Highland freshman Samantha Hengehold was the star of the day for the entire cross country program on Saturday at the huge Granite City Invitational.
On a beautiful weather day that saw ridiculously fast times overall out of a loaded field, which has become the second largest meet Highland competes in all season, medals were really hard to come by.
But that did not stop Hengehold from making her varsity debut a day to remember for the ages. The freshman garnered the program’s only medal of the day after crossing the finish line in fifth place out of 192 harriers with a solid 3-mile time that bested 19 minutes at 18:55.
“Samantha Hengehold just went out and ran with some of the best runners in the state and finished fifth,” Highland veteran coach Doug Bradley said. “It was an incredible performance for one running in her first ever high school race. Her time was the second best 3-mile time at Granite City in school history. Only Allison Zobrist has ever ran faster.”
Her finish even brought a smile to her own face.
“I was very, very happy with my race,” Hengehold said. “If I could do anything different, I would run that first mile a little slower.”
As a team, the Lady Bulldogs finished 17th in the varsity race out of the 26 competing squads.
“That was a bit lower than I had hoped we would be but the race was crazy fast,” Bradley said. “I felt like we had a good effort and that the girls learned a lot. We have a lot of hard work to do but the results gave us reason for optimism.”
Junior Brittney Nigh, a transfer student from Lebanon, made her Highland debut with a very solid race after coming in 68th place at 21:09.
“She continues to impress a little more each day,” Bradley said. “She will play a big role on this team going forward especially when she learns more about Class 2A competition.”
Waterloo senior Jenna Schwartz was the individual champion with a winning time of 18:10, which was 24 seconds out in front of runner-up Abby Korak of Edwadsville.
The only other two runners to beat Hengehold in the field of nearly 200 were Mount Vernon’s Kate Bushue in third place at 18:37 and Herculaneum’s Nautica Stricklin in fourth at 18:41.
Edwardsville also placed two other runners in the top 10 and all five of its scorers finished among the top 17 to run away with the team title with 49 points.
O’Fallon was a distant second at 105. Rounding out the top five were Freeburg (129), Waterloo (180) and Chatham Glenwood (218).
In the JV girls race, sophomore Lily Becker and sophomore Mackenzie Nigh both picked up medals with strong races after Becker finished 20th in 21:48 and Nigh placed 28th in 22:12.
“These two girls are smart and focused,” Bradley said. “They understand that they are important and wanted to start the season off on the right foot.”