Lily Baker was an active recruiter or the Sycamore cross country team this year, helping drive out a large freshman class to help the Spartans in a strange, coronavirus-shortened season.
The junior also found time to lead the Spartans on the course, taking second at the Interstate 8 meet and saving her best performance of the year for last at the Class 2A Lakes Sectional that would have qualified for state - the first Spartan to do so since 2012. She was also named the Daily Chronicle Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"I tried to actively text them and email them to come, or if they wanted to join make sure they contacted us early so that way they could run with us when the season started," Baker said. "I just wanted as many people on our team as we could because I knew this year could be a really big team. ... COVID made that harder obviously."
Baker said that led to a fun season, even though no state meet was held this year due to the pandemic and the regular season was both shorter and limited in the scope of travel.
"It's been really cool because a lot of freshmen have come in and are really motivated to run with us," Baker said. "It's really nice to see they are so excited and positive about trying to advance farther and trying to do the best they can. It was nice to see how our team bonded and ended up doing pretty well."
In the three races to close the year, Baker kept posting faster and faster times. Her second-place finish in the conference meet came in 20:33, then she was eighth at the Class 2A Kaneland Regional in 19:53. Her season-best 19:40 came in the sectional, helping her take 30th.
Coach Adam Bezinovich called it a remarkable year from start to finish.
"She never had an off day, which is really, really hard to do in any sport," Bezinovich said. "Then she ended it with her best race of the year at the sectional, which was exciting to see."
Baker said it was disappointing that there was no state meet for her to run in this year, although it wasn't a thought that was on her mind right away.
"I was very happy that day," Baker said. "It didn't really sink in that there wasn't any state until the next week. It was a little disappointing but also exciting cause I'm only a junior and have the chance to run at state next year."
Bezinovich said Baker is the program's first cross country runner to qualify individually for state since Maggie Lalowski, who accomplished the feat in 2012.
He said she took the accomplishment in stride.
"She's more behind the scenes, encouraging the girls to do the right thing, building the team," Bezinovich said. "She's pretty much the reason we had so many girls out this year. We had the largest team we had in the last probably decade and she's a big reason for that. Making it a welcoming place, encouraging people every day to do their best with all the distractions going on."
Bezinovich said the sectional was loaded with talent, and Baker said it caught her off guard a little as the race got underway.
"Sectional was our most competitive meet. The girls came out aggressively and fast," Baker said. "Much more faster than I thought they would go out. Which is nice and fine, I just didn't expect them to go out that fast."
Baker said it was just nice to have a season.
"It definitely made me appreciate we had postseason and so many races," Baker said. "Because at the beginning of the season we were unsure we'd have even one meet."