Highland High School runners Sam Hengehold and Jessica Borror earned the right to compete against the state’s best on the final day of the season.
The pair ran well enough at last Saturday’s IHSA Class 2A Decatur MacArthur Sectional to qualify for this Saturday’s IHSA Class 2A Girls State Cross Country Meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Out of 137 competing runners, Hengehold, a sophomore, crossed the finish line in sixth place and Borror, a freshman, came home in 10th place to punch their individual tickets to the state meet.
Hengehold covered the 3-mile course in 18 minutes, 32 seconds, which bested all but the top five medalists.
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The top two finishers ran well under 18 minutes, with Waterloo junior Jessica Schwartz winning the individual sectional championship with an elite time of 17:20, which shaded second place Shanice Garbutt (17:21) of Danville by a single second. Schwartz finished in sixth place at the 2A meet last year and is one of the favorites to win the individual state title on Saturday.
Rounding out the top five placers were Springfield Southeast’s Sydney Huffman (18:12), Springfield’s Gabby Wood (18:19) and Waterloo’s Ella King (18:21).
Hengehold said she was happy with her race performance.
“The cold weather was nice and helped push us all,” she said. “I tried to stay with the pack, chasing third place, but I fell off. But I can’t complain, because I ran great and am going to state with Jessica (Borror).”
Highland coach Doug Bradley said Hengehold went after it pretty hard after having a nightmare of a day on the same course last year. Last year, she did not qualify for state after her shoe came off just after starting the race. Her timing chip came off, along with her shoe, and she ran nearly the entire race thinking that her place might not count for the team.
“She wasn’t going to let a shoe issue or anything else get in the way of a trip to state (this year),” Bradley said. “She went right out with the pack of five girls behind the two leaders and hung on for dear life. Her last mile was a chore, but she wasn’t going to let go of that state-qualifying position. Hats off to her for qualifying for state and picking up the sixth-place medal. It’s the second-best finish position in school history and the second fastest time.”
Borror also ran a sub-19-minute time as she trekked the course in 18:45.
Bradley said Borror continues to impress.
“She was amazing,” he said. “She got knocked down about a hundred yards into the race. She bounced right back up and was about 10 seconds behind Sam at the mile. She then just picked off girl after girl as she made her way up to the 10th spot. She was in 10th already with a half mile to go, and she made a move that put her pursuers out of reach. It was a brilliant strategy and move. So many runners would’ve cashed it in after getting knocked down, but she has no quit in her. She qualified as a freshman as an individual and ran the third-fastest time in school history to get that accomplished.”
Borror added that, “The race was really fun, except for my fall in the beginning. The race was fast-paced, but I felt strong. I was really excited about this race, because I knew the team was going to do really well.”
As a team, the Lady Bulldogs narrowly missed out on qualifying as a team, coming up one spot short in sixth place with a final team score of 148 points. That was just eight points behind the final qualifying spot earned by Mascoutah at 140 points.
Waterloo won the team title of the 18-squad sectional with a winning team score of 94 points. Finishing second through fourth place were Springfield (105), Chatham Glenwood (115) and Triad (116).
“The girls ran a great race and got beat by some really good teams,” Bradley said. “That pretty much sums it up. In cross country, you can’t play defense, so all you can do is go out and try to run your best. In this meet today, our best wasn’t quite good enough. We knew it was a stacked field when we went into it, and we hoped a talented team would frighten on the big stage, and none of them did.”
Hengehold said the entire team has been working toward this all season and were so ready to go and run with their hearts for each other.
“I am so proud of my team,” she said. “We ran so well. The results are heartbreaking because we were so close to make it through to state, but I think we finally ran our best race of the year and to me that’s all that really matters.”
Rest of Highland
Bradley said Borror, freshman Grace Meyer (22nd place, 19:16), senior Breann Wernle (49th place, 19:55), freshman Julia Loeh (73rd place, 20:42), senior Keely Rittenhouse (82nd place, 21:00), and senior Brittney Nigh (95th place, 21:31) all ran season bests.
“I think any coach would be thrilled to get six out of seven personal records at the sectional meet,” Bradley said. “Sam Hengehold was well on her way to one but struggled over the last mile and missed hers by two seconds. Our focus all season long has been on getting better and embracing that process. We set no team goal of getting to state. We tried to simplify and just work on the fundamentals of racing and running. I really like where we are as a program. It has been terrific to work with and learn from these girls.”
Bradley said this was the race that helped Meyer become an elite runner.
“She’s been grappling with the nuances of race day all season, and today, she was in the top 25 at a sectional meet,” Bradley said of Meyer. “That’s a huge step for her and the team going forward. I’m so proud of her over these last two races. She’s just learning how good can she can be.”
Meyer said the starting line was much more aggressive and cramped than she was used to.
“I got spiked on the back of my foot, and some of my teammates got tripped or lost their shoes,” she said. “Other than that, it was a normal race, except it was cold. I just tried to pass people and not slow down on the second mile. My main goal was to stay in the top 30. It ended up being my best race of the season.”
As a senior, Wernle, who has been on two state-qualifying teams, ran her second-best time ever on the course.
“I hoped that she would come through today, and it was exciting to see before and after the race with a big smile on her face,” Bradley said of Wernle.
Triad’s top finisher was freshman Alyssa Kowalski in 11th place at 18:55.
Also counting toward the Knights team score were senior Maddie Keller (16th place, 19:06), sophomore Alyssa Postma (22nd place, 19:12), senior Madi Walter (19:36) and freshman Sydney Hartoin (40th place, 19:52).
Highland boy finishes career
In the boys race, Bradley said senior Gabe Sherrill had an outstanding race after coming in 49th place out of 140 runners in 16:25.
“We’ve only had one boy ever run faster on this course,” Bradley said. “The boy’s race was fast. If he runs a 16:25 a year ago, he’s just outside of the top 30, and today it put him in 49th place. I thought he competed really well, and hopefully, this gives him some momentum going into track season. He’s had some schools interested in him as a student-athlete, and if he can follow up a strong cross country season with some good track teams, he’ll be attracting even more interest. He’s come a long way as a runner in two short years.”