In their second major meet of the 2016 season, the Forest Park Invitational Saturday, Panther male and female harriers were running against the elite cross country teams from across the state of Missouri. Despite the rugged competition, both OTHS teams finished with solid efforts, ending the day among the top 10 schools and leading the Illinois schools participating in the event.
The O’Fallon boys’ squad, coming off a championship effort in the Granite City Invitational, placed 10th overall. St. Thomas Aquinas (81), Rockhurst (134) and Blue Springs garnered the top three team positions. O’Fallon managed a fairly tight pack, but they were too far off the pace set by the Missouri schools.
Sophomore Kyle Dismukes had the best day for the Panthers, crossing the finish line in 36th place. Fellow sophomore Will VanAlstine (47th), Matthew Gilster (58) and Lucas Capistrant (77) completed the scoring for the OTHS runners who ended with 319 team points.
The O’Fallon High girls’ fared a little better. A tighter pack of top five runners allowed them to secure a sixth place finish. Top runner Brooke Witzel again set the pace for the Lady Panthers, finishing 16th overall. O’Fallon also got another point boost from their exceptional freshmen duo. Sophie Wichlac took 46th, and Emma Jordan crossed the tape seconds after Wichlac to finish 52nd. Katie Mank (58th) and Kaileigh Perrier (68th) completed the top five scoring for the OTHS girls.
The top three girls’ teams were Blue Springs (1st), Fatima (2nd) and Park Hill South (3rd).
Prior to the Forest Park challenge, both OTHS squads ran in the Edwardsville Fall Classic. It was a banner day for two Panther runners, but the boys’ squad succumbed to some of their own medicine, finishing second to Edwardsville in the team standings. Seniors Joey Black and Chris Conrad set a blistering pace and maintained it throughout the race to finish first and second respectively. The Panthers’ one-two punch at the top of the leader board was not enough to capture the team crown, however. Edwardsville runners finished in an impressive pack taking 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th and 12th to score 31 points.
O’Fallon’s third runner, sophomore Andrew Joyce, crossed the tape in 13th with the remaining O’Fallon runners further back in the pack. Edwardsville’s performance was the type of effort that the Panthers have used to dominate the area over the past few years.
“They (Edwardsville) used a bit of our own medicine and certainly deserved the win,” said OTHS coach Jon Burnett. “Our second place team finish certainly does not diminish the excellent races run by Joey Black and Chris Conrad. They gave us a chance to win the title. We weren’t able to challenge their third through sixth place runners.”
OTHS girls’ coach Neil James opted to give a majority of his front-line runners the day off in preparation for the Forest Park Invitational. With young, less experienced runners getting a chance to step up in competition level, the Lady Panthers ended the race in the middle of the pack.
After attempting to keep pace with the best of the Missouri schools, both OTHS squads will head north this weekend for another major meet — this time against the elite programs in Illinois at the Peoria Notre Dame Invitational.