Cross country: York, Lake Zurich's Johnston shine at Palatine invite
Any local resident heading out to Deer Grove East Forest Preserve in Palatine Saturday morning for a nice, quiet, secluded walk or run were probably in for the shock of their lives.
That's because 61 boys and girls cross country teams had descended on the park for the Palatine Invitational Cross Country Meet of Champions.
It was estimated that with the runners (including frosh-soph, sophomore and JV squads in addition to varsity), coaches, officials, volunteers, parents and fans, there were upward of 2,500 people on hand for the invite, enough to incorporate into a small city without batting an eye.
"This is one of the preeminent races in the state of Illinois every year," said Maine South boys coach Greg Nordhal. "We come out here trying to be one of the top five teams. There wasn't a meet last year (due to COVID) but two years ago we took third, and the year before we got fifth.
"If you're one of the top teams at this meet, it's a big statement. Everybody comes here knowing this is the big invitational, and it gives the kids a chance to see how they are before the state meet, running against top competition."
And at this year's meet, the York girls and Lake Zurich junior Brooke Johnston came out on top, while on the boys side, New Trier won the team race while Hinsdale Central was second and York third.
Johnston, the girls individual winner, crossed the finish line line in a time of 16:53.6, more than 3 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
"This was one of my goals," said Johnston of the victory. "My approach today was to stay back on the first mile, because in Peoria (a previous race) I went out really strong and then I kind of dragged in the last 400. Today, I wanted to stay back and push mile two.
"This is amazing," added the junior. "Two years ago, I didn't think this would be possible."
Katherine Klimek led the York effort with a time of 17: 25.4, good for fourth overall.
"We had a lot of excitement coming in," said Klimek. "It was nice to be out here with all of these great runners, and as a team, were were looking to stay together and run as a pack.
"I was really confident in my team, because I knew we all had strong finishes. I could feel the energy from my teammates and that felt really good."
The top 5 finishers in the girls competition were Johnston, Josephine Welin of Oak Park-River Forest with a time of 16:56.9, Mary Grace Hedberg of Saint Viator (17:19.7), Klimek, and Evelyn Hett of Chicago Jones.
Numbers 6 through 10 were Audra Soderlind from Oswego, Catherine Sommerfeld from Lyons, Rachel Soukup of Prairie Ridge (17:30.2), Brooke Berger of York (17:31.2), and Anna Harden from Hersey (17:31.8).
For the boys, Ethan Summer of York (14:47.3) was third individually, just behind Marcellus Mines of Joliet West and Nick Falk of New Trier.
"I knew this was not going to be an easy run," said Summer, a senior. "There were some tough guys in this race, it was a strong field, but I just knew I belonged."
Tim Neumann of Downers Grove South was fourth overall in 14:48.9, while Ryan Watts of downstate Edwardsville finished fifth.
Adam Simon of Loyola finished sixth, Mason Krieg from host Palatine was seventh in 15:05.5, and Sean Safford of Hersey took eighth with a 15:08.4.
Team-wise for the boys, Palatine was fourth, Lake Zurich fifth, Hersey sixth, Barrington seventh and Downers Grove South eighth.
In the girls race, Assumption was runner-up behind York, with Loyola third, Maine South fourth, Lyons fifth, Downers Grove North sixth and Prospect seventh.
"When you get so many people out like this," said Prairie Ridge coach Kelly MacDonald, "there's just a different energy than other meets. Just the excitement of running with some of the best teams in the state is what it's all about.
"When you look at the girls side here, there were 30 teams and 24 of the teams are ranked, either in Class 2A or 3A. This is definitely one of the top invites in the state."