Boys cross country: St. Charles East, Kaneland enter state with No. 1 rankings
Rankings are great fun -- for everyone not ranked No. 1.
That's where the Kaneland and St. Charles East boys cross country teams sit entering Saturday's state finals at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
"Kaneland and St. Charles East are the ones to beat come this weekend," MileSplit Illinois distance editor Carson Vittorio said of the top boys teams in Class 2A and Class 3A, respectively -- not only according to MileSplit but to the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Poll and by the expert Mike Newman of ILXCTF.com.
As with most every coach, a top ranking means little to Kaneland coach Chad Clarey and St. Charles East coach Chris Bosworth.
Marmion, Dixon, Morton, St. Ignatius, Sandburg, York and defending Class 3A champion Wheaton Warrenville South might even see it as a target.
"How I've treated it all year," Clarey said, "is it does not matter."
Returning five of the Knights' top seven runners -- seniors Austin Adams, Daniel Occipinti, Ethan Walker and Ethan Neal, junior Isaiah Dallal -- from a 2018 fourth-place Class 2A finish, it's a motivated group.
All ran personal-best times last year at Detweiller Park and were within .15 seconds of a third-place trophy.
Pulling from "multiple weapons" this fall in the key No. 5 slot -- Neal Durbala, Parker Malone, Aaron Lodwig and Nolan Allen -- Clarey seeks a few more PRs and a bit more luck.
"Regardless of where we finish this weekend," he said, "it's just been a complete blessing to work with this team, this core group of seniors and the way that they've worked together and have really showed the younger runners what true commitment looks like."
In a different type of commitment, St. Charles East senior Bob Liking just gave his to the University of Wisconsin to continue his career.
Running a personal-best 14 minutes, 23 seconds at Detweiller this season at the Peoria Invitational, Liking heads a Saints team that went 7-0 at invitational, conference, regional and sectional meets.
Winning on its home course of LeRoy Oakes for a second straight week, at the Class 3A St. Charles East sectional the Saints earned a tidy 29 points behind scorers Liking, Micah Wilson, Aidan King, Zack Loomis and Luke Schildmeyer. Johnny Olenek and Connor Murphy completed the lineup.
After last season's fifth-place 3A finish they've run this fall with a chip on their collective shoulder.
"Last year I know the top guys, their goal was placing a little bit higher, maybe finishing with a trophy," said Olenek, a senior like King and Liking. "I guess we've been holding onto that chip the whole year, trying to get better one week at a time, one week at a time."
St. Charles East held the top spot on Newman's ILXCTF rankings the final six weeks.
"It can't be a bad thing," Bosworth said. "My guys know what they're capable of doing. We also know that we've got work to do down there."
Batavia's Mia Gianfrancesco, a senior committed to run at Loyola, said her team -- and their parents -- occasionally dabble in poll watching.
The big number, though, is to improve upon ninth-place finishes each of the last two seasons at the girls Class 3A finals.
"We really want to place this year, top three," said Gianfrancesco, seeking a third straight all-state ribbon.
"We've just been working really hard in getting to that place this season. Our team has done a nice job working off each other and making everyone better every single day at practice," she said.
From last year's downstate squad Batavia returns seniors Gianfrancesco, Katie Cole and Audrey Pellico, junior Jenna Schifferer and outstanding sophomore Katrina Schlenker -- 2018 runner-up to Glenbard West star Katelynne Hart.
Freshmen Ava Thomas and Liliana Bednarek round out the Bulldogs.
Batavia's deep Detweiller experience has Gianfrancesco ready to roll against the likes of three-time defending Class 3A champ Naperville North.
"This is going to be our seniors' fourth year going there this year, so it makes us really excited to see what we can do," she said.