The Highland High girls cross country team had a stellar second outing to the season after posting a fourth-place finish out of 23 competing squads Saturday at the Granite City Invitational.
The Lady Bulldogs finished with a team score of 145 points, which ranked only behind meet-champion Chatham Glenwood’s winning score of 63, Edwardsville’s 82 and O’Fallon’s 111. Waterloo rounded out the top-five teams at 159.
Highland easily bested Mississippi Valley Conference rival Triad, which finished ninth with 266 team points.
“The girls bounced back really well from a bumpy debut on Tuesday,” Highland coach Doug Bradley said on Saturday. “They took an important step forward and should have some confidence going forward. To finish fourth in a meet like this is quite an accomplishment. We saw Chatham Glenwood for the first time and they were state-trophy good...I like how we measured up against the traditional powerhouses. The real big surprise was Waterloo. They put three girls in the top 21. Triad rested their No. 3 today but they are capable of beating us on any given day. The southern half of the state sectional is going to be a war in 2A. The Bulldogs have to be ready to battle.”
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Junior Sarah Beth Wiegman, who is also the starting libero for Highland’s varsity volleyball team, stepped up big time in her first race of the season after crossing the finish line in fifth place in a loaded field of 167 runners with a 3-mile time of 19 minutes, 19 seconds.
“Sarah Beth Wiegman had a fabulouis race,” Bradley said. “She put herself right in the lead pack and held on for as long she could. To finish fifth in a race with this many quality runners says a lot about Sarah Beth and her talents. She’s going to turn some heads this year.”
Freshman Katelyn Marti also turned some heads after completing the course in ninth place at 19:30.
“Katelyn Marti is growing up fast and I couldn’t be happier with her performance today,” Bradley said. “Sarah Beth set the pace for her and Katelyn struggled with it in the middle but realized she still had fuel to burn late. It was a good lesson wrapped in a top-10 finish. There are a lot more top t10s in her future.”
Sophomore Breann Wernle just missed out on earning a top-30 medal as she came in 33rd at 20:28.
“Breann Wernle finished just short of the medals but it was certainly a better race for her than the last one. “I hope she is frustrated a bit by missing the medal. I want her medal hungry and ready to run at Peoria next week,” Bradley said of this Saturday’s Peoria Woodruff Invitational held at Detweiller Park, which is the site of the state meet.
Rounding out the scoring for Highland were freshman Lily Becker (49th place, 20:52) and senior Allison Zobrist (66th place, 21:28).
Bradley said JV medal winner Sarah Kampwerth (27th place, 22:54) has had two good races and he and assistant coach Bob Vance believe she can go a lot faster.
“She has been a very pleasant surprise and could make some noise if she keeps improving,” he said.
HHS takes second in season opener
Highland took second place at the five-team Highland Season Kickoff Meet on Tuesday of last week at Alhambra Township Park.
Triad won the five-team girls’ race with a meet-low team score of 42 points, with the Lady Bulldogs close behind at 52 points.
Mater Dei wound up third with a score of 68, followed by Carbondale at 72 and Collinsville bringing up the distant rear at 113.
“Our girls haven’t held up real well over the first three weeks of the season and I sat four girls out of the race due to injury and that probably played a big role in the final outcome of the meet,” Bradley said. “We ran 11 girls and only four of those had ran in a season kickoff meet before. That means we had seven girls that were completely new to this format. Most of our meets during the heat of summer are ran early in the morning. I know our girls are capable of better results so I can’t help but think the inexperience and the weather worked hand-in-hand to drag us down a bit.”
Marti had a good introduction to high school cross country. Despite it being her first time out, Marti comfortably set the pace with a third-place finish out of 53 runners after traversing the 3-mile course in 21:04.
“Kate Marti in her first race was sensational,” Bradley said. “She brings some tenacity with her on race day and we are really hoping that will be an asset to her as she develops as a runner.”
Wernle and Becker also scored top-10 finishes for Highland as the duo consecutively crossed the finish line just two seconds apart in seventh and eighth place, respectively, with Wernle showing the way at 22;06.
“Breann Wernle is our number 1 returning runner and the sky is still the limit for her.,” Bradley said. “We almost never see her stressed when she’s racing and she was solid on Tuesday and is getting better every day. Lily Becker had a strong start to her cross country year. I think she ended the summer as our mileage leader and that extra running paid off in the very first race.”
Also counting toward Highland’s runner-up team score were junior Courtney Hengehold in 13th place (22:41) and junior Sarah Jansen in 21st place (23:55).
The changes Bradley and assistant coach Bob Vance made to the course at Alhambra Township Park were met with positive feedback, which is a real positive because the Lady Bulldogs will host the IHSA Class 2A Highland Regional there on Oct. 24.