With interest and numbers in the Althoff cross country program at an all-time high, energetic coach Mike Sanders knew it was just a matter of time before the Crusaders scored that signature win.
Such a victory would prove that the Althoff harriers can compete with and defeat a top-tier program regardless of class.
That victory may have come on Tuesday for the Crusaders’ girls squad.
Competing in warm 90-degree heat on the last day of summer on a tough three-mile course at Belleville West, Tiffani Siekmann placed second and four Althoff teammates packed together to finish in the top eight as Althoff won the girls division at the Belleville City Cross Country Meet.
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Althoff, which earlier this season won the Class 1A and Class 2A dominated New Athens Invitational for the second straight time, used it superior depth to finish with 28 points, nine fewer than second-place Belleville East (37). Belleville West was third with 59 points. Both East and West are Class 3A schools.
Sanders, a former assistant at McKendree University, was not sure if the city title is the first for Althoff. What Sanders was sure of is that his team pulled together for a key win as it continues its quest towards a berth in the Class 1A State Cross Country Meet in less than six weeks at beautiful Detweiler Park in Peoria.
“We talked about this and felt we felt we had a chance to win if we went out and ran well,” Sanders said. “Tiffani (Siekmann) had a great race and we were able to stay in the pack and have five in the top eight. That’s very strong. Our depth played a big part in us winning here. This is a big win and I’m very proud of this team.”
Belleville East junior Seleiya Wilson used her strength and speed to win the race, covering the trek in 20 minutes, 16 seconds, 30 seconds faster than Siekmann.
East senior Sydney Hartung was third while Belleville West junior Alyssa Frakes placed fourth. Althoff then took the next four places with Amanda Kaltwasser (fifth), Gabbi Siekmann (sixth), Lizzie Michael (seventh) and Andersyn Foster (eighth) providing the difference for the Crusaders.
While Althoff won the team title, Wilson continued her sensational break through season as one of the top harriers in southern Illinois.
Given a race by Tiffani Siekmann, Wilson simply overpowered the Crusaders sophomore over the last 1 1/2 miles, as she won for third time this season.
“It was a good race. I just wanted to out today and make my team proud. I wanted to do my best,” Wilson said. “I got off to kind of a slow start. I’ve been eating a little too much junk foot and I’ve got to do a better job of controlling that. I was able to take the lead at about the 1 1/2 mile mark. Back on the hills then kind of stretch it out the rest of the way.”
Belleville West senior Brian Gichuru also got off to a slow start on his season but the now two-time Belleville City champion continued to make progress as he breezed to a 30-second win over Belleville East standout Jackson Howell on Tuesday.
Gichuru finished the three mile course in 16:43, while Howell was second in 17:13.
Still now in top shape, Gichuru said he felt the hot conditions on the back end of the rugged course at Belleville West. But determined to successfully defend his championship, Gichuru finished strong to win going away.
“Man, it was hot,” a still sweating Gichuru said following the race. “On the back end of the course is where I felt it the most. Coming into the race, I knew the guys from (Belleville) East were going to try and stay right on top of me. Howell is a good runner, but I felt that with my strength that I had an advantage.
“After the first couple of miles, I just decided to go and that’s what I did. It feels great to win back-to-back city championships.”
Belleville West finished the day with 27 points, four fewer than Belleville East (31). Althoff was a distant third with 82 points.
Belleville East took third and fourth place as Dillon Vaupel and Zach Panek finished with identical times of 17:28. But the depth of the Maroons took over from there.
West junior Lucas Robben rounded out the top five individuals — finishing in a time of 17:49, but following closely behind were teammates Jimmy Reed, Justin Koderhandt and Nate Robben, who took the six thought eight spots.
“Actually our No. 6 man (Ethan) Lamons and No. 7 runner played a big role in us winning as well because they were able to finish ahead of the No. 5 runner from (Belleville) East. What did we win by? Four points? It made a difference,” West coach Patton Segraves said. “We ran well today and we were able to pack it together with five runners in the top eight. But we expected that. It’s great to beat city champions again.
“I’m also very happy for Brian (Gichuru). I think he’s had a strong season and after winning the city title as a junior, I’m sure he wanted to win it as a senior as well. He went out and defended his home turf.”