Al Baldonado made his move at the two-mile mark, passing up Annawan/Wethersfield’s Michael Cook in Saturday’s Princeton Invitational cross country meet at Zearing Park. Smith, however, had the last move.
Smith pulled away and opened up a comfortable lead to take first place with a time of 15:38. His effort tied the meet record since it’s been run at Zearing Park in 2009, first run by Hall’s Scott Janusick in 2010.
Despite coming in second, Baldonado was happy with his effort. He knew he had to try to move ahead from Smith when he could with Smith well established as a state track medalist in the 800 meters this spring.
“I knew he’s an 800 runner, and he’d have a hard kick. I tried to get as much distance between as possible,” Baldonado said.
“Seemed like Al tried to get some separation. I think his thinking was Smith is such a great 800-finish type of kicker he tried to get some separation. He was able to get a little bit, but it came down to a great kick at the end. It was a great race, very entertaining.”
Baldonado has come a long way in the course of a year. Saturday’s time was more than a minute improvement from the same meet in 2012. He was able to put in a lot of summer mileage despite being bothered by a sore knee from track and shin splits.
“I’ve slowly worked back up. I think I’m getting back there, where I should be at,” he said. “I feel pretty good. I was worried I didn’t put enough work in (because of injuries), but I’m improving.”
“He put in a lot of time and effort in the offseason,” Keegan said. “If you look at these meets, last week at Oregon and here today at Princeton, his times have dropped substantially. I think he’s most satisfied with that — just to see the hard work is paying off.”
Bureau Valley placed fourth as a team behind state-ranked Sterling Newman (41), Morris (81) and Rock Falls (101). The storm was led by senior Ryan Taylor, who cracked the Top 10 with a 10th-place time of 16:37.
“Coming in, I wasn’t sure what I’d do,” Taylor said. “Some kids were getting out crazy fast, but then they held it, so it was good for what they did. I got up to Top 10. And once I got there, I heard somebody scream Top 10, and my goal was to just keep it. I thought that would be a good accomplishment for the race today.”
Princeton’s top finisher was senior Alex Biggs, who finished 82nd (20:40.3). St. Bede was paced by Jake Condon (54th, 18:49).
Girls: Annawan/Wethersfield freshmen Kirstie Ramsey won the girls race by 20 seconds ahead of LaSalle-Peru’s Lesley Rocha with a time of 18:26.98. A/W placed four girls in the Top 13 and five in the Top 16 to beat out L-P for the team title, 40-80.
Amboy/LaMoille’s Megan Grady (19:31.26) came in fifth with Princeton senior Zoe Mead finishing 11th (20:16.44). PHS coach Pat Hodge said it was the fastest Mead’s “ever been at this point of the season.”
Bureau Valley standout Regan Weidner, the 2012 1A state runner-up, finished 14th with a time of 20:38.26. She is recovering from shin splits, BV coach Dale Donner said.
“Her shins are still bothering her some, but she’s going to fight through it,” Donner said. “She’s disappointed where she’s at, but she understand we can’t be out there running and creating a stress fracture either. We’re trying to use alternate ways of training. Right now, she’s as tired as everybody. Her legs are probably as jelly as anybody’s.”
Laura Sickley led the St. Bede girls with a 43rd-place time of 22:44.31, one spot ahead of Hall’s top finisher, Kaylee Olivares (22:44.75).
• Notes: A/W’s Alex Landwehr made it a clean sweep by winning the F/S race with a time of 10:56 for the 1.94-mile course. L-P topped Sandwich 38-65 for the team title ... Hodge said all of the PHS runners improved their times from 1:15 up to 3:48 on their season best times … Bureau Valley will host its Invite this Saturday at Walnut.
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