MIDLOTHIAN | For Illiana Christian, the boys cross country tradition of dying their hair blond goes back to about 2000.
For those running against the Vikings, it must seem like forever, at least in making up the distance they’re putting between themselves and the rest of the pack.
Saturday at the Midlothian Meadows Forest Preserve was no exception.
With junior Nick Fiene leading the way, Class 2A No. 1 Illiana played the role of state championship threat perfectly, and romped to a 63-point victory over Richards in a Class 2A regional.
The Vikings took the first three spots, five of the first six.
Only Marian Catholic’s Camren Howard, in fourth, prevented a sweep of the top five places by Illiana.
For Fiene, the game plan didn’t waver from the standard.
“Our general strategy for regionals is to just pack it up for most of the race and at the end, go with we have left,” Fiene said. “I think we did that really well. I took off with a mile to go. I started picking it up as the race progressed.”
He finished in 15:38.88, with Illiana’s brother act of Tony and Nick Wondall in second and third. Tony, the senior, finished in 15:52.13, over 13 seconds behind Fiene, with Nick, the sophomore, clocked in 16:06.10.
With Kevin Vroegh (16:13.73) and Colin DeYoung (16:15.63) following Howard across the finish line, Illiana looked at the finish as they did for most of the race, a pack of blond-headed lads flying across the landscape.
“It’s awesome,” coach Jim Piaskowy said. “There are seven or eight guys who are close to each other.”
The dominance was evident all the way. Illiana’s average time of 16:01.29 was more than a minute better than second qualifier Richards’ 17:06.69.
Similarly, Illiana’s senior-laden girls squad grabbed the top-three places, and five of the top eight, in racing to a 45-point victory over Bremen on the same 3-mile circuit. And they did so even though five of the seven runners stumbled off a bus at 6:30 a.m., coming back from the class trip to Washington, D.C. That made the Vikings a bit slower, but no less dominant.
“Luckily it fell on regionals, and not on sectionals, because that would have hurt,” coach Deb Top said.
“Our coaches want us to start off fast, because in our sectional, we’re going to have to work hard in that one,” winner Alexa Beezhold added. She finished in 21:59.27 seconds, 4.17 seconds ahead of teammate Emma Pawlowski. Illiana’s Alex Clausing was third, in personal-best 22:13.21 despite the bus trip.
For Beezhold, who captured her third straight regional title, it’s a matter of running against people rather than the clock.
“I didn’t have much competition to push me,” Beezhold added. “I had to keep telling myself to keep going. I had my teammates behind me; I could hear them.”
Next week, finding that competition won’t be a problem. Yorkville and Glenbard South, the latter a Metro Conference foe, will be there in Wheaton.
“Coaches keep telling me to trust my training,” Beezhold said. “So far, I’ve had a couple bad races in there. I’ve tried to break 19 minutes and I’ve only done it once.”