WEST CHICAGO | It was expected that Saturday’s Class 2A cross country sectional at Kress Creek Farms Park would come down to Illiana Christian and Yorkville.
What nobody expected was how far down in the lineup it would go before a winner emerged.
While Illiana’s Nick Fiene was finishing fifth, immediately behind Yorkville’s twins, Jake and Luke Hoffert, who crossed the finish line second and third, the real battle was going on back in the pack. And there, Illiana’s Tom McGuire made the difference.
When the top five finishers for the Vikings and the Foxes both totaled 44 points, it came down to where each team’s sixth man placed.
McGuire, in 16:20.698 on the 3.06-mile circuit, came in 18th, 21 places ahead of Yorkville’s sixth man, Jake Firrantello, and that earned the Vikings the sectional title.
“Not everybody’s going to have their best race all at the same time, but we had enough guys run their best race for us,” coach Jim Piaskowy said.
Illiana’s depth carried the day. Austin Gibson, often Illiana’s sixth man, was the fourth Viking to finish, in 16:05.303. That turned out to be huge.
“I knew I had to get in before the Yorkville four and five,” Gibson said. “I never scored (in the top five) this year, so coming in like I did today was really good for me.”
And great for the Vikings.
Fiene said he went out too quickly, with a first mile of 4:45 rather than 4:50, but it worked out all right.
“I kind of let (the Hoffert twins) get away from me,” Fiene said.
“There was a gap and I never really surged ahead to catch the gap. I just tried to hold the gap and maintain that gap behind me as well.”
Joe Singleton of Glenbard South was sixth, six seconds behind Fiene.
And Singleton finished two seconds ahead of Yorkville’s Nolan Tweedy.
If Singleton had finished ahead of Fiene, or Tweedy had finished ahead of Singleton, Yorkville would have won the title.
Now the Vikings and Foxes, so close in the deepest of the five sectionals, have to be considered co-favorites for the 2A state crown.
“I have no doubt that at state we’re going to come back faster and stronger,” Fiene said.
Defending 2A state champion John Wold of Glenbard South won the individual title, breaking away with about a mile to go to finish in 14:58 and outrun Jake Hoffert by 19 seconds.
Curiously, Illiana’s girls team won the Tinley Park Invitational in a tiebreaker earlier in the season.
Saturday, the Viking girls ran their race, only to find others running faster. Only Alexa Beezhold advanced, finishing 15th individually in 19:13.098. The Vikings finished ninth as a team, their total of 161 points 21 out of the fifth qualifying spot.
“They ran exactly what we wanted them to,” coach Deb Top said. “We said all five had to be in the 19s (for the three-mile converted time). We wanted Emma (Pawlowski) in the 18s converted, but the rest were there in the 19s. What are you going to do?”
At the halfway point in the race, the Vikings looked like a good bet to qualify as a team. But there were surprises in what was the deepest sectional of the five statewide, and as a result, Illiana was shut out as a team. So was Lemont, which Top noted was ranked eighth in the 2A state rankings at one point this season.
“It’s insane,” Top said. “I hope the girls are feeling good. They did everything we asked them to, got the times we said they had to get.
They did it. Then you just let it go.”
Pawlowski finished behind the seven qualifying individuals, at 19:36.116, with Alex Clausing, Monica Smits, Brittany Grown and Holly School all in the 20-minute bracket. Converted to a three-mile pace, that quintet was under 20 minutes, and would easily have qualified running at the sectional conducted by University of Chicago High at Washington Park, which is closer to Illiana’s campus. But the IHSA sent Illiana to a course in the shadow of FermiLab instead.
“We tell the girls you can’t control what the IHSA does,” Top said.
“All you can control is taking the talent you have, develop it to its absolute best, and run your best. They’ll be disappointed for a while, but they just left everything out there.”
“I would have wanted the team to come,” Beezhold said. “I was surprised at our place, actually.”
Her teammates will be at Detweiller Park next Saturday for the 2A championship race. But they’ll only get to watch.