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Emma Argo regional photo

Eureka High School senior Emma Argo will attempt to end her prep cross country career with a successful defense of her Class 1A state championship at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Peoria's Detweiller Park.  

STATE CROSS COUNTRY MEET PRIMER

Where: Peoria’s Detweiller Park

Saturday start times: Class 1A girls – 9 a.m.; Class 1A boys – 10 a.m.; Class 2A girls – 11 a.m.; Class 2A boys – noon; Class 3A girls – 1 p.m.; Class 3A boys – 2 p.m.

Class 1A qualifiers

Clinton: A year ago, Payne Turney finished 35th (18:36) overall and 13th among sophomores. As a freshman, she was a school-record seventh (17:49). In the regional, she ran second (17:57), 50 seconds behind reigning state champion Emma Argo of Eureka. In the sectional, she was fourth (18:11), 44 seconds behind Argo. In Class 2A state track 800-meter run, Turney was ninth in 2017 and seventh this year.

Deer Creek-Mackinaw: A junior, Colby Johnson was the No. 2 man for the Chiefs’ fifth-place state team a year ago when he finished 54th in 16:01. As a freshman, he was the No. 3 man on a 10th-place state team when he ran 79th in 16:15. He finished fifth in the Elmwood Sectional in 15:44. The best state placing in school history was 30th by Gary Cates last year.

El Paso-Gridley: The No. 17-ranked EPG girls are making their third consecutive state trip. The Titans were 18th a year ago and 15th in 2016. EPG is led by senior Cate Atkins, who is coming back from a foot injury. She was 41st last year in 18:43. Last spring, she was seventh in the state 1,600 (5:21.69) and sixth in the 3,200 (11:39.71). “We want to get our No. 5 (runner) under 20:00,” said Coach Michael Melick. “Both our No. 5 and 6 have the talent to do it. If one of those two girls can break out and break 20:00, I think we’ll be in great shape. If our No. 5 is under 20:00, we’ll be in the top 15. With any luck, we should be in the top 10.”

The No. 8-ranked EPG boys, 13th a year ago, are making their sixth straight state trip. Their best finish was seventh in 2015. The Titans are led by four-time state entrant Noah Smith, who was 48th last year in 15:56. He took third in the Oregon Sectional in 15:39. EPG’s sectional lineup included five state veterans. “We could place anywhere from fifth to 15th,” Melick said. “I think our goal is just to try to get seven season-best times.”

Eureka: Reigning champion Emma Argo could become the 12th multiple winner in the 40-year history of the girls state meet. A year ago, Argo clocked 17:34 to win by 12 seconds over Shelbyville sophomore Ailey Mitchell. Mitchell was third in her sectional, which was won by Staunton’s Lydia Roller in 17:23. Argo won her sectional in 17:27. Coach Olivia Morris, Eureka’s 2007 state champion, wants Argo to focus on “running how you are comfortable with running, being competitive during that. It’s nice that she gets to take pressure off of herself and focus on the team a little bit, too.” As a team, the Hornets, fifth a year ago, are ranked second behind defending champion Tolono Unity. Eureka’s sectional lineup included five state veterans led by Argo, Alexi Fogo (3rd), Tessa Wiegand (13th) and Lexi Grober (23rd).

Eureka’s No. 13-ranked boys upset teams ranked as high as No. 6 in the sectional to earn their 15th state trip. “A top end goal would be the top 10,” Morris said. “I think that would be huge for them.” Four seniors have helped the Hornets return to state after a two-year absence. Senior Kyle Johnson ran individually at state last year, placing 35th in 15:44. He was 10th in the sectional, one place behind junior teammate Jake Cook.

Olympia: The No. 5-ranked Spartan boys, who are 10-time qualifiers, have never placed higher than 13th in 2008. Only the top three teams earn trophies. “I think the opportunity is there (for a trophy)," said Coach Mike Neisler. "We just want to go run good races and let the chips fall where they may.” A squad of two juniors and five underclassmen, the Spartans had five men finish within 41 seconds of each other in the sectional led by junior Jon Neville in 11th (15:54). The team’s biggest five-man split was :52 and its smallest :33.

The No. 10 Olympia girls, eighth a year ago, advanced for the fourth consecutive year and 12th time overall. The best finish in program history was second in 2002. “The girls’ goal all season was to finish better than we did last year,” Neisler said. “So if we get seventh or sixth, we’d be pretty happy with that.” In the sectional, the Spartans were led by sophomore Savanah Beavers and senior Payton Wille, who placed 59th and 55th, respectively, in last year’s state meet.

Pontiac: The No. 13-ranked Pontiac boys, with only two seniors, return to Detweiller Park for the first time since placing 15th in 2A in 2012. “I think if we have a great day, we can be 10th,” said Coach Mike Lucas. “That’s our goal.” The Indians are led by senior Josh Davies, who finished seventh in the sectional. No. 4 man Carson Gregory missed the entire track season with a stress fracture. “He’s done more bike workouts and swim workouts than he’s done running workouts,” Lucas said.

Tremont: Junior Leland Sumer, who won the Elmwood Sectional, was 20th in last year’s state meet when 15:23 left him second among sophomores. As a freshman, he was 54th in 15:58. Sumer has a chance to become Tremont's third three-time all-stater, joining Brad Kaufman (1989, 17th; 1990, 11th; 1991, 1st) and Parker Thompson (2006, 11th; 2007, 1st; 2008, 4th).

Tri-Valley: Drew Guimond, who tied for 88th in the Oct. 13 state golf tournament, is Tri-Valley’s first male qualifier since Kacey Carr won in 2002. A senior, Guimond placed 12th in the sectional. Last spring, he was 19th in the state track 3,200 in 10:17.67.

Class 2A qualifiers

Bloomington: The BHS boys are ranked second behind Chatham Glenwood, but finished second to No. 6 Metamora in both the regional and sectional. The Purple Raiders’ best finish in program history was seventh a year ago. "They want to have a shot to bring home a trophy," said Coach John Szabo. "Every meet this year we've been first or second." Look for senior Nick Doud to battle for a spot in the top five. His Detweiller best of 14:47 ranks second in BHS history behind Brian Stephens’ 14:39 from 1981. No Raider has finished higher than fifth, a feat accomplished by Clint Kaeb in 1993 and John Van Scoyoc in 1984. "I think a lot of the teams are like us, they all have one or two good runners up front and it's going to be a matter of who has the Nos. 4 and 5 guys who are on that day," Szabo said.

The BHS girls will be represented by sophomore Kaitlin Skeate, whose Detweiller best is 18:13, a time that took 30th last year. "She wants to get a medal, too," said Szabo, who has only had three girls crack the top 25.  

University High girls: The No. 8-ranked Pioneers, who failed to advance last year, are making their 15th state trip because of improved depth. "We were able to overcome some of those setbacks that last year we weren't deep enough to overcome and this year we were," said Coach John Neisler. The Pioneers are led by Intercity champion Ella Bittner, a sophomore who finished third in the sectional. The best 2A team finish in U High history was second in 2012.  

Class 3A qualifiers

University High boys: After finishing second last year in 2A, the Pioneers incurred the IHSA's success multiplier which bumped them to 3A. They advanced third from the sectional with 19 points to spare. A 12-time state trophy winner, U High is making its 27th state trip. "The pressure is certainly off of them," said Coach Lester Hampton of a lineup boasting five seniors. "We're going to go out there and try to beat as many big schools as we possibly can." Hampton rates the quality in 3A exceptionally high. "If my team gets top 15 to 20, they have run their butts off," he said. In the sectional, the Pioneers were led by seniors Jackson McClure (10th), Dane Alexander (14th) and Cooper Wilken (18th). 

Normal West: Junior Charlie Wetzel (see the accompanying story), who placed a school-record 16th in last year's 2A state meet, won the Quincy Sectional in a course record 15:07. In September, he lowered the school record at Detweiller Park to 14:34.

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— Compiled by Randy Sharer

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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