PALOS HEIGHTS | It’s not quite Heartbreak Hill of Boston Marathon fame, but the hill cross-country runners climb with about a half-mile left in races on the Turtlehead Lake Forest Preserve course can separate the best from the rest.
Saturday, Homewood-Flossmoor’s Matt Anyiwo did the separating.
He came up the hill with Thornwood’s Reggie Brown right on his shoulder, and proceeded to pull away. By the time Anyiwo raced across the finish line, he was about 50 yards and six seconds ahead, winning the three-mile test in 15:53 to capture the Class 3A regional title.
It was a matter of strategy, and Anyiwo’s succeeded, bringing him his first win of the year.
“When I came down the hill, I just started to move my arms and worked on my stride to kick in the last 400, and he started falling off,” Anyiwo said.
Anyiwo, junior, had been beaten by Brown a month ago, so this was a turning of the tables.
But Brown came through as well, leading Thornwood to the Class 3A regional title only five days after the Thunderbirds had captured the conference crown. It’s their first regional title in nine years.
“He hit the hill a bit harder than me, and I waited until I got to it,” Brown said. “He got a little distance, came downhill a little better by striding out, and got a little more distance, and he was able to hold on.”
Four Thunderbirds finished in the top seven, with Jesse Unzueta fourth (16:09), Khalil Lightborne sixth (16:10) and Mike Zwartz seventh (16:18).
Thornwood last won a regional in 2003, though the Thunderbirds contributed to the Thornridge co-op team winning in 2004 and 2005.
Thornwood finished third in last year’s regional at Turtlehead in Brian Evans’ first year as head coach. The Thunderbirds haven’t advanced to the state final race as a team since 1979.
Thornton and Bloom Township also advanced to the sectional in Bloomington as a team, along with five runners from T.F. South as individuals.
Bloom Township’s Gina Narcisi took third in the girls race a week after winning the Southland Conference title. The junior’s time of 19:28 placed her 29 seconds behind winner Samantha Ostmann of Lincoln-Way East.
“I was trying to push through,” Narcisi said. “It was hard at times. In Mile 2, I was all by myself. I just came out here trying to hang with the crowd.”
Narcisi did more than that, improving on her Southland title time of 20:17 by 49 seconds, albeit on a different, and drier, course.
Narcisi was the only runner in the top 11 not from either Lincoln-Way East or Lincoln-Way North. East won the girls team race on the strength of the 1-2 finish of seniors Ostmann and Kaley McLawhorn. The Griffins had five runners in the top 10, scoring 27 points and beating Lincoln-Way North, which had runners in fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth, by 20 points.
Thornton took fourth in the nine-team race, with Autumn Jeffers’ 14th-place finish, at 20:23, the best individual finish for the Wildcats. Homewood-Flossmoor, Bloom and Marian Catholic also advanced as teams to the Normal Community sectional.