PEORIA — Emma Argo doesn't recommend running scared, perhaps because she doesn't want others adopting a strategy that works so well for her.
The Eureka High School junior used fear to great advantage Saturday while becoming the second Hornet in school history — along with Coach Olivia Morris — to win a Class 1A state cross country crown.
Argo powered across the muddy, 3-mile Detweiller Park course in a career best of 17 minutes, 34 seconds to win by a comfortable 12 seconds, but the comfort was an illusion.
"I'm always afraid people are still right on my tail," said Argo, who battled Nygia Pollard of Elgin Harvest Academy until the final half mile when Pollard faded to 24th.
"The whole time I thought she was right there. I don't like to (look back). It scares me."
In Class 2A, freshman Lyndsey Wolters did more than scare the University High record for that course. She erased it with a sizzling 17:16 in sixth. Her placing tied the 2012 school record of Sydney Billingsley, who had held the time record of 17:21.
Last year, Argo was eighth (17:52) after taking 40th (18:47) as a freshman.
"Not only is she tough, but she's very smart," said Morris, who won the 2007 state title in 17:27. "She knows exactly when to move. She knows who to keep an eye on."
Eureka's No. 10-ranked team finished fifth with 203 points, four shy of a trophy as Alexi Fogo was 32nd (18:35) and Tessa Wiegand 33rd (18:36). No. 1 Tolono Unity won with 108.
"They went together and that's what they needed to do," Morris said. "It's great that not only our No. 1 runner did awesome, but everybody did awesome."
U High coach John Neisler had no complaints with Wolters other than she went out so hard with the leaders, including fellow freshman Campbell Petersen of Dunlap, early in the race. They passed a mile in 5:31.
In resignation the elated Neisler admitted, "That's how you go for it."
On the same course under perfect conditions on Sept. 30, Wolters ran 17:59.
"I feel really good about it," she said. "It's a big PR (personal record). I was a little worried, but I just wanted to keep up with the girl from Dunlap."
Petersen, whose team won with 72 points, wound up second to Waterloo winner Jenna Schwartz (17:05). One of three freshmen in the top six, Wolters credited teammates for preparing her.
"They definitely helped get me in shape," she said. "I'm so excited for what I'm going to be able to do in track."
Back in 1A, Tremont sophomore Lizzy Freidinger placed 23rd (18:24).
"Lizzy moved up through the pack better than she has all year," said Coach Mike Lynn.
The fourth all-stater in school history, Freidinger said, "I worked really hard at the end and it feels good to get the goal that I wanted."
No. 11-ranked Olympia, a team with no seniors, finished eighth (269), the Spartans' fifth best showing in 11 state trips. For possibly the first time in school history, all seven runners clocked career bests in the state meet led by Payton Wille in 55th (19:06).
Their five-girl finishing split of 65 seconds was better than every team ahead except third-place Monticello's 27.
"That's kind of what's been our big thing all year long, just keeping everybody within about a minute of each other and try to run as fast as we can," said Coach Mike Neisler, who's had four different No. 2 runners this season, five different No. 3s and seven different No. 4s.
"They are so close together, it doesn't matter if somebody falters. The next person just steps up."
No. 22-ranked El Paso-Gridley, 15th a year ago, finished 18th (428) with Cate Atkins leading the way in 41st (18:43).
Delavan's Katie Springer (27th, 18:27) came within two seconds of a medal while Clinton sophomore Payne Turney, seventh a year ago, took 35th (18:36).