Girls cross country state tournament preview: Tough task awaits New Trier
Maine East's Jessica Cuevas (165) runs in the Niles West Sectional girls cross country race Saturday in Skokie. She finished 128th (21 minutes, 22.95 seconds). Visit skokie.suntimes.com/sports to view a photo gallery from the meet. | Kevin Tanaka for~Sun-
Updated: November 3, 2012 1:40AM
SKOKIE — The New Trier girls cross country team may be heading into this weekend’s Class 3A state meet in Peoria as the defending champions.
But the Trevians, who retained their top-three runners from last season, will not enter the meet with a sense of entitlement, according to coach John Burnside.
“We won it last year, but anybody who goes into a field this deep thinking (other teams) better work to beat us, is crazy,” Burnside said. “There is too much talent. We knew from the beginning of the year that we couldn’t come into the thing like, ‘This is ours to win or lose.’ We need to fight every step of the way.”
Burnside’s point was hammered home at Saturday’s Niles West sectional in Skokie, where the Trevians (68 points) ran a solid race, but lost to Glenbard West (60) and narrowly defeated third-place Lake Park (75).
Trevians senior Courtney Ackerman came in fourth (17:13.17), sophomore Mimi Smith was sixth (17:27.67) and senior Jessica Ackerman was ninth (17:38.94). The team’s other runners also impressed: senior Kathleen Kane was 24th, freshman Oona Jung-Beeman was 25th and junior Kaitlin Frei finished 27th, but her finish did not count towards the team’s score.
Burnside said he was glad to see his team pushed at the sectional.
“Glenbard West and Lake Park are extremely tough. We’ve had a hard time beating them all season. We knew what we were getting ourselves into (at the sectional),” he said. “But we’d much rather see them now and get in there and see what everybody has and where we need to improve. The last thing you want to do is coast into the state meet. We know we have to be better.”
In addition to New Trier, Glenbard West and Lake Park, teams such as Naperville North and St. Charles East are expected to vie for the crown Saturday.
Jessica Ackerman said her team will be extra motivated after multiple Trevians got outsprinted down the stretch at the sectional. The Princeton-bound senior also said she has faith that New Trier’s training methods will put the team in position to succeed at state.
“We just have to believe in the training,” Jessica Ackerman said. “Coach Burnside gets us to peak for state. Some teams peak a couple weeks too early and everyone says, ‘Wow, they are going to win for sure.’ But that’s okay, we’re fine with being the underdogs, because we’ve been able to pull out good races at state in the past.”
Final showdown awaits
The Hawks (138 points) earned the fifth at final state-qualifying spot at the sectional. Junior Emily Leonard was eighth (17:36.21) and senior Megan Lemersal was 16th (18:33.09).
On Saturday, the Maine South duo will battle New Trier’s Ackerman twins for the final time in cross country. The runners have developed quite a rivalry over the years, though Leonard said the relationship is one of respect and admiration.
“They are great competitors,” said Leonard, who came in sixth in the state last season. “If (the Ackermans) beat me (at state), I’ll be happy for them. I have next year. I’m going to wish them luck and hopefully they can run their best downstate.”
Schrobilgen, Thompson make state
The Huskies (198) came in sixth, missing out on state qualification. But two OPRF runners will compete at state.
Junior Erin Schrobilgen (12th, 18:02.91) heads down for a third straight season. For the first time, she’ll have company as freshman Haley Thompson (22nd, 18:41.84) was the fourth of five individual qualifiers. Fellow OPRF freshman Ainsley Tran (33rd, 18:52.02) missed out by less than 5 seconds.
“Our team is getting better,” Huskies coach Tom Tarrant said. “We just missed three runners going by a few seconds. It may not be in the record books, but this is by far the fastest team in the history of our school. We have not had a better team than the one we put out last Saturday.”
Ryan books third trip to Peoria
The Friars (235 points) will not return to state as a team, but two Fenwick runners did qualify individually for this weekend’s meet.
Sophomore Olivia Ryan came in seventh (17:27.89), while junior Briana Daley was 14th (19:25.62) at Niles West.
Daley, who will run in her third state meet, said she has learned plenty during her first two trips to the event.
“You can’t get too nervous,” she said. “If you get too nervous, you could cramp up. You have to have some confidence. Also, you have to get out to a good start. (At Peoria’s Detweiller Park course) there is a turn at the beginning and you don’t want to get squooshed.”
Fourth and final time
The Spartans (248) finished ninth at the sectional, but seniors Valerie Bobart (13th, 18:19.39) and Katherine Weber (28th, 18:47.69) qualified as individuals.
Both runners will compete at state for a fourth straight time. In addition to three individual qualifications apiece, Bobart and Weber were part of the 2010 Glenbrook North team that finished seventh.
“They are two of the best to ever come though the school, and I was really happy to see both of them make it,” Glenbrook North coach Bob LeBlanc said.