In a season when traditional state powers O’Fallon and Edwardsville have relied more on team depth than individuals, Granite City junior Andrew O’Keefe has established himself as a dominant cross country runner in Southern Illinois.
Now the Warrior is looking to establish himself as one of the best in the state.
Fresh off wins at the Belleville West regional and Granite City sectional the past two weeks, O’Keefe has his sights set on a top-25 finish at the IHSA state cross country championships Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Competing at the state finals for the third straight year, O’Keefe posted the 14th best time in the state (14:56) last week in winning the sectional. He is ranked 12th among all Class 3A runners.
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According to Granite City coach Richie Skirball, O’Keefe is running as well as he ever has heading into his third trip to Peoria.
“Andrew is probably the most complete runner I’ve ever coached. There are certain type of runners who are sit and kickers that wait for the finish of the race; others are front-runners that take out the pace hard because their leg speed is the weakness,” Skirball said. “Andrew is strong across the board, and no matter what type of race strategy unfolds up top, I believe Andrew will be right in the thick of it.
“Andrew is running very well lately. His time on Saturday was his second-fastest of all time. (O’Fallon runner) Lucas Capistrant helped push the pace at the finish to sink them both under 15 minutes. I believe he and Lucas will both benefit from a large group of 10 to 30 runners that will be sharing the pace duties throughout the race. That will set them up for a strong and exciting kick down bus row to the finish line.”
The Class 3A race, which will feature O’Fallon and Edwardsville runners in addition to O’Keefe, will start at 2 p.m. and will be the finale of the six-race cross country state finals. The Class 1A girls event will kick off the day at 9 a.m., with races continuing every hour.
The top 25 runners in each class are all-state honorees.
“There are many experienced racers and coaches that are prepared, primed and ready to sink some serious times Saturday,” Skirball said. “Having said that, I believe Andrew is one of those runners ready to do so. He has the perfect makeup for a racer.”
While O’Keefe is the top metro-east hope in Class 3A, several other area runners could also be in the hunt for a top-25-or-better finish.
In Class 1A, the Freeburg Midgets girls are led by sophomore Breanna Chandler. An all-state runner a year ago, Chandler is looking to improve on her 25th-place finish as a freshman. Nashville and Mater Dei will join Freeburg as local teams competing.
Freeburg could also be in the running for a top-five finish in the boys race. The state runners-up a year ago, the Midgets are led by senior all-state runner Charlie Parrish, along with Mater Dei senior Luke Goebel and Wesclin freshman Justin Mumford. Columbia and Mater Dei will be competing in the team race.
In Class 2A girls, Waterloo junior Jenna Schwartz, a two-time all-state runner, will lead a young Bulldogs squad that could contend for a top-five finish. Other local teams include Triad and Mascoutah.
Waterloo is also in the Class 2A boys race. Edwardsville is the lone local team competing in the Class 3A girls race. The Tigers are led by sophomore Abby Korak. O’Fallon did not qualify as a team, but senior Brooke Witzel will compete for the Panthers as an individual.