Once she found out Waterloo’s defending state medalist Jenna Schwartz wasn’t running, Highland sophomore Sam Hengehold figured the Triad Cross Country Invitational was hers to win.
“Jenna Schwartz wasn’t here today so I was like, “It’s my race today,’ ” Hengehold said after the race on Wednesday.
The race totally belonged to Hengehold, who won in dominant fashion. Not long after the start, she began to pull away, and before the race was even half over she had ran off and left her 215 competitors in the dust.
Hengehold cruised to the finish line with a winning time of 19 minutes, 2 seconds, which was 36 seconds faster than the runner-up time posted by Waterloo’s Sydney Haddick.
“I planned on staying in that second pack but then when we got in the woods and there was that big hill and I just flew down it, so I was like, ‘Okay, it looks like we’re going.’ And the next thing you know I was up front so I was like, ‘I’ll just take it.’ ” Hengehold said.
And the cooler temperatures and competing on her favorite course at Triad only added to her dominance.
“Last Saturday (at Springfield) it was so hot, so it was great that it cooled down today and this is my favorite course, so I was like, ‘Let’s go get it,’ ” Hengehold said.
Bradley said he thought Hengehold’s race was Hengehold’s race was nothing less than an A-plus.
“She found the lead pack and let them set the pace and when she realized the pace of the race was too slow she dialed it up a notch,” he said. “She made her move at the perfect time given the competition. Then, with the lead she was able to keep her last two mile splits pretty even.”
Highland also got strong finishes from freshmen Jessica Borror and Grace Meyer. Borror crossed the finish line in sixth place with a time of 20:15.
“Jessica Borror was sensational today,” Bradley said. “She is a gifted young runner that keeps getting better and better. I was concerned early on that she would be reluctant to get out with the leaders but she clearly recognizes that is where she belongs.”
Meyer was not far behind Borror 11th place at 20:46.
“Grace Meyer really struggled at Springfield but she was so excited by the weather that she couldn’t wait to get going today,” Bradley said. “I have a picture of her just after the 1.5 mile mark and she literally has a grin on her face. She had one when they put a medal on her neck too.”
The talented underclassmen trio of Hengehold, Borror and Meyer helped lead Highland to a fourth-place finish in the 18-team field with 104 team points.
Rounding out the Lady Bulldogs’ team score were senior Breanna Wernle (42rd place, 22:14) and junior Lily Becker (48th place, 22:25).
“This is a big motivator for our team and our team did so good today,” Hengehold said. “Now we’re all ready to go because this is a big motivator for postseason.”
Highland coach Doug Bradley said the girls got off to a terrific start to the race.
“By my math, they were in first place as a team at the half mile,” he said. “I love aggressive starts but when I looked at my watch I realized it was a tactical race rather than a fast race. I think the girls found themselves close to the front and they panicked a bit. Tactical races aren’t easy to prepare a team for, but when some good teams rest their best runners that is exactly what you get.”
Highland suffered a big setback after losing junior Kate Marti to a serious knee injury over the weekend prior to the Triad race.
“The girls are facing some adversity as they get ready to prepare for the postseason,” Bradley said. “Kate Marti, who missed her entire sophomore season to a knee injury, suffered another significant injury over the weekend. She’s such an important part of this team. The girls are doing their best to support her as she deals with this most recent setback.”
Triad won the team title of its own invite and it wasn’t really even close as the Knights finished with 39 team points, which was 27 points to the good of runner-up Waterloo.
Completing the top five squads were Mascoutah (75), Highland (104) and Cardonbale (125).
Triad packed really well and had all five of its scoring runners place among the top 14 finishers, led by senior Maddie Keller in third place at 19:55.
Also counting toward the Knights’ team score were freshman Alyssa Kowalski (fifth place, 20:14), freshman Sydney Hartoin (seventh place, 20:26), senior Madi Walter (10th place, 20:39) and sophomore Alyssa Postma (14th place, 20:55).
Due to the homecoming festivities, Highland entered only two girls in the Jacksonville Invitational, Meyer and Mackenzie Nigh.
Meyer was Highland’s No. 6 runner and Bradley said she executed a terrific race plan and took control of the race with just under a mile to run and never looked back.
Kate Kennedy from Williamsville came up with an great finishing kick but Meyer had put enough distance between her at the 2.5 mile mark that Kennedy’s kick ended up two seconds short at the finish line.
“Grace (Meyer) is very talented runner and she’s put together two very solid races back-to-back,” Bradley said. “The Jacksonville flighted race format provided a wonderful opportunity for her to win her first ever race. Winning any cross country race is hard to do and for a cross country runner nothing really compares.”
Nigh ran in the race for No. 7 runners and she put herself in a top 10 spot early and just battled to stay there throughout the race.