Girls cross country: Warren (again), Lake Zurich's Johnston win NSC titles
There was a big-time youth movement Saturday afternoon as girls cross country runners headed out for the powerful North Suburban Conference meet at Lake Forest's west campus.
Lake Zurich freshman Brooke Johnston pulled away from Libertyville freshman Sheila Tucker to win the 3-mile race in 17:34.8, a comfortable 16-second cushion, under mild running conditions at 66 degrees for this late in the season.
Unlike last year when Warren edged three teams by seven points or fewer for the NSC title, the Blue Devils were true to form. They won by a 42-54 margin over runner-up Libertyville in the eight-team field.
Behind Johnston and Hannah Laubach in ninth place, Lake Zurich placed third with 87 points.
"It was a little after the second mile (when) I started to pull away," Johnston said. "I needed to defend that spot, and a little before the 400-meter mark I started really kicking it."
The Blue Devils also kicked it into high gear, as the 1-2-3 punch of junior Taylor Latza (fifth), sophomore Raina Rice (seventh) and junior Nicole Harrison (eighth) helped carry Warren to the crown.
"The key was having two really strong packs, with Taylor and Raina leading us all year," said Warren coach Brett Heimstead, whose team also got a key 10th-place finish from Hailey Smith. "We really went for it, and we wanted to repeat as champions. We put together a race plan to go out and win, and the girls executed it perfectly so I'm really proud of their efforts."
Sophomore Bree Ponchak helped bolster Libertyville's scoring effort with a third-place finish, while Annalese Chudy was the Wildcats' No. 3 runner in 11th place.
"I think we ran really well. I was really impressed by the whole squad, and we couldn't ask them to do more than they did today," said an elated Libertyville coach Alison Reifenberg, whose team is at the Class 3A Lake Forest regional next weekend. "It's been fun having Sheila (Tucker) on the team, I expected her to be good and possibly contribute to the varsity team, but she's really blown us away."
Lake Zurich also got all-conference (top 22) performances from Ruby Lueras (16th) and Kristin Loftus (21st).
"(Johnston) hadn't lost in any of the dual meets so we knew she could do it again today, and she's comfortable in that type of race," said Lake Zurich coach Randal Dunbar, whose team is at the powerful Palatine regional next Saturday at Deer Grove East Forest Preserve. "The team has been working really well together all year, and we're hoping to get our No. 3 runner (Hayley Burke) back in the next few weeks and she's one of our captains."
Warren got a critical 12th-place finish from Mia Pasha, followed by Mundelein front-runner Claire Schoenfield in 13th place.
Stevenson's pack was led by Michelle Yu in 14th place. Grace Kraft placed 18th for Libertyville. Libertyville's Katharine Meyer finished 20th.
Stevenson teammates Emily Fejes (23rd), Alivia Alton (24th) and Emma Finnegan (25th) just missed earning all-conference honors.