Even though the weather was perfect in the low 50s when the girls race started, the Highland High girls cross country team did just well enough to grab the sixth and final qualifying spot at the 10-team Class 2A Triad Cross Country Regional on Saturday.
Highland coach Doug Bradley said the weather was perfect but the course was a bit slippery.
“I saw kids fall here and there but I wouldn’t call it mud,” he said. “The dew and the morning sun were making surfaces slick and that probably impacted some kids today. The girls got the last qualifying spot today and given the way we ran I’m pretty excited to have it. It wasn’t a banner day by any stretch.”
Bradley said the way the Lady Bulldogs ran was a stark contrast to how the team performed on the same course at the Triad Invitational on Sept. 28.
“We ran so well here at the end of September and hopes were high for a great regional performance,” he said. “We seemed to be loose before the race and then went out and ran like we were tight. There shouldn’t have been much pressure on us so I guess I’ll have to re-evaluate the training that we did this week.”
At Saturday’s regional, Highland wound up with 116 team points to tie Carbondale, but the Terriers’ No. 5 runner posted a better finish than the Bulldogs’ fifth harrier.
Mascoutah scored a regional-low 55 team points to edge out Mississippi Valley Conference rival Waterloo (57) by two points.
Mount Vernon (77) and Triad (111) finished third and fourth, respectively.
The top six teams all advance to this coming Saturday’s Decatur MacArthur Sectional held at Hickory Point Golf Course, where a berth will be on the line for the Class 2A Girls State Cross Country Meet to be held on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
“The six qualifying teams (from the regional) all raced at the Triad Invite three and half weeks earlier,” Bradley said. “We were third on that day but in relation to all five of those other teams we slowed down a bunch. Waterloo improved the most. Their top five was 2:18 faster as a group. Mt. Vernon and Triad were much faster too. Mascoutah stayed pretty much the same and Carbondale was a bit slower. We were the worst of the five in this category. We were 1:28 slower and it cost us valuable places today. The good news is that those valuable places mean nothing next week. We earned ourselves an opportunity to be the best of the bunch at sectionals.”
Individually, freshman Samantha Hengehold finished third out of a pretty talented group of 68 girls with a 3-mile time of 19 minutes, 38 seconds.
Waterloo sophomore Jenna Schwartz proved again to be one of the most dominant runners in all of Southern Illinois as she posted a winning time of 18:23, which was 53 seconds faster than the second-place finisher, Mt. Vernon senior Kate Bushue.
Hengehold beat Bushue at the Triad invite, but she could not duplicate that feat on Saturday.
Rounding out the top five runners were Waterloo sophomore Ella King (19:48) and Mascoutah senior Melanie Cozzi (19:57), Mascoutah senior Mackenzie Dixon (20:12), Mascoutah freshman Arianna Climaco (20:14), Mt. Vernon sophomore Bria Moore (20:16), Marion senior Madeline Bruce (20:17) and Triad junior Maddie Keller (20:28).
“Sam wasn’t very sharp and it showed as she was losing ground late to some girls that rarely even see her on race day,” Bradley said of Hengehold. “She is a talented young lady and things can often look like they are effortless for those kind of runners. However, she was stressed out there today. I really was impressed by how she battled to keep the wolves off her near the end of the race. She’s a special kid.”
Senior Sarah Beth Wiegman, a three-time state qualifier in cross country and track and field, was still battling a respiratory problems but still fought to place 12th in 20:30.
“Sarah Beth Wiegman continues to fight respiratory issues and it really bogged her down in the last two miles today,” Bradley said. “Dealing with congestion when you are trying to fill your lungs with air is the bane of every distance runner’s existence. She’s a trooper but it is a hard fight to fight.”
Bradley said junior Brittney Night had a terrific day after crossing the finish line in 25th place in 21:16.
“She wasn’t quite where I wanted her at the half mile but she really came on over the next mile and half to get herself into a top 25 spot,” he said. “She fought hard late to try to hold that spot too. She was the only girl who ran faster today than she did here in September.”
Rounding out Highland’s team score were sophomores Lexy Gilliam (35th place, 222:00) and Lily Becker (40th place, 22:15).
Bradley said it isn’t hard to handicap his team’s situation for this weekend’s sectional after the girls grabbed the regional’s last qualifying spot.
“Our streak of three straight state trips is in serious jeopardy if we don’t run like we are capable of running,” he said. “The reality of Illinois high school cross country is that the whole season is often defined by one race. We earned that one race and now we have to make the narrative a positive one.”