It’s easy to look at Kaneland girls cross country’s sixth-place finish at state and see a successful season.
This year Kaneland returns four of its top seven runners and, with a little luck, could improve upon that mark in 2013.
But a look at the journey some of their runners took to get there might give others an even better appreciation of their accomplishment, one of the best team finishes in school history.
“Every coach tries to have them get better as time goes on, but they’ve always done well at the end,” Kaneland coach Doug Ecker said. “They’re just a good group of kids. It’s always been that way at Kaneland, for me at least.”
Victoria Clinton, now a junior, won the Class 2A state championship in 2012 after an 11th-place finish as a freshman. Primarily a triathlon athlete, Clinton took some time to get back into running form last year. But she came on in the postseason, dropping more than a minute off her regional time to finish in 16:56 at the state meet in Peoria.
“It kind of takes her a while to get going,” Ecker said. “Because her strength is running, her triathlon coach, he’s been concentrating with her on swimming and her biking. Towards the end of the season, she got better and better.”
Sophomore Brianna Bower was in her first varsity season and Ecker said she “just had to figure out what was going on.”
Yet Bower battled against the usual nerves for an underclassman and finished as the ninth-fastest freshman in the state.
Senior Sydney Strang, a veteran of two state meets, has fought unfortunate luck in getting sick at the wrong times while junior Aislinn Lodwig has dealt with various leg injuries throughout her career.
Yet both of them came through at the state meet, placing 38th and 69th respectively.
As one would expect, Ecker says the key for his team is to stay healthy.
Returning four experienced runners of that caliber after a sixth-place finish at state would often ensure a team the status as a conference favorite, but that’s not necessarily the case in the Northern Illinois Big 12. The conference features some of the best Class 2A runners in the state as Yorkville, Dixon, Geneseo and DeKalb should all have state meet aspirations.
Kaneland will be tested throughout the season, but as seen in previous years, this team has faced adversity and come through before.
“It definitely pushes us hard. It’s a lot of fun,” Strang said. “It’s nice to be able to be in a conference that’s so competitive because it makes you so much better.”
Girls cross country preview capsules
Coach: Mike Wolf (16th season)
2012 accomplishments: Finished third at the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference meet and placed 10th at the Class 3A St. Charles East Sectional. Kelsey Schrader won championships at the conference, regional and sectional meets and placed 10th at state.
Key returners: Kelsey Schrader, sr.; Monica York, sr.; Sara Schafer, sr.; Kayla Federici, sr.; Tessa Gridley, so.
Key newcomers: Gabbie Bogolin, so.; Emily Olson, so.; Tania Barragan, so.
Outlook: Returning the best runner in the area over the past two years is always a positive. Moving back down into Class 2A is a bonus.
DeKalb returns a quartet of seniors led by Schrader, who should be considered the favorite to win the Class 2A state championship.
Wolf’s take: “We have a strong top 5 that is very experienced and then a group of girls that have an opportunity to contribute. I’m looking for our younger girls to work hard and grow more confident.”
Coach: Tiffany Thurlby (second season)
2012 accomplishments: Cogs finished 11th at Big Northern Conference meet and Renae Kurpuis advanced to sectional meet.
Key returners: Amanda Murray, sr.; Emerald Sanders, sr.; Jessica Drendel, jr.; Nikki Hebel, jr.; Tabi Long, so.; Rosemary Sanders, so.; Briana Campbell, so.; Katey Kurpuis, so.
Key newcomers: Kaitlyn Rease, fr.; Anna Drendel, fr.; Maggie Bouque, fr.; Ashley Grimm, jr.; Alyssa Edwards, jr.; Shelby Mazza, jr.
Outlook: After last year’s top runner Kurpuis graduated, the Cogs will be a younger group that should improve as the season progresses and they gain more race experience.
Thurlby’s take: “This year our goal is to finish in the top 7 [in Big Northern Conference] and to qualify as a team for the sectional meet.”
Coach: Doug Ecker (27th season)
2012 accomplishments: Knights finished second in Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference meet and sixth at Class 2A state meet. Victoria Clinton won the state championship while Brianna Bower finished 34th and Sydney Strang placed 38th.
Key returners: Victoria Clinton, jr.; Brianna Bower, so.; Sydney Strang, sr.; Aislinn Lodwig, jr.; Jessica Kucera, jr.
Key newcomers: Katie Huber, fr.; Abby Shaw, fr.
Outlook: The Knights bring back four of their top seven runners from last year’s team. Clinton came on very strong in the postseason to win her first state title and was supported by a good group of fellow underclassmen.
Kaneland will be in the hunt for a conference title.
Ecker’s take: “Should have a strong top five with a good 1-2 punch from Victoria Clinton and Brianna Bower. If Sydney Strang can stay away from illness for a entire season she will right there as well. Weakness is what was our strength was the last several seasons and that is depth.”
Coach: Adam Bezinovich (first season)
2012 accomplishments: Spartans finished fifth at Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference meet and 13th at Class 2A Belvidere Sectional.
Key returners: Maggie Lalowski, sr.; Stephanie Cole, sr.; Amy Schroeder, sr.; Hannah Cerny, so.; Katie Denius, sr.; Kylie Ocker, sr.
Key newcomers: Michelle Findlay, sr.; Maddie Kenney, sr.
Outlook: Sycamore returns six of their top seven runners from last season and will be loaded with seniors in 2013.
Lalowski narrowly missed out on qualifying for the state meet last year in a very competitive sectional, but could make it as a senior.
Bezinovich’s take: “This is a great group of girls that we have out this year, and a majority of them are seniors. These girls are some of the hardest working athletes I have coached, and this season should be a fun one to watch and coach.”
– Ross Jacobson, email@example.com