Coach: John Szabo, 36th year

2016: 3rd in Intercity, 5th in Big 12, 6th in 2A regional, 10th in sectional

Returnees from top seven: Sr. - Austin Bicknell, Zach Bradford; Jr. - Nick Doud, Quinn Olson, Roger Mendiola; So. - Bradyn Olmstead, Drew Gibson, Evan Turnbull.

FYI: The Purple Raiders return four of last year's top five and eight of their top 10. "We've got a lot of competition for that top seven," said Szabo, who has a 23-man squad. "We're really pleased with their efforts so far." Nick Doud, who motored 9:54.94 in the 3,200 last spring, will be the team's top runner. Last month, he clocked 15:44.4 for three miles on the state meet course. "He's had a great summer and Austin Bicknell is in better shape than he was at this time last summer," said Szabo, who hopes to see improved Big 12 and sectional finishes. Zach Bradford is a two-time Class 3A state pole vault champion.

Central Catholic

Coach: Bill Rhodes, 6th year

2016: 5th in Intercity, 4th in Corn Belt, 7th in 1A regional, 17th in sectional

Returnees from top seven: Sr. - Will Dionesotes; Jr. - Alex Zlatic, Jack Beemsterboer; So. - Alex Bingham, Jacob Bingham.

Others to watch: Fr. - Josh Vogel, Will Foley.

FYI: "We look pretty solid," said Rhodes, who hopes to have seven men under 18:00 for three miles. Will Dionesotes placed 12th in the 1A state 800 last spring and had a best of 1:59.21. He ran in the 2015 state cross country meet. Last month, he clocked 15:59 on the state meet course. "That's going to help having someone way out there," said Rhodes, who looks for Zlatic to dip under 17:00. Freshman Josh Vogel, a 5:08 1,600 runner, is vying for the team's No. 3 spot. Freshman Will Foley was a junior high state qualifier in the 400. A Class 1A sectional loaded with ranked teams will make earning a state berth a challenge for the Saints, who will compete in the Illini Prairie Conference for the first time.

Cornerstone Christian

Coach: Dustin Webb, 4th year

Returnee: So. - Austin Sorenson.

FYI: With the graduation of one senior and transfer of another runner, the Cyclones are left with a one-man team in Austin Sorenson. "He is a dedicated runner who quietly puts in the time to make improvements in his running," Webb said. "It paid off last year by running his best time in the last race of the year in Farmington."

Normal Community

Coach: Tom Patten, 33rd year

2016: 4th in Intercity, 4th in Big 12, 8th in 3A regional.

Returnees from top seven: Sr. - Nathan Witte, Sujith Molakala; Jr. - Jacob Myers, Xavier Scott; So. - Colin Fitzgerald, Carter Owen.

Others to watch: Jr. - Ajitesh Muppuru.

FYI: Jacob Myers will lead this 51-man squad after clocking 4:29.47 in the 1,600 last spring. "Coming off the kind of the track season that Jacob had, he should be running to be in the top five in conference," said Patton, who sees top-20 potential for Jacobs in the sectional. "Team wise, we're certainly going to be stronger than we were last year. We haven't been to sectionals for two years so we need to get back to sectionals and get some experience." Look for Nathan Witte and Colin Fitzgerald to crack 16:00 for three miles. Ajitesh Muppuru, who ran cross country as a freshman and played soccer last year, should contribute. Patton rates Normal West and Danville as Big 12 favorites.

Normal West

Coach: Chad Aubin, 2nd year

2016: 2nd in Intercity, 2nd in Big 12, 4th in 3A regional, 6th in sectional.

Returnees from top seven: Sr. - Tyler Dunn, Zaine Losk, Spencer Allsop; Jr. - Gabriel Bush; So. - Charlie Wetzel.

Another to watch: Sr. - Nick Baumgardner.

FYI: The Wildcats, whose 40-man roster includes 19 freshmen, are moving from Class 3A to 2A. "We're excited about our growing numbers," said Aubin, who hopes to see his team challenge Danville for the Big 12 title. State track qualifier Tyler Dunn, who led the area in the 800 last spring at 1:56.01, is a returning state cross country qualifier. He also sped 4:29.73 in the 1,600. Dunn is coming off his best summer of running, which included a 15:55 clocking on the state meet course. "I think he'll be our No. 1 guy," Aubin said. Gabriel Bush was West's top 3,200 man last spring at 10:08.79. Charlie Wetzel ran three miles last fall in 16:06.

University High

Coach: Lester Hampton, 30th year

2016: 1st in Intercity, 2nd in Corn Belt, 2nd in 2A regional, 2nd in sectional, 3rd in state.

Returnees from top seven: Sr. - Jared Schuckman, Matt Zacharais, Tanner Gillam, Harris Porter; Jr. - Josh Nepomuceno.

Others to watch: Sr. - Alok Kamatar; Jr. - Dane Alexander, Jackson McClure.

FYI: The Pioneers, who have a 48-man roster, open the season ranked No. 2 in Class 2A behind reigning state champion Mahomet-Seymour. "We'd like to think we can run with just about anybody," Hampton said. "We want to be one of the best teams in the state." Jared Schuckman placed third in the 2A state 1,600 and lowered the school record to 4:13.06. He joined Porter on the state champion 3,200 relay. "If he can run 2½ miles with anybody, he certainly has a chance to win any race," Hampton said. Schuckman was 11th in last fall's state cross country meet while Tanner Gillam was 85th, Matt Zacharias 132nd, Josh Nepomuceno 140th and Harris Porter 150th. Zacharias broke through last spring in the 1,600 to 4:24.16. "That kid's got some unbelievable talent," Hampton said. U High's new conference is the Central State 8. Zach Wolford, 26th in last fall's state meet, has left the team to focus on earning a college scholarship in cheerleading.   

— Compiled by Randy Sharer


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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