The O’Fallon High boys’ and girls’ cross country teams traveled in opposite directions last weekend and met identical challenges in major races that showcased the best racing talent in both Illinois and Missouri.
Coach Jon Burnett’s boys’ team competed in the Parkway West Invitational, running in four separate divisions with positive outcomes at all levels. Coach Neil James’ girls’ team made their annual pilgrimage to the top regular season meet in the state of Illinois — the Wheaton North Falcon Classic.
The varsity Panthers finished in the middle of the 16-team field which included most of the top-ranked teams in the St. Louis metro area. The only Illinois school in the competition, O’Fallon’s best effort was turned in by the sophomore squad as the 10th grade Panther harriers finished second, just one point behind champion Kirkwood.
OTHS runner Ashton Hess won the individual title to pace the Panthers. Hess crossed the tape eight seconds ahead of Rockbridge High’s Mo Shonekan. O’Fallon doubled up at the top of the leader board with Andrew Joyce finishing just one second behind Shonekan to secure a third place medal.
O’Fallon’s varsity Panthers eighth place finish featured two excellent efforts by senior Joey Black, who took ninth place overall, and sophomore Will VanAlstine, who followed Black across the finish line in tenth place. Chris Conrad (15th), Matthew Gilster (18th) and Zion Ward (37th) rounded out the group of top O’Fallon competitors.
The Panthers’ junior varsity team was paced by Johnathon Whitaker and Aaron Reuter, the pair taking 20th and 21st respectively. The JV squad was eighth in the final team point totals. O’Fallon’s freshmen runners were fourth place finishers in their flight, led by David Tady’s eighth place and Braden Gaab’s 12th.
In the monster 28-team race, the local girls were well off the pace in team points with a 107 which translated into a 17th place finish. The Falcon Classic is run in a series of seven flights, grouping runners by their team positions. Brooke Witzel came through in Flight #1 with the best finish ever turned in by an OTHS runner in the top flight.
“Brooke ran an excellent race,” said James. “The #1 flight at Wheaton includes nearly every viable contender for the state individual championship, and Brooke’s 11th place finish puts her in very elite company. It was the best an O’Fallon runner has ever done in that flight. We also had some other girls run really well given the level of competition they were facing.”
The dynamic freshmen duo of Sophie Wichlac and Emma Jordan gained valuable experience in the meet, facing runners with whom they will be contending in the rapidly approaching IHSA state series. Wichlac was 17th in Flight No. 2, and Jordan placed 19th in Flight No. 3. The Lady Panthers remaining scorers included Katie Mank (16th at No. 4), Kaitlyn Walther (10th at No. 5), Danna Jenkins (18th at No. 6), and Kaileigh Perrier (16th at No. 7).