Neither O’Fallon High cross country team could bring home an IHSA Class 3A regional title this past weekend; however, both Panther squads ran well enough to run another day.
Edwardsville ended O’Fallon’s run of regional championships ended for both the boys and girls teams.
Despite the disappointing end to OTHS’ exceptional post-season string of successes, there was still plenty on which the Panthers squads could hang their hats on—most notably the individual performance of sophomore Brooke Witzel, who out-sprinted the field to secure the regional individual championship.
Witzel’s big day put the Panthers in contention for the team title. The super sophomore runner crossed the finish line 15 seconds ahead of Edwardsville’s Rachel Shoenecker to win the race. After Witzel was the first to break the tape at the end of the three mile course, six of the next eight finishers sported the orange and black of Edwardsville, securing the team title. The only squad to break up the parade of Tigers at the front of the field were OTHS runners.
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“Brooke Witzel ran a great race as she ran with our pack for the first mile and then took off and won easily,” Panther coach Neil James said. “We held our No. 2 and No. 3 runners, but Hannah Nabb stepped up to give us critical points. We actually ran better at No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 than we did in the conference. Now, we need to keep working and get ready for this week’s sectional.”
Nabb, a senior, finished in fifth place and junior Danna Jenkins rounded out the top 10 runners, completing the circuit in 10th. The other OTHS girls who figured in the scoring included Anna Langevin (12th), Sam Tidwell (13th) and Kaileigh Perrier (16th). Although the final trio of OTHS runners finished in a tight pack, it was not enough to challenge Edwardsville’s dominating showing.
The competition was a two-team race with Edwardsville out-pointing the Panthers 41-24. Belleville East finished a distant third with 96 team points. With their second place regional finish, James’ charges will compete this weekend in the IHSA sectional which will be hosted by Normal West.
The OTHS boys squad also qualified for the sectional by finishing second to Edwardsville in the regional run. The point differential between the two SWC teams was not as close as the girls’ final tally as the Panther boys trailed the Tigers by 32 points at the end of the race, 70-38.
“Our boys ran in a great pack,” OTHS coach Jon Burnett said. “Most teams like to have a sixty second gap between the number one runner and the number five runner. We had a 34 second split from number one to number seven. Very few teams can beat a pack like that.”
Senior Josh Kolb was the only O’Fallon runner to crack the top 10, crossing the finish line in ninth place. The other OTHS runners who contributed points to the Panther total were Aaron Reuter (13th), Zion Ward (14th), Lucas Capistrant (16th) and Garrett Blenkush (18th).