Talk about top heavy. 

The top of the Taylorville IHSA Class 2A Regional boys cross country meet is stacked with talent from the Apollo, Big 12 and Little Illini Conference. 

“Mahomet and Olney are really good teams, and the boys individual race should be very exciting, with several top runners in the state,” said Mattoon coach Troy Haacke. 

Haacke wasn’t joking. 

Apollo champion Chris Cherry of Taylorville enters the postseason with the best overall time, having won the conference in 15 minutes, 39 seconds, beating Mahomet-Seymour Kyle Nofziger by 14 seconds. 

“I think Cherry from Taylorville stands out as the realistic regional meet champion,” said Mahomet-Seymour coach Neal Garrison. “He is an amazing runner.”

Olney’s Gavin Kirby, meanwhile, led Olney to a Little Illinois Conference championship in 16:30. But he ran 15:46.2 at the CHS Invite in September. 

“The top runners have to be Chris Cherry, Gavin, and Kyle Nofziger,” said Olney coach Rob Kirby. 

Olney appears to be the top contender behind the Bulldogs, who had their top five runners earn All-Apollo honors. Besides Nofziger, Joseph Scheele (third), Taylor Fan (fifth), Jonah Singer (seventh), and Hayden Grotelueschen (ninth) all finished below 17 minutes at the EIU Panther Trail. 

“All the respect in the world for our great competition as our team was fortunate to win the conference,” said Garrison. “We are hopeful that our team will have a chance to make it to sectional.  We do not take anything for granted.  Sickness and quarantine could prevent any team from being able to even show up to the meet this year. Our boys are super nice people.  I am fortunate to get to coach them.  They have been improving a little each month as the season progresses.”

Olney beat runner-up Paris by 45 points and placed six runners in the top 10, all finishing below 18 minutes. 

“I see my team advancing to sectionals,” said Kirby. “The boys have been running good and consistent.”

Mattoon, Apollo runner-up, will be in the mix, featuring five runners below 18 as well and two all-conference runners – Brock Davee (fourth) and Trent Hettinger (10th).

Davee unhappy with his conference finish, believes he will run faster this weekend. 

“I think our boys have a good shot of advancing to sectionals,” said Haacke. “We are running well and looking forward to finishing strong.”

The top five teams and top five individuals will advance to the next round. Champaign Central, Champaign Centennial and Urbana are likely contenders for the other spots. 

Champaign Central did not have any all-conference runners but placed third. The team’s top-5 runners are within a 25-second spread of one another, led by sophomore Peter Smith’s 16:44.9 at Detweiler Park last Saturday. His teammates also ran well – Alex Ahmari (16:51.0), Cooper Sweet (17.04), Nick Bonn (17:10.8), and Fynn Bryant (17:16.6). 

“I do believe our team has an excellent chance to advance to the sectional meet,” said Central coach Steven Kesler. “Right now, I believe we could take fourth if our guys perform well. We have performed well the last couple meets, and finally ran on some fast courses and saw some good times.”

Centennial and Urbana will each feature two of the best individuals in the race. Urbana’s Sam Lambert (16:09.6) was the Big 12 Conference runner-up, trailing by only 4 seconds. Centennial’s Aaron Hendron placed fourth in 16:12.7.

Urbana features four runners that run under 18 minutes but placed seventh as a team. Centennial’s four other runners all went under 17:30. 

Danville coach Christopher Dryer says his team should not be overlooked. 

“There is always the possibility because, especially in cross country, you never know how different teams and individuals will react to the course,” said Dryer. “This year you never know what will happen with the pandemic that could affect a team. I honestly do not see us being favored to move on, but I really think that this year, more than any ,that no team moving on would be a shocker.”

Danville’s Micah McGuire (17:44.9 at conference) will be one of many individuals looking to get out. He will be joined by Charleston’s Luca Carcassi and Effingham’s Andrew Donaldson, who was just six seconds away from placing All-Apollo. 

Rantoul’s Caleb Netizel ran a time of 17:41.6 at the Illini Prairie Championships.

“On the boy’s side, we have a young team composed of many first-time runners,” said Rantoul coach Cole Nicholas. “However, the last few weeks have been exciting for us. We have had multiple runners in our top five set minute-plus PRs and are really hitting our stride toward the end of the season. In a normal year, where seven teams qualify, our team would have a very realistic shot at qualifying out. However, with the five-team limit, our team understands it will be a long shot for us to move past regionals. However, our guys are incredibly motivated and may surprise people next Saturday.”

REGIONAL INFORMATION

Taylorville Regional

Where: Christian County Fairgrounds, 1716 W. Spreader St. 

When: Saturday, 11 a.m.

Teams – Champaign Centennial, Champaign Central, Charleston, Danville, Effingham, Mahomet (M.-Seymour), Mattoon, Richland County, Rantoul, Taylorville, Urbana