Having achieved a pre-season goal of qualifying for the Illinois High School Association state finals, both O’Fallon High cross country teams discovered just how competitive the state’s showcase is last Saturday on the Detweiller Park course in Peoria. Ironically, both Panther teams finished in exactly the same position in the two Class 3A finals — in the middle of the pack at 21st.
For the O’Fallon boys’ squad, making their 14th consecutive appearance in the state’s showcase, the competition level proved too tough. Senior Chris Conrad was the top runner for OTHS, capping his final cross country campaign with a 37th place finish. The remaining Panther runners were well off Conrad’s pace, forcing the OTHS squad to accept a middle of the pack finish. The other Panther harriers who contributed team points included Will VanAlstine (76th), Joey Black (79th), Garrett Blenkush (135th) and Matthew Gilster (137th).
The boys’ 3A championship was won by Neuqua Valley. Downer’s Grove North and Lake Zurich finished second and third respectively. The top metro-east team in the boys’ race was produced by the Edwardsville Tigers, who ended the race two slots above the Panthers in 19th overall.
In the girls’ competition, junior Brooke Witzel took honors as the top finisher on either OTHS squad, crossing the tape in 27th place. With three of the next four runners on the O’Fallon depth chart held by freshmen runners, O’Fallon High coach Neil James knew that for the Lady Panthers to move up the leader board would be a difficult proposition.
“Running in the state finals for the first time can be a very daunting experience,” James said. “The sheer number of runners and, of course, the level of competition can be overwhelming; however, I thought our young kids did an excellent job of competing. Hopefully, their experience gained this year will make them even hungrier for another shot next fall.”
The best effort among O’Fallon’s trio of freshmen runners was turned in by Kaitlyn Walker, who finished 76th. The other OTHS scorers included Sophie Wichlac (118th), Emma Jordan (124th) and Katie Mank (136th).