Earning recognition is nothing new for the Freeburg boys and girls cross country programs, which have continued to flourish both locally and statewide under energetic coach Carl Florzcyk.
But for both programs to be ranked among top 10 this early in the season means the rest of the Cahokia Conference and Class 1A programs better beware in 2015. In the latest Dyetstat Class 1A rankings, the Midgets’ girls are ninth and the boys are ranked 10th.
“We have had a great summer of training and a great start to the season,’’ Florczyk said. “We would like to improve throughout the season and give ourselves the opportunity to qualify for state and run well in Peoria in November.
“I am very proud of our kids as everybody works hard each and every day. We have 70 kids in our program this year, which we are extremely proud of. We strive to be a family.’’
The Midgets are off to a fast start in 2015. After a pair of top-five finishes at the Metro East Lutheran Meet two weeks ago, the Midgets claimed a sixth-place finish in the girls race and an 11th-place finish in the boys race at the Granite City Invitational. The Granite City meet featured mostly Class 2A and 3A schools.
On the boys side, Freeburg has been led by sophomore Charlie Parrish and junior Alex Mack. Parrish placed ninth at Granite City and fourth at Metro-East Lutheran for a Midgets team that has been bothered by early season injuries. Mack sat out the Granite City race with a hamstring injury, while standout Drew Wilkerson is out with a stress fracture in his foot.
“We hope to have him back before the end of the season,’’ Florczyk said. “I feel very bad for Drew because he worked extremely hard this summer. We know he will bounce back stronger than ever.’’
Three freshmen — Carson Smith, Corbin Schwable and Blake Hatter — have also run in the Midgets top seven as have juniors Craig Collier and Jared Holliday.
The Midgets girls team returns three runners — Ashley Gilmore, Kayla Whitworth and Kristen Collier — all of whom were key members of the Midgets team that placed eighth at the Class 1A state finals last season.
Like the boys team, the Freeburg girls have had three freshmen crack the lineup with Katherine Marler, Page Lee and Brandy Stambaugh all showing signs of being elite runners early in their career, while senior Grace Wolf is also a top-seven runner. Others to watch include Megan Busch, Haley Alt,and Emily Merz.
Seventh in the Class 1A state finals a year ago, Keri Burmester was a big reason why the Red Bud Musketeers qualified as a team for state a year ago. Coach Robert Ashley’s team includes a group of talented young runners who are looking forward to a return trip to Peoria, but Burmester remains the leader. She also remains one of the best distance runners in the state.
The Musketeers senior already has a win to her credit at the New Athens Invitational. But while her early season times haven’t been great, Burmester’s goal is another top 10 or better finish at state.
“We have Keri, and we hope she can duplicate her all-state and top 10 performance of a year ago,’’ Ashley said, “My feel for where she is right now is not stable. She was a half minute behind last year’s performance at the Metro East Lutheran Meet but she came back with a much better showing at Murphysboro. I’m inclined to believe she will be better this season, but I’d like to see her at the (Peoria Woodruff) First to the Finish Saturday, before I can feel comfortable,’’
As for the rest of the Musketeers. They’re learning on the run.
Junior Daniele London has made good progress and is very dedicated to the sport. But after that, Red Bud is young.
“I have a pair of veteran juniors who are essentially starting over this year, a promising freshman who sees herself as a sprinter rather than a distance runner, another freshman who has been on the doctor’s “don’t practice” list for two weeks. Oh yes, another freshman on the list, but she hasn’t practiced yet. That’s it,’’ Ashley said. “So, while we still talk about repeating and getting back to state we might be kidding ourselves. However, hope springs eternal.’’
The Belleville West Maroons look to take advantage of the home course on Saturday when they host the Belleville West Invitational beginning at 9 a.m. Mascoutah, Columbia and Althoff are also expected to compete.
Also on tap Saturday is the Peoria Woodruff First to the Finish Invitational, which will begin at 9 a.m. at Detweiller Park in Peoria, also the site of the IHSA State Cross Country Meet in November. Several local teams are also competing Saturday at the Forest Park (Mo.) Cross Country Festival, beginning at noon.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.