PEORIA — It turns out the target on Emma Argo's back was actually a pair of wings.
The Eureka High School senior withstood the pressure of being the reigning Class 1A state cross country champion by focusing on her team, which she led to a state title at Detweiller Park on Saturday while flying to her second straight individual crown to cap an unbeaten season.
"It makes it less about her and I think that is huge," said Hornet coach Olivia Morris after watching Argo blitz the 3-mile course in a career best of 16 minutes, 59 seconds to finish 19 seconds ahead of Staunton's Lydia Roller. "It’s incredible that the team is able to do that for her."
Argo's one-point contribution helped No. 2-ranked Eureka score 84 points to finish well ahead of No. 4 Rock Falls (123) and No. 1 Tolono Unity (130).
Argo, who won last year in 17:34, became the 12th multi-year winner in meet history while her team, a runner-up in 1999 and 2007, won its first title in program history.
"That definitely helped me to have the motivation of the team there," said Argo, who announced she will continue her career at Illinois State.
Joining Argo as an all-stater were teammates Alexi Fogo (14th, 17:46) and Tessa Wiegand (24th, 18:12). Fogo said Argo is more than a great runner to her teammates.
"She just knows how to encourage a team and be a leader and be like a team mom," Fogo said.
Argo was part of a six-girl lead group through a 5:37 opening mile. That pack became a quartet when it reached midway in 8:30. Soon after, Argo escaped as Roller was the last to surrender.
"She was definitely the one I was thinking about during the race," said Argo, whose coach won the 2007 state title. "It’s great to talk with her ... because she’s been through it all before."
Also scoring for Eureka were Lexi Grober (31st, 18:20) and Elle Knapp (69th, 19:02). Morris said her runners have a way of lifting each other up.
"Running is a love-hate relationship," Morris said. "They have found a way to get over the hate and they just love this sport."
Earning all-state honors for the second time was Clinton junior Payne Turney, 35th a year ago, who finished ninth in a personal best of 17:41. As a freshman, she was seventh.
"Starting off the first mile, I was really relaxed," she said. "The second mile, I tried to work my way up. The last 800, I put everything out on the course to do my best."
El Paso-Gridley finished seventh (246) and Olympia 11th (273). Injured a month ago, EPG's Cate Atkins (27th, 18:17) missed a medal by two places and two seconds.
"She made the move she had to at two miles and worked her way into the top 20, but just didn’t have that zip at the end to bring it home," said Coach Michael Melick, whose team posted its best state finish.
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No. 10-ranked Olympia, paced by Savanah Beavers in 36th (18:32), had hoped to better last year's eighth-place effort.
"We were faster than last year," said Spartan coach Mike Neisler.
Class 1A boys: Olympia's No. 5-ranked boys finished a school-record fourth (219) behind Clifton Central (139), Elmwood (143) and Monticello (189). The Spartans had five men finish within 30 seconds of each other led by Jon Neville in 43rd (15:50).
“We’ve had kids faster, but we’ve never had this many so close,” Neisler said. “I’ve got two or three kids who didn’t get to run today that would have been on any of my other teams.”
The area's four all-staters were Deer Creek-Mackinaw's Colby Johnson (8th, 15:12), EPG's Noah Smith (10th, 15:14), Tremont's Leland Sumer (14th, 15:19) and Eureka's Kyle Johnson (25th, 15:34).
Dee-Mack's Johnson, a junior, set school records for time and place.
"I felt like I had just started the race at two miles," he said. "I’m extremely stoked."
EPG's Smith, who lowered his personal best by 20 seconds, threw caution to the wind by leading after three quarters of a mile.
"That's how he runs. He’s very independent. He runs his race," said Melick, whose No. 8-ranked team tied its school best finish of seventh (240). "We got a lot of PRs (personal records) for a grass course."
Sumer, a Tremont junior, was six places and four seconds better than last year.
"I’m a little disappointed, but I don’t know what I could have done," he said. "I still ran hard so that’s what matters."
Eureka's Johnson, who lowered his career best six seconds, saw his No. 13-ranked team finish 10th (283). He marveled at how far the Hornets came since not qualifying last year.
"It’s an absolute miracle for us," he said.
Led by Josh Davies (48th, 15:52), Pontiac finished 25th (517).
"They ran as hard as they possibly could," said Coach Mike Lucas.