The Highland High School girls cross country team completed a solid season with a 20th-place finish out of the 25 competing squads at the IHSA Class 2A Girls State Cross Country Meet Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Yorkville easily ran off the with the team title with a meet-winning team score of 58, which was 64 points lower than runner-up Belvidere North’s 122. Completing the top five were Vernon Hills (143), Crystal Lake Central (204) and Chatham Glenwood (213).
Rounding out the rest of the field in Class 2A were: Dunlap (215), Peoria Notre Dame (230), Lemont (252), Grayslake Central (258), Maple Park Kaneland (329), Washington (340), Lombard Montini (352), Springfield (362), Rochester (378), Aurora Rosary (381), Chicago Marist (383), Chicago Payton (397), Mortion (398), Mahomet-Seymour (411), Highland (488), Chicago Latin (505), Deerfield (560), Decatur St. Theresa (574), Chicago University (577) and Chicago Mather (691).
“I really thought that we were ready to run faster today,” Highland coach Doug Badley said. “We were so good last Saturday, and I know we have the potential to compete at an even higher level, but it just didn’t happen. I’ve been evaluating everything to figure out why we weren’t at our best today. The most obvious conclusion that I can come up with is that I didn’t prepare them for the stress and the speed associated with this meet. It is so much different than everything else we experience during the season.”
The team started the race strong.
“I thought our first mile splits were outstanding and showed that the girls really were competing hard,” Bradley said. “Unfortunately, the second mile didn’t go nearly as well. That is the part of the race that I didn’t have them prepared for and it’s back to the drawing board for the coaching staff. We’ve got to train them to manage the middle part of the race better than we did today.”
For Highland, junior Sarah Beth Wiegman led the way after crossing the finish line in 86th place out of 207 runners in Class 2A with a time of 18 minutes, 47 seconds.
“Sarah Beth ran a season best today,” Bradley said. “She had a great week of practice in what was her first full week of practicing with her teammates. She was our steadiest performer all season and there were so many races where she set the pace for her teammates to follow in the early going.
“Way back in June, I was thinking that Sarah Beth may have trouble making the top seven this year and here she is at the end as our number one runner. She established herself in her first race of the season and continued to run well to the very end. She’s a great asset for a coach to have and will be counted on for even more next season.”
Freshman Katelyn Marti finished as the Lady Bulldogs’ No. 2 runner in 108th place in a time of 18:57.
“Kate Marti had her best race on this course and she felt pretty good about her race afterward,” Bradley said. “Her first mile was on the fast side of the range that I expected her to run, so that was a plus. The war for her was maintaining speed after setting a blistering pace. Kate’s fastest mile on the track ever was a 5:34 and she ran a 5:45 today and still had two more miles to go. That 5:45 probably also put her in about 50th place.
“That’s a tough pill to swallow to know that you’ve ran your fastest first mile ever and you still aren’t near where you want to be. Kate has been such a strong runner all season long and I feel like she’s learned a lot and there is no better place to learn than at the state meet.”
Also scoring for Highland were sophomore Breann Wernle in 122nd place at 19:16, senior Allison Zobrist in 143rd place at 19:36 and freshman Lily Becker in 163rd at 19:53.
Bradley said Wernle pushed herself to a 6:05 first mile and that’s her fastest start ever.
“I really thought that was right where she needed to be time-wise,” he said. “She looked good but couldn’t get past the massive amount of traffic in front of her. Breann’s a sweet kid and has really pitched in to make this program successful the last two seasons. Her sectional races the last two years have been among the best races I’ve ever seen a kid have. My job for next year is to help guide her to a similar race at the state meet.”
Bradley said Zobrist also started well and was a few seconds in front of Wernle at the mile.
“I’m not sure what she experienced during the race but she was struggling when she came past me after the two-mile mark,” Bradley said. “She and Breann ran so well last week by staying with Kate and Sarah Beth, but there was already a 17-second gap between the two pairs at the one mile. I should have coached this part of the race better.”
Bradley said Zobrist’s impact on the program is immeasurable.
“We’ve had athletes in four consecutive state meets since she’s been here and that’s not a coincidence,” he said. “Obviously her sixth place all-state finish in 2013 was a record setter. She’s a terrific kid. It was pretty cool that she got the opportunity to run here as a senior after dealing with a season-long injury. Perhaps her biggest impact will be the girls we get to run for us over the next few years who were inspired by her accomplishments.”
Becker had another race under the 20-minute mark.
“That’s really a remarkable feat for a number five runner,” Bradley said. “I can remember several teams where that kind of time would’ve made her our number one runner. She brings a lot of energy to the team and I thought she fought really hard these last two races to try to get the lowest score she could for her team. Running number five for a team comes with a lot of pressure and she handled it really well.”
Also competing but not counting toward the team score were junior Courntey Hengehold and freshman Lexy Gilliam.
Bradley said Hengehold really got off the start well and looked good early.
“She doesn’t have the ability to shift gears like some of her teammates do so she knows she has to keep grinding away,” Bradley said of Hengehold. “The fast start though caught up to her and she was really under duress in the last mile. Courtney has been a solid racer for three years and she always lays it on the line on race day. She will be the most experienced runner we have coming back for next season. I think her future teammates can learn some things from her about not ever backing down in a race.”
Bradley said Gilliam followed the lead of her teammates and ran a great first mile.
“She’s a tough kid,” Bradley said of Gilliam. “She ran with a sore knees this season but showed a great deal of heart. We are really looking forward to having her back healthy next season because she likes to compete.”
Bradley said he is really happy for the whole team of girls, from the No. 1 runner through the 16th runner.
“They put in a lot of time and effort to earn this trip to state,” he said. “They did more in the summer time than probably any of the other teams I’ve coached. That hard work paid off with a trip to state. They wanted it and they went out and accomplished it. The next chapter, though, has to include even more work. We have to work harder so that they we can compete for a state trophy. I know the pieces are there but it’s going to take commitment and dedication. I can’t wait to get started.”