WAUCONDA – Crystal Lake Central sophomore Sami Staples was not sure what to expect from her first competitive race in more than three months.
Staples had last run at the IHSA Class 3A track and field state meet in May, and had battled through a stress fracture in her right foot this summer. Staples and Central coach Anthony DeStephano agreed to take a cautious approach to the season for the defending Class 2A state champion.
“I just came out to run as fast as I can,” Staples said. “There was a lot of pressure on me after last year and it was getting to me. I love to run. I wanted to come out and run for fun.”
Staples accomplished that Saturday at Lakewood Forest Preserve as she covered the 3-mile course in 18:08.12 to win the girls race at the Wauconda Invitational. She held off Kaneland’s Victoria Clinton (18:11.58) for first, leading the Tigers to first place as a team.
“It was good. She looked comfortable and confident that she knew what she could do,” DeStephano said. “She was happy to be racing again. It helps her to know she’s not too far behind where she wants to be.”
Central, the Class 2A state runner-up as a team last season, again looks like a contender for that title. Maddie Dagley was eighth and Mary Fleming was 12th as Central finished with 86 points to successfully defend its title. Kaneland had 111.
Staples finished ninth in the Class 3A 3,200 meters, then 10th in the 1,600 meters, but realized her foot did not feel right. Shortly after, she spent five weeks with her foot in a stability boot.
“It healed pretty quickly,” Staples said. “I was out of the boot pretty quickly. I definitely missed racing a lot. I’m happy to be back.”
DeStephano was pleased with the way the Tigers’ fourth and fifth runners, Avery Robertson and Rachel Kautz, finished after falling back in the pack early.
“They fought back to where they should be,” DeStephano said. “You have to get out fast or you’ll get caught up. Overall, it was an OK day. We still have a lot of work to do.”
McHenry sophomore Lauren Opatrny took fifth, and Cary-Grove sophomore Talia Duzey was sixth.
“I’m really surprised, I couldn’t believe I had such a big [personal record],” said Opatrny, who finished in 18:42.64. “I felt really good during the race. I’m really, really excited [about the season].”
Opatrny played volleyball last season, but after a strong track season, opted for cross country this fall.