Minooka cross country coach Kevin Gummerson says the Indians felt if they ran their race at Saturday's Class 3A Normal Sectional, both teams would qualify for state.
The Indians delivered, finishing with 99 fewer points than the bubble team in the boys race and 64 fewer points than the girls bubble team. It is the fifth straight year both Minooka teams qualified for state.
Without having to sweat about whether or not their efforts would be enough, the Indians focused on some specific things at Maxwell Park in Normal. For the Minooka boys, the emphasis was on the second of the three miles that was run. It was an area in which the Indians had struggled at the prior week's Minooka Regional.
"At the regional meet, we sort of lost focus on that middle mile," Gummerson said. "We ran it a heck of a lot better. On average, I calculated that we were 17 seconds faster on that second midle than at the regional meet."
Joey Santillo led the Indians Saturday with a third-place time of 14:54, but he was just one of three All-Sectional performers from Minooka. Fellow seniors Alex Pierce, who finished sixth in 15:25, and Cam Knudsen, who was 10th in 15:37, also cracked the top 10. Additionally, Minooka counted the 37th-place time of 16:23 from Cheyne Robinson and the 48th-place time of 16:31 from Erik Brick.
"We were hoping to have that, but it was a nice surprise when it actually happened," Pierce said of the Indians landing three in the top 10. "It was my second-best time, after a 15:18 at the (Minooka) flight invitational. ... Different weeks bring different competition. Some weeks are slower and some are faster, and with this being a big race, I just focused on having a good plan and executing it."
Freshman Morgan Crouch was the lone All-Sectional performer for the Minooka girls, placing seventh with a personal-best time of 18:15. The Indians had four other runners in the top 20 — Laura Simon, who finished in 18:45 for 14th place, Kaitlyn Chetney, who finished in 18:53 for 15th, Haley McNamara, who finished in 18:54 for 16th, and Caleigh Beverly, who finished in 18:59 for 19th.
"My team has been training very hard for this meet, and for me, I wanted to come as close to having a sectional championship I could," Crouch said. "I have always liked that course, and I was able to run a good time."
For the Minooka girls, the sectional was just another meet where they had several high placers. Gummerson pointed out that Simon has frequently been fourth, fifth or even sixth among the Indians but that she "stepped up" to finish behind only Crouch.
"They're pretty interchangeable," Gummerson said. "We tell them, 'Don't go out there with a pecking order in mind.' Ideally whoever is feeling the best can lead the pack. This time it was Laura. She ran a great race and dragged some of our other girls right behind her."
Seven state-ranked schools stood in the way of Morris and its goal of advancing to state Saturday at the Peoria Notre Dame Sectional at Illinois Central College's East Peoria Campus.
“Sure we are disappointed. Our goal is to get to the state finals. We want to be where Yorkville and Minooka are," Morris coach Joe Blumberg said.
"Today wasn’t the reason we didn’t advance. We are competing against schools that run through December, take two weeks off, start indoor track, roll that into outdoor track, take two weeks off and then get after their summer training June 1. We have to pull teeth to get a majority of our runners to show up in the summer, let alone get enough quality workouts in during the summer.
Our guys and girls will tell you they want to get to state. But talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. ... However, I am awfully proud of the strides our runners made again this season."
In the boys race, the Redskins were 13th with 352 points. They were paced by 40th-place finisher Justin Sjostrom and his time of 16:18. Other contributors were Austin Patterson with a 74th-place time of 17:00, Eric Robinson with a 77th-place time of 17:03, Brock Kukman with an 89th-place time of 17:13 and Nick Marino with a 97th-place time of 17:21.
Morris finished 17th with 498 points in the girls race. Sara Burns led the Redskins by placing 67th, with a time of 20:18. They had Valerie Pfaff place 79th with a time of 20:33, Bridget Gile place 113th with a time of 21:26, Sydney Corrigan place 124th with a time of 21:54 and Mackenzie Larson place 134th with a time of 22:31.
Lane Hoffman of Gardner-South Wilmington finished in eighth place in the boys race with a time of 17:12 to advance as an individual out of the Lisle Sectional, held at Community Park.
The GSW boys finished in 10th place with 293 points. Their team total included Clay McCormick, who finished in 18:48 for 57th place, Austin Walsh, who finished in 19:16 for 75th, Ryley Christoff, who finished in 19:18 for 79th, and Stinnett Gettinger, who finished in 19:26 for 83rd.
The Lady Panthers were 14th with 396 points. Their counting runners were Chelsea Schultz, who was 98th with a time of 25:03, ReAnn Scoggin, who was 99th with a time of 25:03, Sarah Jablonski, who was 104th with a time of 25:47, Kitrina Hayner, who was 109th with a time of 26:23, and Alyssa Brownlee, who was 110th with a time of 26:46.
Seneca competed in the Oregon Sectional, but its teams did not place in the top 12 and it had no individuals advance.