By Kyle Daubs
Mahomet-Seymour boys and girls might have a difficult time defending their Charleston Invitational cross country titles Saturday after losing significant contributors. But the Bulldogs, along with Mt. Zion girls, should still be the leading contenders entering Saturday morning’s race at EIU.
Mahomet-Seymour scored 33 points to blow away the competition last year, beating runner-up Champaign Central by 69 points after pacing four runners among the top eight.
Groteluschen ran a time of 16:26.77.
Champaign Central and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond were second and third last year and both return a strong team. Logan Beckmier is the top returning runner from last year after placing fifth, while Jacob Adcock was ninth. Central brings back Peter Smith and Fynn Bright, who both placed in the top 15.
Urbana was fourth but lost state qualifier, Sam Lambert, to graduation. The team returns Brian Allison, who was All-Big 12 as a sophomore, but head coach Zach Boehmke is hopeful for the new runners to gain valuable experience.
“Our goals for this invite are primarily to work on pack running within our team,” said Boehmke. “This is our first meet of the year, so we are not going to come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. We have young teams, with a lot of new people being introduced to three-mile races. So, we will work on competing in our training groups and hopefully progress over the second half of the race. Earning medals never hurts either.”
Mount Zion brings the top-rated runner according to Athletic.net. Julian Baker did not participate in the CHS Invite last season due to an injury. Baker has already run a time of 15:45.5 this season, which should put him in contention for the individual title. The Braves placed sixth last season. Effingham’s Andrew Donaldson returns as a senior and figures to be in the mix for a top-5 spot.
Newton finished just above Mount Zion last season and could have a breakout invitational. Clay Bergbower, Nick Shamart, Owen Mahaffey, Ben Street, and Luis Zavala were All-Little Illini Conference runners and qualified for state as a team.
“Our goal is simply to continue to improve from last week and gain some experience against some good competition,” said Newton head coach Tim Bower.
Fairfield enters the invitational as a new team. Senior Chase Smith was recovering from ACL surgery last cross country season and ran an 800-meter time of 2:03 last track season. The team also brings back All-Black Diamond Conference runner Jonathan Paul and Griffin Hinkle, while freshman Grant Jennette ran a sub-5 minute mile as an eighth grader last track season.
“We understand this is a tough meet with many ranked 1A schools as well as many quality schools larger than us,” said Fairfield coach Justin Sanders. “We would like to show we can compete with those 1A schools that were ranked ahead of us in the preseason rankings.”
Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin will look to prove their ranks as well but took a heavy loss by the graduation of Eli Mojonnier, who was the individual champion last season with a time of 15:36.68. BHRA qualified for state as a team last season and returns a few pieces from that team in Josh Gernand, while freshman Utah Thomas has stood out as well.
“Out of our 12 member boys and girls team, eight are freshman, so we are in the process of rebuilding our program that lost All-Stater Eli Mojionner last season to graduation,” said head coach Susan Kentner. “This is my first year coaching XC at BHRA after coming off a two-year coaching stint at DACC for XC, but I have been at BHRA for the past 33 years coaching Track and Field and for 30 years coaching volleyball. The team has had some great practices and we are looking forward to our county and conference meets hoping to also do well at Regionals.”
Both Mattoon and Charleston will enter the invitational with a young team. Mattoon brings an all-freshman team with Beau Farris and Lucas Butler leading the way. Charleston will be led by Blake Homann, Luke Brewer, and Dylan Hawk.
Neoga and Cumberland are entering a cooperative program. John Cash and Kevin Faulkner take over as co-coach after longtime Neoga cross country coach Tim Mueller passed away due to a battle with cancer this last year. The team brought 13 boys, led by freshman Kaleb Bierman, who ran a time of 18:43.
“Coach Mueller was a great guy and great mentor to his athletes and they miss him and keep him in their hearts,” said Cash. “My goal for the runners is for all of them to get a personal record. The course last week fell victim to some heavy machinery work recently and had to be changed around and ruts filled with wood chips. Anyway, the footing was sketchy and the times were slowed considerably. Teamwise I have no goals. We are just working to get better every day. This is a great group of hard-working kids and I look forward to watching their progress.”
Last year, the Braves lost a narrow race with the Bulldogs by five points for the team title. The Braves should be the favorites heading into this year. The team returns five of their top six, Hailey Betzer (fourth), Sofia Munoz (8th), Renee Ballard (12th), Camille Mavis (18th), and Brooke Doyle (24th).
Mahomet-Seymour should figure to contend for a title as well. The team returns four of their top five runners from last season. That includes Ava Boyd, who ran 19:42.93 last year that placed third overall. The team also returns Chloe Bundren (5th), Ava Jansen (9th), and Callie Jansen (10th).
Boyd should figure to be in contention for the individual title along with BHRA’s GGabby Moreman, who was the runner-up last year with a time of 19:38.46.
Outside of the Bulldogs and Braves, there will be other teams looking to compete in the top 5. Effingham placed third last season and is led by sophomore Jessica Larsen, who was an All-Apollo selection and a state qualifier. Effingham’s coach Jennifer Kirk said that placing in the top 5 is a goal for the team.
Champaign Centennial brings back Brooklyn Schweiker (6th) and was sixth as a team. Newton placed fifth but lost the individual championship to Ryle Borgic, who won the race with a time of 19:30.89. Mattoon placed 12th last season but new head coach Jim Miller is hopeful that the team can shoot for a top-10 place given the youth the team brings back.
“We have a very young cross country,” said Miller. “ The girls are hoping to score in the top ten this invite. Oakley Layton and Hallee Perry hoping to improve from last season and be in the top 30. Newcomer Alaina Hedges has been excelling well lately with Brie Armstrong looking for a breakout season.
Fairfield brings an All-Black Diamond Conference runner, who was also a state qualifier in the 1600-meter run last season, in sophomore Ella Sager. Freshman Adi Hickey ran a six-minute mile as an eighth grader.
“Jaycie Couch is a 400-meter specialist in track but is quickly adjusting to cross country,” said Sanders.
Our goals for the meet are to have the op 3 have less than a minute split. We will also need to see improvement from 4-6 runners.”
Tuscola will be led by Kate Foltz and Riley Vanausdoll.
“We are working on getting in race condition,” said coach Beth Pugh. “I believe we can be very competitive this year.”
8:15am: Middle School Girls 2 Mile
8:45am: Middle School Boys 2 Mile
9:15am: Varsity Girls 3 Mile (no limit on entries)
10:00am: Varsity Boys 3 Mile (no limit on entries)
Olney (Richland County)