, Kaneland; Adam Swanson, Dundee-Crown
Dates to circle: Sept. 8: First to the Finish, Lake Park Invitational; Sept 15: Kaneland's Eddington Invitational, Notre Dame Invitational; Sept. 22: Bartlett Flyin' Hawk Invitational, Sterling Rock River Run; Sept. 29: St. Charles North Invitational; Oct. 6: West Aurora Stampede; Oct. 13: Conference meets; Oct. 27: Sectionals; Nov. 3: State
-- John Lemon