Other than track and field — where the likes of East St. Louis, Cahokia and Edwardsville have led the metro east area in developing state champions — local athletes in cross country have also made their marks at the state level.
Since 2002, the metro east area has been home to five state champions, four of which have gone on to shine at the college level. Edwardsville’s Stephen Pifer won the Class AA state title in 2002 and went on to become an All-American at the University of Colorado. State champions Charlie Hatch of Nashville (2004) went on to compete in the Ivy League at Brown University and Patrick Perrier of O’Falllon (2013) went to Stanford
On the girls side, the remarkable Kristen Busch of Freeburg won the Class 1A state crown in 2010 and went on to a stellar four year career at Bradley University in Peoria.
In 2017, Waterloo junior Jenna Schwartz added her name to the list of the state champions when she won the Class 2A state crown at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Now a senior, Schwartz will try for back-to-back state championships in November.
Following is a list of a few of the top cross country runners to keep an eye on this fall:
Brooke Biffar, Gibault
Biffar established herself as one of the top Class A runners in the state a year ago with a 36th place finish as a freshman in her first state meet. The talented Hawks sophomore is back at it again this season as she won the Belleville West Invitational finishing with a time of 19 minutes 58 seconds.
Breanna Chandler, Freeburg
The top runner on one of the best Class 1A programs in the state, Chandler capped a solid sophomore season a year ago by earning her second straight Class 1A state medal, placing 12th in 18 minutes 8 seconds. The reigning regional and sectional champion, Chandler had a solid ninth place finish at the Granite City Invitational a week ago
Hannah Eastman and Myecia Bright, Belleville East
Two of the top young runners on one of the most improved programs in the Southwestern Conference, both Eastman and Bright have led thew way in the Lancers first two major tests of the season. Bright was third at the Belleville West Invitational and placed sixth out of 96 runners at the Granite City Invitational. Eastman was seventh at Granite City and fourth at Belleville West
Abby Korak, Edwardsville
Perhaps one of the top Class 3a runners in the state, Korak won the regional title, earned a top 10 finish at the Granite City Sectional and barely missed a medal in the state finals a year ago, placing 30th. Korak is off and running to start her junior season, winning the Granite City Invitational, finishing with a time of 17 minutes 52 seconds at Wilson Park a week ago.
Sofia Parker and Kaitlyn Walker, O’Fallon
The latest in a long line of standout runners to come out of the powerful Panthers program, both Parker and Walker are off to excellent starts so far to begin the ‘18 season. Parker’s eighth place finish at the (St. Louis) Forest Park Invitational last week was one of the best in school history.. Walker wasn’t far behind, placing 11th at Forest Park, then adding a 12th place finish at the Granite City Invite
Jenna Schwartz, Waterloo
Already one of the top runners in metro east history, the reigning Class 2A state champion hasn’t competed much in the first two weeks of the season, but has to be considered the favorite to defend her title in a little over seven weeks at Detweiller Park.
Schwartz, who recorded a time of 17 minutes 5 seconds in winning the state title a year ago, is looking at several NCAA Division I programs, including Illinois, Bradley and Illinois State.
Hannah Stuart and Maddie Miller, Edwardsville
Perhaps the top two runners on the deepest team in southern Illinois, Stuart and Miller are leading the way for a Tigers team aiming for a return trip to the Class 3A state in November. Stuart placed fourth at the Granite City Invitational while Miller was the Tigers No. 2 runner behind Korak at the Peoria Invitational last week, finishing with a time of 18 minutes 8 seconds at Detweiller Park.
Casmir Cozzi, Mascoutah
One of two Indians runners to earn a trip to the Class 2A state finals a year ago, Cozzi ended his junior season with a 43rd place finish at Detweiller Park in Peoria. This season as one of the top runners in southern Illinois, Cozzi is off and running, winning the Belleville West Invitational in a time of 16 minutes 10 seconds and placing a respectable 11th at the Granite City Invitational.
Nick Edwards and Will VanAlstine, O’Fallon
Hard work and lots of miles in the offseason have vaulted Edwards into one of the Panthers top runners and one of the top harriers in the metro east in the early part of the 2018 season. Only a sophomore, Edwards has shown he’ll be a force during the next three years and and already has an eighth place finish at the Granite City Invitational to his credit. VanAlstine has proven to be one of the most consistent runners in the area during his career. The Panthers senior already has a seventh place finish at Granite City on his 2018 running resume.
Justin Mumford, Wesclin
Challenged by Charlie Parrish of Freeburg and Mater Dei’s Luke Goebel for much ofg the season, Mumford ended his freshman campiagn with a sixth place finish at the Class 1A state finals a year ago. Slowed by injuries to start his sophomore season, Mumford figures to be a title contender, if healthy, at Detweiller Park in November.
Andrew O’Keefe, Granite City
Considered a threat to be in the top 10 at the Class 3A state finals a year ago, O’Keefe stuggled to finish the race because of mononucleosis, placing 100th in the three mile race with a time of 15 minutes 28 seconds. The Class 3A regional and sectional champion a year ago, O’Keefe won the season opening Granite City Invitational a week ago and could be a contender for a top 10 finish at state.
Jack Pifer and Zach Walters, Edwardsville
The younger brother of Tigers great and former state champion Stephen Pifer, Jack Pifer has gone from being a solid runner as a freshman to an all-Southwestern Conference athlete a year ago. A top competitor on one of the best teams in southern Illinois, Pifer will combine with Walters as a top duo. Pifer placed second at the Edwardsville Invitational and sixth at Granite City. Walters was third at Edwardsville and 12th at Granite City.
Roland Prenzler, Edwardsville
If there is one athlete who can push O’Keefe in the Southwestern Conferece its Prenzler who begins his fourth year on the Tigers varsity as one of the top runners in the state. Prenzer placed second behind O’Keefe at the Granite City Invitational in a time of 15 minutes 16 seconds but posted an impressive win at the Edwardsville 5K event, finishing in a time of 17 minutes 2 seconds.