GRANITE CITY — With a grueling summer of training now behind him, 2011 Class 3A state runner-up Alex Riba of O'Fallon won't have to look far to find his biggest challenge this cross country season.
It'll be right next to him every day in practice.
Running stride-for-stride with teammate Patrick Perrier for most of the 3-mile race, Riba broke away late Saturday to post a nine-second victory and help give O'Fallon the team title at the Granite City Invitational.
Competing on the flat course, Riba finished in a time of 15 minutes, 00.25 seconds, just over three seconds off the meet record of 14:57 set by former Edwardsville standout Garrett Sweatt, now a freshman at Stanford University.
"It's great to have Patrick (Perrier) to work out in practice and at meets. Amazing,'' Riba said. "Even on our long runs. Everybody on our team to be so competitive. It benefits all of us.''
Perrier finished second in 15:09 while sophomore Dorian Gordon placed sixth for O'Fallon, which finished with 34 points, 55 fewer than second place Springfield.
Edwardsville, getting an eighth-place finish from Brydon Groves-Scott and a 10th from freshman Ethan Townzen, was third with 98 points.
Mount Vernon (142 points) and Chatham-Glenwood (150) rounded out the top five.
O'Fallon, the Class 3A state runner-up last season, also got a 12th place from Brennan Koester. Steven Chorma rounded out the Panthers top five, placing 15th.
The Panthers first victory of the season brought a smile to the face of coach Jon Burnett.
"The first five finishers were all-state in either track or cross country last year. This event has gotten so much stronger over the years,'' Burnett said. "The good thing is that we had some runners who were right behind those all-staters.
"I'm very pleased at where we are for this time of year. But there are a lot of miles to be run between now and the end of the season."
Mark Maton, of Chatham-Glenwood, was third, followed by Chris Martin and Murphy Affolder, both of Mascoutah, who rounded out the top five runners.
Granite City's Greg Rogers was seventh while Waterloo senior Josh Rodenberg placed ninth.
While the O'Fallon boys looked to be in good form, the Panthers girls were equally impressive in waltzing to a 72-point win.
Panthers Junior Samantha Lapp outkicked Mater Dei junior Madeline Lager to win the individual crown. But O'Fallon also had three other runners finish in the top ten, as it finished with just 35 points.
Lapp finished in a time of 19:11, four seconds ahead of Lager.
"Sam has just had a great summer of training. Every day in practice she comes in just looks so strong,'' Panthers coach Neal James said. "At no point in the race today did she look like she was straining. She looked very smooth and very strong.''
Ali Sweatt, of Edwardsville, placed third, while Highland junior Emily Holtzclaw was fourth. O'Fallon's Tami Cardenas and Sydney Neal rounded out the top six runners in the girls competition.
Regan Lear (10th) and Bridgette Wilson (13th) rounded out the Panthers top five.
Chatham-Glenwood (107), Edwardsville (111), Mater Dei (139) and Triad (162) completed the top five teams.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 239-2661.