By Kyle Daubs

What figured to be a three-team dogfight figure to now be a dual between two Apollo Conference favorites. 

Last year runner-up Shelbyville took a hit to their team when defending Charleston Invitational champion Gabby Spain moved to South Dakota. Spain was a multi All-State runner, but Shelbyville coach Chris Mosley isn’t worried about the past. 

“Just like boys, this will be our first real test of the 2021 season and we are looking forward to it,” said Mosley. “I think we can place five or six girls in the top 40 spots, and hope to see us run well as a pack.”

Mosley believes that the Rams can place top three as a team around “favorites” Mount Zion, while calling Mahomet-Seymour “stacked.” The team returns All-Conference runners Brook Schutt, Emma Congenis, Ellie Nohren, and Anna Tynan. 

Mahomet-Seymour coach Jama Grotelueschen also believes that Mount Zion is a favorite despite bringing back a bulk of her team that won the championship last year. Mahomet-Seymour placed second at the Clinton Invite last Saturday and brought back All-Apollo runners Elizabeth Sims and Klein Powell. 

“We were happy with our team’s performance at the Clinton Light it Up event,” said Grotelueschen. “Our runners worked well together and finished with a 54 second split from 1-6.  We are excited about the one-race format at Charleston. It gives our athletes a chance to run head-to-head with all of the competition, including their teammates.”

Mount Zion heads the pack as the favorite with All-Conference athletes Renee Ballard, Emma Mallory, and Hailey Betzer returning. Ashleigh Anderson also returned and placed 11th at the meet. 

Mount Zion is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Normal West Invitational that featured some cross country powerhouses Dunlap, Washington, and Normal West. Mount Zion coach Kelly Fox isn’t ready to say her team is the favorite, hedging that title to Mahomet-Seymour. 

“We ran “average” at Normal West.,” said Fox. “Emma Mallory ( has turned her ankle a couple of times (once at the end of July and another a couple of weeks ago).  That’s pushed back her training.  Renee Ballard has battled issues with breathing on hot days and we are working on figuring out adjustments to her inhaler with her allergies/asthma.  Sofia Munoz was a top 5 runner for me as a freshman and didn’t run in my top 7 last year.  After a blood test in February, we learned we were dealing with very low iron and ferritin levels.  We corrected those and she ran great during the track season.”

Behind Mahomet-Seymour, Shelbyville, and Mount Zion last year was Charleston, but the Trojans have lost their top three and state qualifying runners from last year. Both Megan Garrett and Grace Spoonhour are running at the collegiate level, while Ila Richter is recovering from a torn ACL. 

Charleston’s first meet of the season was canceled due to storms, so this will be their first true three-mile test of the season. 

“This should be a great measuring stick to see where we stack up against some of the best teams in the area and several from our conference,” said Charleston coach Chris Hawk. “I don’t expect us to compete with the top few teams at this point, but I’m hoping that we can position ourselves right behind them.  Our goals are focused more towards the end of the season, however, when I’m hoping our team can be back at full strength.”

Mattoon is in a similar position. Kylie Haacke, who placed third overall last year, is now running at Eastern Illinois University. Mattoon’s second and third fastest runners from last year also departed. This will be Mattoon’s first meet of the year. 

“This will be our first meet of the year so we are excited to go out and compete and see where we are at,” said Mattoon coach Troy Haacke. 

There will be numerous other teams looking to get a feel for their team as they battle numbers, experience, and injuries. 

“The girls’ team is struggling with numbers,” said Danville coach Todd Orvis. “We probably won’t have enough for a full team again this Saturday, but Gabby Moreman should finish well as an individual.  She was 9th at the Shazam Championships last fall.  Mt. Zion always seems to be competitive on the girl’s side.  I wouldn’t expect anything different this season.  I’m not sure who the individual favorite might be.

Olney brings just returning runners from last year and six new runners who have never run cross country before. Mackenzi Thomas placed 27th at the Dennis Bays Invitational in Evansville last week. 

“I expect Mackenzi Thomas, McKenna Snider, Chloe McKinney, and Maddie Piercefield to run well for us,” said Olney coach Amy Julian. “We have one of our top five runners, Danielle Clodfelter, out with shin splints.  Because we are so inexperienced, the goal for this meet is to just learn how to race three miles and to run faster than we did last week.”

As for Newton, Rylea Borgic placed eighth last year at the invite and has already broken 21 minutes in her first meet of the season. 

“On the ladies side our goal is to compete and control what we can- effort and attitude,” said Newton coach Nate Zwilling. “It should be good weather. I look for some PR’s to happen from most athletes. The girls’ goal is to continue to tighten up times as a group. We have two seniors, so the younger runners are still learning to race and we will take each race as a new challenge to improve.”

Charleston Invitational Information 

Race Format

9:15 am: Varsity Girls (no limit on entries)

10:00 am: Varsity Boys (no limit on entries)


(1)Arthur-Lovington (2) Bismarck-Henning (3) Champaign Central

(4)Charleston (5) Danville (6) Effingham (7 )Flora (8) Olney (9) Mahomet-Seymour

(10) Mattoon (11) Mt. Zion (12) Neoga (13) Newton (14) Shelbyville (15) Sullivan

(16)Urbana (17) Champaign Centennial