Highland sophomore Sam Hengehold decided the individual race championship in the first 50 meters at the Season Kickoff Meet on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at Alhambra Township Park.
On what was a perfect weather day for running on a course in excellent shape, Hengehold ran away from the entire field right off the starting line to post a dominant win. She blazed through the course in 19 minutes, 38 seconds, which was 66 seconds faster than the second-place finisher, her junior teammate Kate Marti, who was running her first race cross country race since her freshman season.
“(Hengehold) wanted to win, and she sent a signal to all of her competitors right after the gun sounded,” Highland coach Doug Bradley said. “Sam’s first mile was right at 6 minutes, and that was perfect. If that ends up being her slowest first mile of the year, she is going to have one heck of a season. She worked hard over the summer, and she works hard at practices, and now that race season has started, she’ll start seeing the rewards of all of that work.”
Marti, who last ran a race in June 2016 after tearing her ACL, bested everyone except Hengehold with an impressive second-best time of 20:44.
“It was so inspirational to see Kate Marti out there running,” Bradley said. “She tore her ACL 14 months ago and in her first race back, she finished second overall and 20 seconds faster than she ran here two years ago. Severe injuries take a physical toll, obviously, but what they do to an athlete mentally is equally, if not more, devastating.
“Kate appears to not only have weathered the storm but come out of it as an even more capable athlete.”
Despite taking the top two spots, Highland was edged by rival Triad, 35 to 37, for the team title. Collinsville finished in a distant third place with 58 team points.
“The girls lost to a strong Triad team today, but that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Bradley said. “I sat several girls out today, and those that ran were really solid. These girls are really talented, and it was a lot of fun to watch them run. Alhambra is a challenging course and the girls put up some terrific August times.
“I’m really happy about the girls performance today. I saw so many good things. This team will get better, and this team will get more confident. It should be a fun season.”
Bradley said freshman Grace Meyer’s debut was fun to watch. She came through with a solid seventh-place finish in a time of 21:36.
“(Meyer) took a big risk early by trying to hang with Kate in the first half mile,” Bradley said. “She held off most of Triad’s team over the first mile and a half, and then the fatigue of the longer race hit her, but she didn’t back down. She’s going to have a great year. She works hard, and she picks up things so quickly.”
Senior Breann Wernle had a solid return to cross country after electing to sit out a year ago. She placed 13th (22:21), and junior Lily Becker rounded out the team score in 14th place (22:59).
“(Wernle) was a bit conservative today, but the running form and the speed are all still there,” Bradley said. “Once she gets a bit more comfortable racing again, the incredible finishes will return.”
Bradley also wanted to give kudos to Alhambra Township for its hospitality with the park and hosting cross country events for Highland High School.
“We get great treatment by the folks in Alhambra, and they really go out of the way to accommodate us. The park here is amazing,” he said.