Highland freshman Samantha Hengehold and senior Sarah Beth Wiegman had strong runs en route to bringing home top-four medals from Wednesday’s Triad Cross Country Invitational.
Hengehold crossed the finish line in second place out of 212 competitors, while Wiegman came home in fourth place as the duo helped the Highland Lady Bulldogs take third place out of the 17 competing squads.
Mississippi Valley Conference rival Mascoutah won the team title going away with 58 points. Conference combatant was the distant runner-up with 99 team points and Highalnd was third at 112. Rounding out the top five were Mount Vernon (120) and Mater Dei (129).
Triad came in seventh at 135, one point behind sixth-place Carbondale (134).
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Hengehold kept up her breakout inaugural season, finishing with a strong 3-mile time of 19 minutes, 11 seconds to best 210 runners in the field. The only runner to beat her to the finish line was Waterloo sophomore standout Jenna Schwartz.
“I was trying to get past Jenna but obviously that didn’t happen, but that drive got me one of the best times I’ve ever had,” Hengehold said. “It was the most relaxed I’ve been. I can’t even tell you what went through my mind. I was in that zone where the only thing I did was run. I was really excited that I did so well and I am surprised I am not crying right now.”
Hengehold was able to keep up her strong pace without having a drop off in performance over the second half of the race.
“Running that final 400 felt amazing,” she said. “My goal was to get first but second is good too and that’s the best I have run all season. I am surprised I am dong this well. I am very proud, my family is proud, and everybody in Highland is proud because it’s a small town and your name gets around and it’s pretty awesome.”
Highland coach Doug Bradley said Hengehold had another spectacular race.
“She had an all-state girl (Schwartz) and and another one (Mount Vernon senior Kate Bushue) who narrowly missed all-state last season in front of her and she didn’t panic,” he said. “Instead she just did some grinding away until she was able to pass one (Bushue) and cut into the other’s (Schwartz) lead. She is really something.”
Prior to the race, Bradley told Wiegman to stay with Bushue and Belleville East junior Seleiya Wilson. Wiegman achieved that goal by finishing in fourth place, right behind Bushue and in front of Wilson after stopping the clock at 19:46.
“I was right in between them so I think I accomplished it. I felt so much better than my first race, ” Wiegman said in reference to when she ran with a respiratory infection at the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria on Sept. 10. “The first mile felt great and the second and third I just had to maintain the pace. Running with Sam early on really helped me and put me in the position I needed to be in.”
Bradley said Wiegman had a terrific race.
“She really struggled with a respiratory infection a few weeks back so it was a huge bonus to have her healthy today,” he said. “She was faster than she was last year here and she had a historic season a year ago.”
Bradley said he and assistant coach Bob Vance have been so frustrated in their efforts to get the girls to break out of their comfort zones so tonight was a huge relief.
“They had their best meet of the year by far,” Bradley said. “It didn’t put us where we need to be but it’s a big step in the right direction.”
Also for Highland, sophomores Lexy Gilliam (30th place, 21:37) and Lily Becker (36th place, 21:44) and junior Brittney Nigh (40th place, 21:53) all came through in a big way.
“They were given the task of running with a talented competitor today and they really made a go of it,” Bradley said. “They busted up the packs of Waterloo, Triad, and Mt. Vernon and it’s the first time this year that they’ve done that. I’m really proud of them.”
HHS places fifth at Jacksonville invite
Highland went on to finish fifth at the Jacksonville Invitational on Saturday.
“Overall the girls had a good day,” Bradley said. “I wouldn’t say the outcomes were great but the efforts were strong. I think they struggled a bit with dead legs after they raced so well on Wednesday but that was to be expected. I feel like we are a better team now than we were before this meet.”
Hengehold set a new Highland course record with a speedy time of 17:55, which was 15 seconds faster than Kate Marti’s time a year ago and good enough to place fifth in the talented field of 19 runners in the race of No. 1 runners.
“Just like last year’s No. 1 race, this one was chock full of past and future state medalists,” Bradley said. “Sam really looked like she was hurting at the mile mark. That 5:50 first mile caught her by surprise, I think. She’s got to be even faster than that at the sectional so today was a great test for her.”
Hengehold said it was the hardest and most intense race I’ve ever been in.
“I got so tired early on and the pace just felt like it was getting faster and faster,” she said.
In the No. 2 race, Wiegman ran her fastest race ever and got a trophy after coming in second place with a time of 18:39.
“She was up against Madeline Campbell of Rochester who regularly qualifies for state in track in the 2 mile so she had her work cut out for her,” Bradley said. “She came up about 6 1/2 seconds short but still got some quality work in.”
Wiegman said she was disappointed in herself.
“I was with her at the mile and I let some negative thoughts get to me but I’m glad that I was able to bounce back from those,” she said. “I was closing the gap but I ran out of room to catch her.”
Becker grabbed the only other trophy for the girls after placing fourth in the race of No. 5 runners with a time of 20:14.
“She had a very good race,” Bradley said of Becker. “She took a risk by going it alone fairly early on and that put a target on her back. She could’ve tanked it after a chase pack caught her but she fought hard to hold off the final challenger to secure the hardware.”