PEORIA — Mater Dei junior Madeline Lager saved her best for the biggest stage of the year Saturday at the Class 1A girls state cross country meet.
Getting off to a quick start, Lager never looked back as she finished with a time of 17 minutes, 50 seconds to place fourth individually and lead the Knights to a ninth-place finish in the team competition at Detweiller Park.
Going out fast with pre-race favorites Ivy Handley and Rachel Devereux of eventual state champion Decatur St. Teresa, Lager was then able to stay strong throughout as she reached her goal of a top-five finish.
"I knew the pace would be fast. The girls from St. Teresa go out fast and while that can be both good and bad, I'm a competitive person and so I went out fast as well. The problem is you know they're not going to slow the pace,'' Lager said. "My goal was a top-five finish. So to be able to finish fourth, I'm very pleased.''
The Knights also got a 90th-overall finish from Kari Wiegmann and a 98th from Abby Haag as they finished with 288 points. St. Teresa ran away from the field as it romped to a third straight state championship with 41 points.
While Lager led the way, it was just part of the story for metro-east athletes on a record-breaking day.
Red Bud senior Brittney Burmester became the Musketeers first all-state runner by placing 10th, while Althoff junior Savannah Ames became the Crusaders first all-stater with a 19th-place finish.
In the Class 3A race, O'Fallon had all of its runners post personal-best times as it took ninth in the team competition, which also was a Panthers' girls state meet record.
O'Fallon's previous best finish was 15th.
Burmester, running on the course at beautiful Detweiller Park for just the second time in competition, also looked strong as she finished with a time of 17:56.
"I was nervous, but I was able to stay composed pretty well," Burmester said. "Being here last year helped because I knew what to expect. Being a senior and to finish in the Top 10 at state is something I'm very proud of doing."
Ames, considered one of the favorites heading into the race, never could quite find the form which has made her a regional and sectional champion the past two weeks.
Ames finished with a time of 18:06.
"It feels great to be an all-stater,'' Ames said. "I just felt maybe a little fatigued. I don't know why exactly, except that we worked hard in practice this week.''
A second Red Bud runner -- Deanna Deterding -- placed 35th overall, while Freeburg was 21st in the team competition with 517 points. Metro-East Lutheran was 23rd with 557 points.
While it was a day for individuals in Class 1A, O'Fallon was at its best as a team in Class 3A.
In a race which saw Madeline Perez of (Glen Ellyn) Glenbard West shatter the course record with a time of 16:02, O'Fallon also did well for itself.
Perez time is the second fastest in the nation this year.
O'Fallon was led by Sydney Neal who was 32nd in 17:32 while Samantha Lapp (34th in 17:25) and Tami Cardenas (54th in 17:41) all had strong runs.
"Perfect conditions and great field. I knew we would see some outstanding times today. I'm ecstatic at how well we ran today,'' Panthers coach Neil James said. "Our top six girls ran P.R.'s today and Sydney and Samantha's were by 30 seconds.
"I can't ask any more than our girls running their best times. I'm very proud. And we've got our top six back again next year."
Edwardsville junior Allie Sweatt led a trio of Tigers runners by placing 73rd in 17:53. Belleville West sophomore Olivia Horton was 178th with a time of 18:58.
In Class 2A, Triad junior Kyra Biarkis placed 84th in 18:44 to lead the way for local runners, while Highland's Emily Holtzclaw (103rd in 18:56) and Allison Zobrist (107th in 19:01) also competed.