CHS’s Megan Garrett and MHS’s Kylie Haacke (trailing) are the frontrunners in Tuesday’s Apollo Conference cross country championship.

By Kyle Daubs

A healthy Megan Garrett, a consistent Kylie Haacke, and a sneakily fast freshman is going to make for a great Apollo Conference race. 

Plus, Mahomet-Seymour senior Elizabeth Sims returns to defend her title.

Add a slew of Mount Zion runners and the fight for the top spots in this year’s Apollo Conference race will be all over the place. 

“I think we can put five in the top 10 but I’m hoping for six,” said Mount Zion coach Kelly Fox. “I think it’s going to be a great race between Megan Garrett (Charleston), Kylie Haacke (Mattoon), and a healthy Elizabeth Sims (Mahomet).”

Not so fast. Let’s not forgot Lincoln freshman Becca Heitzig, although it might be easy to do so since she has not competed against local teams.

Heitzig has run under 19 minutes four times this season, including a season personal-best of 18:20.0 against Riverton and Franklin. Heitzig followed that with a time of 18:50.4, placing sixth at the Olympia Invite, which featured state-caliber runners from Monticello, Tolono Unity, and Stanford Olympia. 

“We have been doing well,” said Lincoln coach Andrew Hite. “Each race we seem to be getting better.  I’m excited for us to get to Charleston and compete.”

Charleston’s Garrett figures to be a top contender, having run a time of 18:40.3 at Meadowview Golf Course. The senior appears to be healthy for the first time in two years and could become Charleston’s first conference champion since Grace Oetting in 2014. 

Haacke, last season’s runner-up, is clearly a strong candidate as well, while CHS’s Grace Spoonhour and Ila Richter could compete for all-conference honors.

Mount Zion, though, features five runners who can run under 21 minutes for three miles. 

“My girls are running strong,” said Fox. “ If we run the race that I think we’re capable of, I’m going to say that we will give Mahomet a run for their money.  

The Bulldogs had defeated Mount Zion at the CHS Invite by 33 points where Sims finished behind both Garrett and Haacke by more than 20 seconds. Mahomet freshman Ava Boyd ran a time of 20:08.2 in that race, while junior Klein Powell broke 21 minutes. 

In that meet, the Braves were without some of their top runners. 

“Mahomet was victorious at the Charleston Invitational but they’ve been up and down,” said Fox. “They are probably going through some of the same battles that I am.  I had my number one (Ashleigh Anderson) quarantined for two weeks. I also have two of my top three runners on the team that struggle with allergies and, with harvesting taking place this time of year, it can play with their breathing.”

Charleston took fourth at the invite, while Effingham finished seventh and Mattoon 10th, respectively. Given the top-heavy rotations of Mount Zion and Mahomet, it will likely be a two-team battle for the conference title. 

“We had our best team race of the season on Saturday in St. Joseph,” said Fox. “We are starting to run as a team and as a group.  I’m pleased that we’ll have the opportunity to run our top five together followed by our next five following with only a 15 second difference.  You should see my top five running as a pack for a majority of the race.  I have five girls capable of running under 20 minutes at the conference – and the current forecast and course are perfect for that to happen”