Wednesday was a banner day for the Highland High girls cross country team because strong pack running powered the Lady Bulldogs to the championship of the Triad Invitational.
What makes the team title even sweeter for Highland is that the meet at Triad served as a good regional preview, considering seven of the 15 teams competing at Triad make up 70 percent of the 10 team-field that will be competing in the IHSA Class 2A Highland Regional, which will be held Oct. 24 at Alhambra Township Park.
“We got some things done and got a look at where we are at as team heading into regionals in 3 1/2 weeks,” Highland coach Doug Bradley said. “A lot of the same schools will be in Alhambra on Oct. 24. The girls winning the championship is pretty exciting.”
And HHS did not just win the Triad invite, but the Lady Bulldogs owned it by totaling a meet-low team score 56 points after placing three runners in the top nine spots, four in the first 13 and all five scorers in the top 22 out of a field of 235 runners.
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Highland’s winning score was 28 points fewer than runner-up Triad (84) and also eased past two other Mississippi Valley Conference rivals, Mascoutah (108) and Waterloo (127). Mater Dei (132) rounded out the top-five squads.
Completing the rest of the field were: Carbondale (139), O’Fallon (210), Marion (213), Belleville West (216), East St. Louis (230), Collinsville (273), Freeburg (323), Centralia (358), Belleville East (382) and Civic Memorial (391).
Bradley was frustrated after the team’s last two races at Edwarsdville and Springfield, so he gave the team a pep talk.
The message was received and taken to heart by his team as they stepped up to dominate the meet on their chief rival’s home course.
“We haven’t ran with any heart or passion since Peoria and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to see that group of girls again,” he said. “Today, they were back. It was fun. I liked the way the girls paired up and attacked the course. It was a pretty effective tool for them today.”
HHS freshman Kate Marti was at the front of the pack for the Lady Bulldogs, covering the 3-mile Triad High School course in 20 minutes, 6 seconds to snag the fifth-place medal.
“Kate Marti’s goal today was to finish in the top 5 and she went out and did it,” Bradley said. “She and I haven’t been on the same page with our race plans over the last few meets so I’m happy that the result and the goal meshed today. She ran with a confidence that I haven’t seen this year. Kate is fast and tough and this course requires more of the latter than the former. I think toughness was her best asset today. She’s been fading in previous races but she attacked today.”
Junior Sarah Beth Wiegman was Highland’s No. 2 runner and finished seventh overall after crossing the finish line just nine seconds behind Marti in 20:15.
“Sarah Beth Wiegman was outstanding once again,” Bradley said. “She has really bounced back well after struggling a bit with her running as a sophomore. She really helped Kate today and then did everything she could to hold on to her place.”
Another nine seconds behind Wiegman was HHS sophomore Breann Wernle, who came home in ninth place at 20:24. Bradley said Wernle had struggled in the last couple of races after dominating Detweiller Park in Peoria nearly three weeks ago.
“She was focused and aggressive today. When she is running with a purpose it’s an incredible thing to watch. She never looks tired,” Bradley said of Wernle.
Senior Allison Zobrist finished as Highland No. 4 runner and 13th in the field after stopping the clock at 20:36.
“It is amazing that we won the Triad Invitational,” Zobrist said. “During the whole race, I could see SB (Wiegman), I could see Kate (Marti) and I could see Breann (Wernle) all in front of me, and us four were all together. We’ve never had a team that was that packed together. If we can pack together that well, it shows that we have more strength than any of the other teams do. We had a real good day today.”
Rounding out the Lady Bulldogs’ five scores was junior Courtney Hengehold in 22nd place at 21:31.
“Courtney Hengehold has really been working hard in practice but those quality workouts haven’t translated into good races,” Bradley said. “Today she had her best race of the year. She was faster than she was here a year ago.”
Bradley said if he could fix anything that the team did at the Triad invite, it would be to bring the No. 5 runner forwards about 25 seconds. Our No2. 1-4 time gap was 30 seconds but then we had a 55-second gap to No. 5. I’m confident that we’ll get that closed before regionals.”
Also collecting top-50 medals for Highland were Lily Becker (23rd place, 21:53), Brittany Cunningham (49th place, 22:59) and Sarah Kampwerth (50th place, 23:00).
Triad was led by senior Abigail Richter and sophomore Maddie Keller.
Bidding for her fifth win of the season, Richter’s late kick came up just a second short as she placed second behind champion Shelby Kallum of Marion. Richter finished with a time of 19:12. Kallum’s winning time was 19:11.
Keller was fourth in 19:45.57, well behind Waterloo’s fantastic freshman Jenna Schwartz, who took third in 19:17.
Also placing in the top 10 were Carbondale’s Kaylia Fann (sixth place, 20:07), Waterloo’s Whitney Liefer (eigth place, 20:19) and Belleville West’s Sarah Dintleman (20:25).