WAUCONDA – One area runner beamed with her successful comeback to competition at Saturday’s Wauconda Cross Country Invitational, while another sobbed after being held back by another injury.
McHenry junior Lauren Opatrny kicked into high gear in the final 200 meters, passed a few runners and took second on the 3-mile course at Lakewood Forest Preserve in her first race back from a strained hip.
Crystal Lake Central’s Sami Staples, the 2011 Class 2A state champion, looked strong early, but turned her right ankle and struggled through the rest of the race. Staples had her right foot in a stability boot for nine weeks over the summer but had returned to training and felt ready before Saturday’s race.
McHenry’s Jesse Reiser found some tough competition from Wheaton Warrenville South’s Nolan McKenna but repeated as the meet champion. Cary-Grove’s girls, led by Talia Duzey’s fourth-place finish and Morgan Schulz’s sixth, took first with 88 points, four better than Lake Zurich.
Times were not available after the meet because of a computer malfunction while recording the results. Opatrny thought her time was about 18:20.
“I was surprised. I would have been happy with anything in the top 15 after being out for three weeks,” Opatrny said. “I’m just really excited. I was feeling good [at the end]. I didn’t feel any pain and wanted to leave it all out there. I just figured I’d go for it.”
Central’s Maddie Dagley was fifth and Mary Fleming was seventh as the Tigers were third with 97 points. Had Staples not suffered her mishap, the Tigers might have won the team title. Crystal Lake South’s Kiley Britten took 10th.
“There was a little bit of a slant on a hill and it was sandy, and I slipped off the edge and rolled it pretty bad,” Staples said. “I wouldn’t stop because we could still use the team points.”
Staples cross-trained in a swimming pool over the summer to stay in shape while recovering from a stress fracture in her right foot. She had a similar injury in 2012.
“I started training [on land] when I could and I’ve felt great so far this season,” said Staples, who was 63rd and whose score did not count for Central. “It felt great [early in the race]. I didn’t feel like I was pushing. I felt like I was going to blow them off in the third mile.”
C-G coach Mark Anderson was pleased with his team after not competing since the McHenry County Meet two weeks earlier.
“They haven’t raced for a while. They were a little nervous,” Anderson said. “They ran great. Every kid in that top seven had a great race. I’m really happy with what they’re showing me.”
Gretchen Price was 20th, Sarah Riley was 23rd and Molly MacDuff was 35th for the Trojans’ counting scores.
“I felt a lot stronger than at county because it was more of a controlled race,” Duzey said. “Gretchen and Morgan did really well. We all had strong races.”
Reiser figured he would get a tough race from McKenna and was pushed for the first time this season.
“I knew Nolan was going to be with me the whole time because he beat me at state [track] in the 3,200, he’s a stud,” Reiser said. “Until the last 600 meters, I started to go with it there and he fell off. After turns I was trying to surge a little bit more.”
Crystal Lake Central’s boys finished third with 116 points, behind Chicago Lane (47) and Wheaton-Warrenville South (53). Central’s Ryan Pitner took sixth place.