Crystal Lake Central finished its boys cross country meet at Cary-Grove on Sept. 22with its top four runners side-by-side as they crossed the finish line.
The Tigers planned it that way, promoting teamwork and running as a pack, although their top four – Tommy Landt, Karson Hollander, Danny Hamill and Austin May – have not been far apart in other races all season.
Jacobs, led by junior Andrew Doetsch, also has put together impressive packs and tied with Central at 8-1 through the Fox Valley Conference dual season.
Those two are expected to battle it out for the top spot at the FVC Cross Country Meet on Saturday at Plato Park in Elgin.
The meet is split into two five-team flights for both girls and boys because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Girls Flight B starts at 9 a.m., with Flight A running at 10. The Boys Flight B is set for 12:30 p.m., with Flight A at 1:30. The top five teams from the FVC dual standings run in Flight A, the next five run in Flight B.
In the girls race, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge are the top contenders. They met in the first round of FVC duals and tied at 27-27, with South winning on a better sixth runner. The Gators finished 9-0 in the FVC, while Prairie Ridge was 8-1.
Jacobs coach Kevin Christian has been impressed with his boys team, as well as Central’s.
“The boys are definitely exceeding their expectations,” Christian said. “We didn’t return any all-conference runners, so expectations were low. Andrew Doetsch coming back healthy helped a ton. If the Central pack of four runs solid, they will be hard to beat. Doetsch needs to get No. 1 and Connor Maloney needs to break up their top four, which we think he can do with the way he’s been running.”
Jacobs beat Central, 28-30, in the first round of FVC dual meets. Burlington Central, which finished third, edged Jacobs in the last round for the Golden Eagles’ only loss.
The individual race may come down to Doetsch, who was injured late last season, and Landt. Neither was in the top 20 of last year’s FVC Meet. Central coach Bill Eschman is impressed with all the area runners, including his own, who have jumped to the top of the list this season.
"It seems like this season, more so than many others, there are guys that have really stepped up for their teams," Eschman said. "Obviously Tommy Landt is a great story. He has worked very hard to improve. He was 21st last year at conference and has a chance to battle for the individual conference championship.
"Yet there are a good amount of other guys that have really moved up. Karson Hollander, and Daniel Hamil from our team, Connor Maloney, Kyle Horn, Mitchell Ruffin from Jacobs, Isai Morales from Hampshire, and the freshman from Prairie Ridge, Will Gelon. All of these guys deserve a lot of credit for how hard they have worked to improve. They all could be in the top 15 at conference."
Christian hopes other runners like Horn, Ruffin and Aidan DeMuth can help lift the Eagles to the title.
“Ruffin barely finished in the top 60 at regionals last year and DeMuth was 30th in the Frosh/Soph FVC Meet,” Christian said. “Now they have been in our 3-5 pack that has been the best in the conference so far.”
In the girls race, South will be looking for its fifth individual title in six years. Caitlin Bruzzini won in 2015 and 2016, Mackenzie Aldridge won in 2018 and Bella Gonzalez won last year as a freshman.
Gonzalez is the decisive individual favorite after running strong all season. The Gators returned several runners, along with Gonzalez, from the team that placed sixth in the Class 2A State Meet, and added freshman Abby Machesky, who has become their No. 2 runner.
“We have a very deep team,” Gators coach Ken Greenfield said. “Whenever anyone has had an off day, a teammate stepped in and got the job done. We’ve been very consistent throughout the season.
“Bella is undefeated and has really been growing as a runner. Abby has been a bit of a surprise, she’s such a tough competitor and is really figuring things out.”
Prairie Ridge’s girls took third in the Class 2A State Meet each of the last two years. Unlike last season, when the Wolves replaced most of their lineup, all the runners returned this season.
Rachel Soukup, Rylee Lydon and Colette Janik have led a deep group for Prairie Ridge.
“I do think South has to be the favored team based on times they have been running,” Wolves coach Kelly MacDonald said. “I feel like we have run well, but that we have not had any really tough tests in the second half of the season. I feel like we’re ready to make some large leaps in our times.
“I am confident this group has the ability to challenge for the top spot. They have a lot of ability and determination. This will be a run race to watch.”
Fox Valley Conference Cross Country Meet
Because of COVID-19 guidelines and in an attempt to limit crowd sizes, the girls and boys races will be run in two five-team flights. The top five teams in the season’s dual meet standings will run in Flight A, the next five will run in Flight B. A Flight B team cannot win the team title, but an individual runner from Flight B may win the title if he or she has the fastest time.
Flight B: 9 a.m. start (Crystal Lake Central, Burlington Central, Dundee-Crown, McHenry and Hampshire).
Flight A: 10 a.m. start (Crystal Lake South, Prairie Ridge, Huntley, Jacobs, Cary-Grove).
Flight B: 12:30 p.m. start (Dundee-Crown, Prairie Ridge, McHenry, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South)
Flight A: 1:30 p.m. start (Crystal Lake Central, Jacobs, Burlington Central, Huntley, Hampshire)