PLANO — Tuesday's third annual Ross Greiter Cross Country Invitational at Plano may ultimately be remembered as a breakthrough for both Seneca's Ross McCormick and the Morris girls team.
A freshman, McCormick won his first-ever invitational, finishing the course in 16:05 — 7 seconds better than runner-up Nate Novata of Westmont. In the girls race, the Redskins not only claimed their first trophy of the season of any kind, they won the event, totaling 62 points edge second-place Yorkville and its 66.
McCormick knocked over a half-minute off his prior career-best time, a 16:32 at the Peoria Manual/Woodruff Invitational on Sept. 8. The first-place finish was the second overall of his young career, following a win at a three-team meet hosted by the Fighting Irish earlier this year.
"Right before we hit the two-mile mark, I started to make my move. ... I didn't (pass the runners in front of him) all at once, it was more gradual," McCormick said. "I try to start slow, so I don't wear myself out, and them I progress from there."
Morris, the defending boys team champion, totaled 58 points and finished second to Westmont's 56. The Redskins were paced by Justin Sjostrom, whose 16:28 was good for fifth place. It was the first time Sjostrom has ever finished ahead of teammate Jacob Wantland, who was 10th with a time of 16:50. Wantland is battling a hip injury.
"I was hoping to do this well," Sjostrom said of placing fifth. "Normally I'm just trying to keep up with (Wantland). I never thought I'd beat him. ... I'm really happy with where I finished, and surprised."
Other Morris counters were Austin Patterson with a 13th-place time of 17:04, Austin Fatlan with a 14th-place time of 17:08 and Brock Kukman with a 16th-place time of 17:11.
Beyond McCormick, the Irish counted James Bowen's 11th-place time of 16:52, Jacob Weinreich's 22nd-place time of 17:33, Sage Friese's 29th-place time of 18:13 and Brian Kluckhohn's 38th-place time of 18:48. They totaled 94 points for fourth place.
"James Bowen is one we ran last year, and his times have dropped big time," Seneca coach Kim Sedlock said. "He's shown he can be up there with Ross, and if we can have the two of them up at the front of the pack, we can make that work for us."
Running the event for the third time in her career, Valerie Pfaff led Morris in the girls race with a fifth-place time of 21:02. It was one second off her season-best 21:01, which she recorded Sept. 18 at Sandwich.
"I think a big thing is that this is such a great course. It's so flat and quick," Pfaff said. "Our team just ran great. Our pack times have gotten a lot better. It's starting to come together for us as we get towards the end of the year."
The Redskins' title total also included Sara Burns' seventh-place time of 21:12, Bridget Gile's 10th-place time of 21:19, Sydney Corrigan's 17th-place time of 22:00 and Mackenzie Larson's 23rd-place time of 22:31.
"Our back end, meaning our fourth and fifth girls," Morris coach Joe Blumberg said when asked what keyed the team win. "We've had too big a gap between Val and our four and five girls this year. ... For two seniors to gut out times like that and allow us to narrow that gap is huge for us."
Seneca had a sixth-place point total of 128, but Caroline Collet and Savannah Baldauf finished third and fourth individually. With a time of 19:48, Collett finished behind only the Westmont duo of Maggie Arndt and Chloe Marshinski.
"I faced them last week and got third to them then, too," Collet said of Arndt and Marshinski. "I think I'm doing pretty well. I've improved a lot since last year."
Baldauf finished in 20:07, meaning there is still a gap between her and Collet, though it has closed considerably. Earlier this season, when Baldauf had first returned from a leg injury, she says Collet's times were about two minutes lower than her own.
"She's someone for me to compete against, even if it's just in practice," Baldauf said of Collet. "I'm building progress and getting closer and closer to where I want to be."