For over a decade, the O’Fallon Panther male and female harriers have dominated the Southwestern Conference cross country scene. Team depth and exceptional individual talents have kept the OTHS squads at the head of the pack with few conference teams able to challenge the Panthers’ superiority. That mantra changed a bit last week when the Edwardsville Tigers were able to knock off the O’Fallon girls’ squad in the annual SWC meet and tie the OTHS boys for the league championship.
Cross country success is dependent on finishing in a tight pack as close to the top of the leader board as possible. In the varsity races at Gordon Moore Park last Thursday, Edwardsville beat the O’Fallon girls’ squad at their own game, with their top six runners finishing among the first nine. O’Fallon’s Brooke Witzel put some pressure on the Tigers by winning the race in a time of 18:38 — nine seconds faster than Edwardsville’s Jaycie Hudson. The victory was Witzel’s second SWC individual championship in row; however, the Panther pack of runners were separated from their lead runner by four Tiger harriers. Kaitlyn Walker was the next OTHS runner to cross the finish line in seventh place. Emma Jordan, Sophie Wichlac and Katie Mank took ninth through 12th with Madeline McKittrick (14th) and Danna Jenkins (15th) pushing the front-runners.
But it was not enough. Edwardsville took the SWC title with 22 team points to O’Fallon’s 41. East St. Louis finished a distant third with 112 team points.
The boys’ event was a two-team race also. Edwardsville’s Franky Romano was the first runner to complete the three-mile course in a sprint to the finish line that saw the top three spots determined by less than two seconds. Romano edged Granite City’s Andrew O’Keefe by one second to claim the individual title. O’Fallon senior Joey Black — one of the Panthers’ top runners over the last two seasons — raced across the tape less than a second behind O’Keefe to take third.
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Nine seconds behind Black, teammates Chris Conrad and Will VanAlstine completed the run, finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Matthew Gilster (13th) and Zion Ward (15th) also turned in solid performances for the Panthers. O’Fallon and Edwardsville finished in a dead heat with both squads totaling 36 team points. The Tigers claimed first, fourth, seventh and 10th place with O’Fallon runners finishing third, fifth, sixth and ninth. The Panthers again were without the services of Kyle Dismukes, one of their top runners, who is sidelined with an injury.
The SWC junior varsity racing results paralleled the varsity competitions with the O’Fallon boys claiming first place and the OTHS girls finishing second to Edwardsville. In the junior varsity boys’ team victory, the young Panthers took three of the top four spots. Johnathon Whitaker was the big winner, taking first place in a field of 117 runners. Aaron Reuter and Ashton Hess aided the Panther cause, finishing third and fourth respectively.
The O’Fallon junior varsity girls suffered the same fate as their varsity counterparts, finishing in a tight pack but not as solidly as Edwardsville. Kaileigh Perrier (3rd) and Abby George (4th) led the OTHS charge with Janelle Vollmer (6th), Maddie Collins (7th) and Kenzi McCormick (10th) finishing in the top ten.
The Panther and Tiger varsity squads prepare to tangle again this weekend when they compete in the IHSA regional hosted by Quincy High School.