By Mark Jurgena
“It was a terrific day for the Bulldog cross country program!” began coach Doug Bradley. “Both teams played to their strengths and it paid off for them in a big way. The girls did what they’ve done in their most successful meets all season by being aggressive early and working to hold on before their batteries went dead. The boys, on the other hand, were patient and did their damage over the back half of the course.”
That explanation of the October 30th Class 2A Decatur Sectional perfectly sums up the day Highland had as both the girls and boys squads placed sixth to qualify for the state meet Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Bradley also indicated that the heavy rains in Central Illinois throughout the week certainly played into the race results as well.
The rains had flooded the Hickory Point Golf Course where the races were run. Additionally, the IHSA moved the Class 1A race to the same location meaning the Class 2A races were the 3rd and 4th run that day on the wet, muddy course.
“Faith Brindley lost a shoe in the first 100 meters,” said Bradley. “Cameron Pace lost both shoes. Mason Steinbeck and Isaac Irving both raced with one shoe as well. The kids were telling me the mud pulled hard on the heel of their shoes. I watched runners running on the course boundary lines just trying to find some footing.”
And Highland still qualified.
Girls Race: The Bulldogs placed sixth just three points behind Mt. Zion and 12 ahead of Champaign (Central) to earn their spot in Peoria. Mahomet-Seymour won the crown with 61 total points.
Bradley knew for them to qualify they had to have their #1-5 runners stay within close proximity of each other. He set a goal of a : 20-second differential. The girls ended up with a : 26-second differential, good enough to qualify.
Alyson Pace finished 26th with a time of 20:23 while Maddie Dortch finished in 20:49 to finish 49th and grab that 5th place spot on the team.
“I really liked this race and I liked the pace of the race and the course,” said Pace. “I felt great after.”
Payton Frey finished just .02 seconds behind her teammate. That was good for the 29th spot.
“I wasn’t too nervous,” Frey said. “I felt good and it felt like the race was going well (for me). I enjoyed it.”
Tarryn Keeney placed 43rd with a time of 20.42 and Lola Schlarmann finished just behind her at 20.44.
Liv Heinzmann ran a 21.04 while Faith Brindley came in at 21.50.
Boys Race: Dallas Mancinas continued his fine season as he placed 10th overall in the Class 2A boys race. He ran the three-mile course in 16:38. He began the race at the very front of the pack.
“I think Dallas got a little too excited when the gun fired,” said Bradley. “To his credit, he didn’t panic. He went from first to fifth to eighth to tenth and then he slammed the door on everyone that tried to overtake him. He’s having a remarkable season and it’s making adjustments and decisions like he did today that have led to such success.”
Juniors Ethan Smith, Mason Steinbeck, and Cole Basden all finished with sub-18 minute efforts.
“They’ve been spectacular all year,” said Bradley. “Today in the mud was no different.”
Smith ran a 17:19 to place 37th, while Steinbeck came in 47th with a 17:26. Basden placed 60th with a 17:34.
However, the story doesn’t end there. Cameron Pace came in 89th place, the fifth Dog to finish. He ran an 18:15.94 just .09 behind Taylorville’s Will Turvey.
Once again the rest of the story is best told by those closest to the proceedings
“There was no real suspense regarding qualification for the boys as it appeared to be pretty obvious that their state dreams were over,” Bradley said. “Christian Knobloch struggled from the get-go as he battled a leg injury. Cameron Pace had lost both shoes. Isaac Irving was asked to use his energy early to try to pull the other guys through the first mile. So when Cameron crossed the finish line as the 89th finisher it was assumed the next year would have to be the year. That is until the score was posted and Coach Shannon called me and reported the news.
“I thought Coach was reading the results for the girls. They had finished sixth. We knew that. When he called and told me that we were sixth I told him, ‘No way.’ He said, ‘No, it says boys at the top of the sheet.’ I passed the news on to the boys and their parents and the celebration began.”
Knobloch battled through his injury and came in at 18:51 while Irving ran a 19:40.
Bulldog Notes: For the first time both the boys and girls teams qualified for the state meet in the same season.
-The boys have also qualified as a team in 1971, 1973, and 2001.
-The girls team has qualified for the state meet four consecutive seasons and seven times in the last nine years. It is their ninth team appearance overall at state.
-Finally, in a bit of fun trivia, the state final meet will be held on November 6, 2021. Fifty years ago on November 6, 1971, a Highland cross country team made their first appearance at the state meet.