McHenry and Fox River Grove middle school girls cross country teams won sectional meets Saturday to qualify for the IESA State Meet on Oct. 13 at Maxwell Park in Normal.
McHenry won the Class 3A sectional it hosted by posting personal best times for six of its runners. The improvements were by a significant amount, Trojans coach Kevin Horst said.
“I thought their potential was high, but I hadn’t seen their best,” Horst said. “It’s always great to finish the season where you have one race where they put it all together.”
The difference in the race was shortening the distance and place between the first runner and the seventh. McHenry placed second, third and fourth, led by seventh-grader Kieley Medinger.
“Their split has been getting smaller and smaller each week,” said Horst, who completed the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. “The pack mentality gave them the championship.”
Although he knew his team was nervous going into the race, Horst thought they were going to run well after meeting with them just before the start. He said it wasn’t anything concrete, just a vibe he felt.
McHenry has a young team with two eighth-graders and the top three runners in seventh grade. Horst said the impact eighth-graders Kylee Schweder and Ellie Gioia had on the team was critical both on and off the course.
“Those two have done a lot for the team. I can’t say enough about them,” Horst said. “I always think the eighth-grade leaders have more of an impact on the team than even the coach.”
Fox River Grove won the Class 1A Dellwood Park Sectional in Lockport.
David Baker is the volunteer coach of the Eagles with Chery Geary. Baker said his team’s success is nothing more than hard work and dedication to the sport, which includes running on their own during the offseason and on weekends.
“Our girls work very, very hard,” Baker said. “It’s really who they are. Our motto is ‘Refuse to lose.’ They have done everything we’ve asked.”
The Eagles placed five of their runners in the top eight, led by sectional champion seventh-grader Avery Henegar, who finished the 2 miles in 13:12.
Baker said it was the first year Henegar had run cross country. She had played soccer previously for the school.
The Fox River Grove boys team also made it to state by placing third with a team that included three fifth-graders. The youth bodes well for the future, but Baker said his young runners’ success was due to his older leaders.
“My eighth-grade boys and girls have taken these fifth-graders under their wings,” Baker said. “It makes coaching so much easier when you have kids willing to take on these additional roles.”
For local middle school state qualifiers, see Fine Print (page B8).
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.