PARK FOREST| Happy birthday, Maritza Najera.
One day before her 17th birthday, the Thornton junior took more than a full minute off of her personal best Thursday at the Larry Roland Invitational at Rich East.
Najera's time of 21:46.0 was good for 15th place in a field of 120 runners, making her the highest finisher among area schools.
Marian Catholic led area schools with 150 points and a sixth-place finish.
"I don't know what it was," Najera said after the race. "I started off pretty slow this year. But I've been working hard and working my way up, and now I'm doing really good."
Najera admitted that she surprised even herself with her performance, but at least one person in the crowd wasn't taken aback by her time.
"It must have been a good day for her," Thornton coach Carolyn Estes-Rodgers said with a laugh. "She's been training pretty hard, so I wasn't surprised. I thought she could get in the top 15."
Marian Catholic's team effort was led by a quartet of runners who finished just 16 seconds apart in Helena Mierzwa (27th, 22:03), Angela Totos (30th, 22:07.0), Adriana Valedon (21st, 22:12.0) and Kylee Strezo (35th, 22:19.0).
Despite leading area schools, Spartans coach Tim Sovereign said that the performance wasn't his team's best.
"Our times were a little bit slower than last year," Sovereign said. "I think part of the problem we're having is that we keep waiting for that breakthrough meet. The girls are working hard. I don't question their work ethic; we're just kind of wondering when it's all going to fall in place."
The Spartans did get encouraging results in the sophomore portion of the meet, though. Shea Driscoll took second in a time of 22:03, and the team took second.
"That was very exciting," Sovereign said. "It's the first time our fresh/soph has ever won a trophy here."
T.F. South finished in 11th place with 296 points, led by Patty Stellfox's 24th-place finish (21:59.0).
Jessica Fierce (22:14.0) knocked 35 seconds off of her personal best.
Rebels coach Steve Nelson said Stellfox did well to finish in 24th, but the senior wanted a little bit more.
"I was just one of those days," Stellfox said. "The course isn't bad. It's a little hilly, but for the most part, it's pretty easy. It just wasn't my day."
Crete-Monee junior Teja Foy finished in 36th place with a time of 22:26.0 as the Warriors took 14th place (346).
Bloom Township finished in 12th place (307), led by Monica Chavolla's 44th-place finish (22:46.0).
Thornridge (15th, 438) was led by Dominique Graham's 24:48.0.