OREGON – On the eve of the Class 1A sectional at Park West in Oregon, a solitary high school runner could be seen alone, getting a feel for the course.
Making the 100-mile trip from El Paso was Julie James, who did not race at Oregon in last year’s sectional and had become somewhat of a forgotten runner after finishing third in the state as a sophomore in 2010.
“I had some knee problems,” explained James, who also placed at state as a freshman.
Regan Weidner of Bureau Valley, who was in junior high when James made her splash at the state meet, got a formal introduction to James the next day via a three-mile loop the two shared with 150 other runners.
In nearly perfect running conditions at Oregon, it was that forgotten runner from El Paso winning the sectional and the up-and-comer from Bureau Valley taking second. James’ time of 18:30 was seven seconds ahead of Weidner.
“I forgot about her,” admitted Weidner. “I didn’t know she was going to be here until I saw her today.”
James and Weidner stayed within five to 10 meters of each other until James made her move a half-mile from the finish line.
“I knew I didn’t want to go out fast because of the hills,”Weidner said. “I stayed with the lead pack, but once we came around the corner towards the chute, Julie really had a good kick.”
“Even though she beat Regan, I’m glad that Julie’s healthy,” BV coach Dale Donner said. “I thought Regan got out well, ran a good race and had a chance to win.”
Last year, on the same three-mile Park West course, Weidner ran 19:31 to finish eighth place overall and also advance to the state meet, where she took all-state honors.
“Compared to last year, everything, including my time and place, are better,” Weidner said. “My main goal (at state) is to break 18 minutes and be in the top 10 or 15.”
Also competing for BV was junior Katelin Johnson who took 89th place in 21:45.
Zoe Mead of Princeton placed 34th (20:18) and teammate Kathryn Krieger, who made it through her senior season healthy, finished with a personal best 22:17 (91st).
“Zoe looked a little off. Her shins have been bothering her,” Princeton coach Pat Hodge said. “Kathryn was about where she should have been.”
DePue’s cross country program went from two runners last year to four this year and Velinda Lopez gave a good showing at the sectional. The first-year runner set a personal best on one of northern Illinois’ most difficult courses, placing 37th at 20:19.
“We just discovered her this year, as a senior,” said DePue coach Keith Garcia, who is building up the program after DePue went nearly 20 years without cross country. “Velinda is an outstanding kid and athlete. She’s been keeping pace all season.
Spring Valley Hall qualified for the sectional as a team, but finished back in the pack with 437. Katie Hoffert led the Red Devils with a 42nd placing and 20:22 clocking. Other scorers were Paige Orlandi (76th, 21:14), Jacquie Wallaert (92nd, 21:53), Brittany Foster (141st, 24:11) and Becca Herrmann (144th, 24:30), joined by Tanya Acamovic (151st, 27:27).
Usually, it is difficult to determine the team winner of a cross country race until the final results come in, especially with 21 teams and 153 runners involved.
At the Oregon Class 1A girls’ sectional, about one minute after the finishers started to come through the chute it was apparent Rock Falls would be a runaway winner.
In a remarkable display of running at the front of the pack by a team, the Rockets had five individuals finish between eighth and 19th place.
“We made a statement. We came here with a plan an executed it,” RF coach Mark Truesdell. “Call it pushing sand uphill, herding cats or whatever you want. We had everyone pointed in the right direction.”
Rock Falls nearly doubled the score on runner-up Winnebago, themselves a long-time state cross country power. Rock Falls had 54 points, Winnebago 95, Henry-Senachwine 131, Byron 140 and Rockford Lutheran 149 to round out the state qualifying teams.