The Highland High School girls cross country team finished fourth and qualified for sectionals at the 11-team IHSA Class 2A Highland Regional on Saturday at Alhambra Township Park.
The Mississippi Valley Conference showed off its talented depth as the regional’s top four placers were from the league.
Waterloo won the team title with a regional-low team score of 47 points to beat out Triad (60) for the regional championship. Mascoutah (67) finished third, and Highland (78) wound up fourth.
Rounding out the top six teams were Carbondale (105) and East St. Louis (209).
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The top six squads qualify for this Saturday’s Decatur MacArthur Sectional. In addition, the top five placing individuals not on a qualifying team also advance to the sectional.
“The Mississippi Valley Conference teams were outstanding today in direct competition with the South Seven and East St. Louis from the Southwestern Conference,” Highland coach Doug Bradley said.
Bradley said he felt like the Lady Bulldogs competed really well at the regional.
“There were a couple of individual battles that I was hoping we could have pulled off and didn’t, but we also won a few,” he said. “We had two primary pieces of our race plan, and one of those was executed almost flawlessly. The other, we’ll have to work on to get ready for the sectional. We earned another week of racing, and that’s exciting, because I know this team still hasn’t had its best race.”
In addition to claiming the team title, Waterloo also had the top two individual placers. Junior Jenna Schwartz showed the way as she ran off and left her 63 competitors in the dust. The sixth-place Class 2A state finisher a year ago, Schwartz won the regional title by one minute, 15 seconds over junior teammate Ella King with a winning time of 17:41. King was next at 18:56.
Highland sophomore Sam Hengehold crossed the finish line comfortably in third place at 19:16, which was 21 seconds ahead of Triad freshman Alyssa Kowalski’s fourth-place time of 19:37.
“Sam Hengehold had another extraordinary race,” Bradley said. “In the first three invitationals of the year, she was 11th, 18th, and eighth. She tweaked some things, and the worst finish she’s had in the last five races was a couple of third-place finishes. She’s on a pretty good roll and should be full of confidence going into the sectional.”
Hengehold said the first mile went really well, but then things started to go downhill.
“About halfway through the second mile, I really started feeling it in my legs and in my head, because I was getting dizzy,” she said. “Then, on my last mile, I tried, but I had no success there. I was just trying to get it done. It was down to just heart. It was just down to wanting to push through and get to the next level, even if I had one bad race. I didn’t do what I wanted to do, but I got it done, and the team did really well, and that is what matters the most.”
Freshman Jessica Borror was also strong again for the Lady Bulldogs after coming home in sixth place at 19:44, which was just one second behind Waterloo sophomore Sydney Haddick (19:43) and the final medal position in fifth place.
“I really wanted to see Jessica Borror get a regional medal. She had the spot with 200 meters to go and just got out-legged going into the chute,” Bradley said. “She’s having an excellent season. She impresses me a little more each time I see her race. I feel like she’s been running smart races, and today was no exception. I thought she played her cards perfectly by trailing the pack of girls that were fighting for fifth until the she passed them at 2.5 miles. It’s unusual to see freshmen make those calculated moves.”
Borror said her first regional competition was a fun experience, although she couldn’t quite hold off Haddick for the fifth-place medal.
“I got her, but here in that last 100 (meters) she got me, again,” Borror said about Haddick. “But I am still really happy with my first regional race, especially being a freshman. I am gaining so much confidence, because I am doing so well as a freshman, and I know I can just keep getting better.”
Bradley said freshman Grace Meyer had her best race of the month after coming in 15th place at 20:27.
“We see her potential in practice, but all the hard work in practice hasn’t been translating to race day, so it was great to see her get in the top 15,” he said. “That finishing position is no fluke. She’s that kind of runner when she comes to compete.”
Bradlely said senior Breann Wernle also had a nice race after finishing 21st in 20:55.
“It’s no secret that, as she goes, the team goes,” Bradley said of Wernle. “So after missing out on all-conference honors for the first time in cross country, it was great to see her bounce back with a decent race. She also practiced well this week. It’s fun to see her trending in the right direction at the right time of the year.”
Senior Brittney Nigh rounded out Highland’s team score with a 37th-place finish with a time of 22:10.
In addition to Kowalski’s fourth-place finish, Triad also received seventh place from senior Maddie Keller (19:49), 15th place from senior Madi Walter (20:34), 16th place from sophomore Alyssa Postma (20:39) and 18th place from freshman Sydney Hartoin (20:50).