The O'Fallon Panthers boys cross-country team was nearly flawless last week as it romped to the team title at the Class 3A Edwardsville Sectional.
To have a chance to win the state championship on the famed 3-mile course Peoria's Detweiller Park on Saturday, O'Fallon must be even better.
The Class 3A state runner-up the past two years, O'Fallon will look to take that final step to the championship when it battles nationally ranked (Elmhurst) York and others beginning at 2 p.m.
Getting a record-shattering time of 15 minutes and 11 seconds from senior Patrick Perrier on the 3-mile course at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, O'Fallon finished with 33 points at its sectional and clearly established itself as one of the favorites at state.
But in the eyes of coach Jon Burnett, the Panthers can run even better.
"As well as we ran last Saturday, we can run even better. We rested a couple of people at the sectional in Logan Whorton and Adam Becker," Burnett said. "Hopefully, they can tighten our pack even more. The guys have been looking forward to this weekend for years.
"There are eight or nine teams that have a legitimate shot at a trophy. Last year, as the race ended, everyone knew that York had won. This year, we may have to wait awhile after the race to find out which one wins.''
Sectional runner-up Dorrian Gordon and third-place Steve Chorma are the keys for O'Fallon, which will battle the likes of York, (Winnetka) New Trier, Hinsdale Central and (Arlington Heights) Hersey, all of which have been ranked in the top 10 all season, for team honors.
Class 3A regional champion Edwardsville, led by junior Brydon Groves-Scott and Ethan Townzen, also could be in the running for a top 10 finish. Granite City freshman Will O'Keefe also is in the field.
While O'Fallon is among the team favorites, Perrier should be in the running for the individual title, following a third-place finish in 2012.
The O'Fallon girls team also could be in contention for a top 10 finish, when the Class 3A meet begins at 1 p.m.
Led by a winning-effort from senior Sydney Neal, O'Fallon placed second behind Minooka last week and like the boys, Panthers girls coach Neil James thinks this team has yet to run its best race.
O'Fallon ran last week without its No. 2 runner in Samantha Lapp, who was out because of a hip ailment.
"Sam is feeling better and will run on Saturday. As for how ready she is, we won't know until the race on Saturday,'' James said. "We are aiming for top 5. We had a couple of runners have off days at sectional. If they are back where they normally are, than we have a shot at top 5."
Edwardsville also is in the field and is led by senior Allie Sweatt. The Southwestern Conference and Quincy Regional champion, Sweatt has a good chance of placing in the top 25.
Following are capsules on the Class 1A and Class 2A state cross country meets, also being held today at Detweiler Park in Peoria.
Class 2A Girls
Starting time: 11 a.m.
Local team: Highland.
Individual qualifiers: Sophia Lager, Mater Dei and Alex Singleton, Civic Memorial.
Top individuals: Allison Zobrist, Highland; Emily Holtzclaw, Highland and Lager, Mater Dei.
Synopsis: A Mississippi Valley Conference, Highland Regional and Decatur MacArthur Sectional champion, Zobrist, a sophomore, has a realistic chance at a top 20 finish. A USA Track and field All-American during the summer, Zobrist wasn't pushed much last week when she won at Decatur by seven seconds in a time of 17:52. But the Highland standout has been at her best in big races all season. Lager also is a threat for a top 25 finish as Mater Dei runners have a history of running well in Peoria.
Class 2A Boys
Starting time: Noon
Local teams: Mascoutah and Waterloo.
Individual qualifier: Ben Richter, Triad.
Top individuals: Murphy Affolder, Mascoutah; Cole Rodenberg, Waterloo; Noah Affolder, Mascoutah; Lance Mueller, Waterloo and Ben Rchter, Triad.
Mascoutah coach Pat Cook on getting to state: "We knew we had a chance to place in the top 5 at sectionals. Our three through six runners have been getting better and they ran the best they have all year at the sectional. Our goal for the state meet is to finish in the top 10.''
Cook on the Affolders: "I think it's realistic to think both Murphy and Noah could both be around the top 10. Murphy has been an all-stater and so he knows what it's about and Noah, being a freshman, may try to go out too fast. But I don't expect him to be in awe of being there. The sky is the limit for him.''
Synopsis: Look for area runners to bring home three and possibly four state medals as the Affolder brothers, along with Rodenberg and Richter, all are capable of top 25 finishes. Mascoutah and Waterloo are likely to finish in the 15-to-20 range in the team competition.
Class 1A Girls
Start time: 9 a.m.
Local team: Freeburg
Individual qualifiers: Deanna Deterding, Red Bud; Savannah Ames, Althoff; Grace Rowan, Althoff; Keri Burmester, Red Bud; Ashley Brenning, Sparta and Alaina Fett, Marissa.
Top individuals: Deterding, Ames, Rowan and Kristen Collier, Freeburg.
Althoff coach Gary Calhoun on Ames and Rowan: "Savannah and Grace are peaking at the right time. I'd have to believe that both have a shot to be in the top 25, which would make them all state. We just want to go and have them run their best races of the year. If that happens, the places will take care of themselves.''
Synopsis: Led by Collier and junior Emily Marler, Freeburg could contend for a top 10 team finish, while Deterding, if she has a good day, could be in the title hunt until the end. Ames is almost a lock to earn all-state honors for the second time in four years, while Rowan also is a threat.
Freeburg coach Carl Florczyk on the Midgets chances: "The girls' team was 21st last year and would love to improve upon that performance. Individually, we want them to finish the season strong with personal-record effort. I know they can all do it.''
Class 1A Boys
Start time: 10 a.m.
Local teams: Freeburg, Wood River, Sparta and Nashville.
Local individuals: Ethan DuClos, Red Bud and Jace Dumont, Metro East Lutheran.
Top individuals: Kenny Heaton, Sparta; DuClos, Red Bud; Jonathan Kraus, Freeburg, and William McLemore, Wood River.
Synopsis: Looking for its first top 10 finish since 1980, Freeburg will lead the way for local runners. The Midgets captured the second sectional title in school history last week and appear to be at the top of their game. Heaton, if 100 percent, could be in the top five. DuClos and McLemore both have legitimate shots of being all state.