Running on a muddy and slick 5K course at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville on Saturday morning, the Freeburg Midgets had two of their top eight runners down with ankle injuries and a third top runner had a flu virus did not compete at all.
But the Midgets qualified for their eighth straight Class 1A boys state cross country meet anyway.
Junior Alex Mack covered the challenging course in 16 minutes, 46 seconds to place second overall while teammate Charlie Parrish placed fourth to pace Freeburg to a runnerup finish at the Class 1A Metro East Lutheran Sectional.
Southern Illinois power Pinckneyville had five harriers in the top 30 and it won the meet with 56 points, while Freeburg was a distant second with 98 points. And while Mack and Parrish led the Midgets attack, Freeburg wouldn’t be going to beautiful Detweiller Park this Saturday had it not been for the outstanding contributions of freshmen Carson Smith (27th overall) and Blake Hatter (28th) and junior Luke Worley (39th).
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“I can’t tell you how proud I am be coaching this team and to be part of this cross country program. I know a couple of the kids felt they let the team down today. But that’s not true. They went out and ran as best as they could and rolled their ankles. That happens. This was a very difficult day to run with the rain and the cold and the course got very slipepry,” an emotional Midgets coach Carl Florzyk said. “We just had some kids step today like they have all year. It was a great effort.”
Nashville (103 points), Steeleville (156) and Benton (162) also earned trips to compete in the state finals next week, while three local individuals also moved on. Jordan Schwankhaus of Okawville (fifth), Kristian Avise-Rouse of Columbia (9th) and Alex Becker of Red Bud (12th) were among the seven other runners who advanced.
One of the top distance runners all season, Parrish placed fourth in 16:54. That was well behind champion Harrison Thomas of Carterville, who had a sparkling time of 16:29. But his time was the least of Parrish’s concerns on Saturday. The Midgets sophomore was more concerned about trying to stay on his feet.
“I almost went down twice. It was slippery out here,” Parrish said. “I wasn’t worried about my time. The goal was to advance today and we did that. We’d like to be in the top 10 at state.”
While the Freeburg boys qualified for state for an eighth straight year in Saturday’s competition, the Midgets girls made it seven straight trips in a row to the state finals, placing third with 127 points, well behind champion Herrin (71) and second place Mater Dei (81).
Continuing to improve after edging Freeburg at the New Athens Regional last week, Mater Dei got top 20 finishes from Elyse Faust (11th), Sophia Lager (12th) and Abby Haag (16th) and finished just 10 points behind powerful Herrin.
“These kids see the pictures (of other Knights teams) on the wall at school and I think it inspires them. They enjoy being part of the success we’ve had here in cross country,’’ Knights coach David Kohnen said. “We’ve gotten better the last two weeks and hopefully we’ll peak next Saturday at Detweiller (Park).”
Ashley Gilmore placed 10th while Kayla Whitworth was 18th to pace the third place finish for Freeburg.
While Mater Dei may have had an edge on Freeburg the last two weeks, there is no question that Red Bud senior Keri Burmester remains the top Class 1A runner in the metro-east. Burmester, a state medal winner a year ago, placed fourth on Saturday with a time of 20:14. Kara Martin, of Herrin, won the race in 19:37.
Burmester was in second place at the halfway mark but suffered the same fate as several runners on Saturday when she slipped on the slick and wet surface and went down very hard.
“I’m fine,” Burmester said with a smile after the race. “It happened about the two-mile mark. I just slipped and went down. I’m just happy to advance. Last year I said my goal at state was to be in the top five. With the year I’ve had, I’ll be happy to be in the top five.”
Other individuals moving on are Ashley Brenning of Sparta (14th) and Mallory Unverfehrt of Okawville.(16th).