While the coaches around the Apollo Conference see Mt. Zion as the favorite, don’t forget that Mahomet-Seymour has the regular-season win. 

At the Charleston Invitational earlier in the season, the Bulldogs beat out the Braves by five points to claim the championship. However, despite the win, coaches from Lincoln, Charleston, and Mattoon see the Braves as the favorite to win the title on Tuesday at the Apollo Conference Championships, which will be held at Effingham Country Club. 

Mahomet coach Kelly Fox believes it will be a two-team race at the top and said it’s all going to depend on who has the better day running. 

“It’ll come down to us and Mahomet for the title,” said Fox. “Who’s going to have a better day?  Who’s healthy?  Who’s rested?  Our teams are pretty even and both have a little depth.  Our goal is to win the title and to get four in the top 10.”

Headlining the Braves is senior Ashleigh Anderson, who is looking to finish All-Apollo for the first time in her career, despite being the team’s No. 1.  

“She was injured during a practice that we were biking preseason her freshman year,” said Fox. “Sophomore year, she was under the weather. Junior year, she didn’t run well and took 11th.  I’m hoping that she can place this year.”

Anderson owns a season-best 18:34.0 this season and figures to make some noise in the upper tier of the all-conference runners. Sophomores Hailey Betzer and Renee Ballard were both All-Apollo last year, while sophomore Camille Mavis looks to contend for a top-10 spot. 

“Emma Mallory is also a senior and has made All-Conference every year but she hasn’t been running the times that she did the last few years,” said Fox. “She works incredibly hard and I’m hoping that she can race well and finish her career with that coveted all-conference medal. Hailey and Renee have been running solid all year and should be in a great position to challenge others for a top 10 spot.”

Anderson will battle with Mahomet-Seymour’s Ava Boyd for runner-up status most likely, who owns a win over Anderson this season. However, the lead contender for winning the Apollo will be Lincoln sophomore Becca Heitzig, who owns a season-best time of 17:49.7. 

“​​I believe that Becca Heitzig will be all-conference,” said Lincoln coach Andrew Hite. “Reese McCuan has a chance, as well. It’s tough to say who will be the winner.  Several of the teams have the potential. We’ve got a small group here, so my top goal is to see us have all five girls run and finish.”

Despite owning the league’s top runner, Lincoln will look to contend for a middle-of-the-pack finish. At the top with Mt. Zion will be the Bulldogs, who feature five runners, who can run 21 minutes or less, which is why Charleston’s Chris Hawk sees this being a close team finish between the two teams. 

“Mt.Zion appears to be the team to beat, with Mahomet also running very well this season,” said Hawk. “Those two teams have 14 of the top 18 times run in the conference this year, largely making it a two-team competition.”

The Trojans are hopeful to have at least one runner in the top-10 and all-conference. Hawk believes that junior Whitley Wood has the best shot. 

“Whitley has been our number one runner all season,” said Hawk. “She has been getting stronger and improving her times at nearly every meet.  She is our best bet to make all-conference but will have a big challenge in front of her as she is currently ranked 19th.  I think she could put herself in contention if she sticks with the lead pack early on in the race.”

Hawk is hopeful to see the team have their first “breakthrough” performance this season. Last year, Charleston placed third, something he is hopeful the team can do again this year. 

“We are still hoping to have a breakthrough performance as a team, as we haven’t had an opportunity yet this year to have everyone healthy and available to run,” said Hawk. “We are starting to put the pieces together, and I hope it’s at the perfect time to have a good late-season run.  I would love to see us sneak up into the 3rd or 4th spot in the conference and build some momentum for upcoming regionals and sectionals.”

Mattoon placed sixth last year and appears to be on the outskirts of having anyone qualify for the top-10 spots. Mattoon is led by Sophomore Oakley Layton, who owns a season-best time of 20:34.0. 

“I am excited to watch our girls compete,” said Mattoon coach Troy Haacke. “They are improving all the time. I am pleased with their progress this season.  We may not have anyone in the top 10 but we are young and we will continue to set All-Conference goals for the future.”