The O’Fallon Township High School cross country teams got a preview of the competition level that they will face should they advance to the IHSA state finals in 2016 when they made the trek to Peoria last weekend to run in the Richard Spring Invitational hosted by Peoria Notre Dame.
The races were dominated by schools from the Chicago metroplex with the Panthers struggling to keep pace with the northern powerhouses. Ironically, the Panther boys and girls teams finished in exactly the same position in then final team standings. Coach Jon Burnett’s boys’ varsity runners placed 16 overall in a field of 60 teams.
OTHS Coach Neil James’ female harriers also placed 16 out of 48 participating teams.
In the varsity boys’ competition, Neuqua Valley claimed the invitational crown with Mahomet-Seymour finishing second.
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O’Fallon’s 16th place — the best showing of any school south of Joliet — was earned primarily through the efforts of the Panthers’ top three runners.
Senior Joey Black was O’Fallon’s top performer, completing the circuit in 63rd. Will VanAlstine (76) and Chris Conrad (82) comprised the OTHS contingent who was able to break the top 100.
Glenbard West ran away with the varsity girls’ team trophy, followed by Wheaton Warrenville South a distant second. O’Fallon had two runners score among the top 100 with No.1 runner Brooke Witzel placing 49th and freshman Sophie Wichlac completing the course in spot 77.
The best overall team effort produced by an OTHS squad came from the freshman/sophomore girls squad. Paced by freshman Kaitlyn Walker’s placed 10 and sophomore Abby George’s placed 53, the young Panther harriers combined for seventh place.
The freshman/sophomore boys were 22 with Ashton Hess (63), the only O’Fallon runner to score among the top 100.
The Panther teams will go their separate ways in the next big challenge of the season on Oct. 1.
The OTHS boys’ team will compete in Parkway West Invitational while the O’Fallon girls return to the Chicago area to run in the Wheaton North Falcon Invitational.